BusinessNorth editors' note: We were blown away by the ingenuity and passion among the finalists for our first-ever Northland Entrepreneur Awards. At a time of such turmoil and uncertainty, this group embodies the Northland spirit of innovation and community. The award winners and finalists all show fierce passion for what they do and the people they serve – their employees, customers and clients. Special thanks to everyone who nominated a local entrepreneur. The competition was strong, as each entrepreneur inspired the judges with their efforts, optimism and creativity. Congratulations to the award recipients and finalists.

Small Business of the Year

Winner: Cutting Edge Metals, Superior.

Based in Superior and serving clients both local and worldwide, Cutting Edge Metals has cultivated a niche market since 2010 by custom-manufacturing timber frame brackets, railings, gates, fencing and more. Owner Mike Miller launched the shop out of his garage and expanded to a 1,000-square-foot space and a couple employees. Today he maintains two locations in Superior, having acquired the second one this past year. His team of 12 workers can now expand their finishing processes and manufacturing, and Miller plans to hire 8-10 more people in the next two years. The company maintains a strong commitment to work with local builders and only buys American steel. In the past year, steel pricing has risen more than 400% as the mills have reduced capacity and demand has grown. However, Miller has not raised prices to customers more than 10%. “We’ve eaten some of the cost,” he said. “I only worry about the things I can control – and I can control growth.” In 2020, Cutting Edge Metals grew 24% over 2019, and this year Miller anticipates 12-13% growth. He sees an ability to sustain a 10-15% annual growth, due in large part to a strong internet presence and e-commerce. Most recently, Miller has invested in a new website that allows clients to custom-design their projects right online. “The easier we can make this process for customers, the better,” he said.

Finalists:

Old Saw Media, Duluth.

LightSpeed Lift, Duluth.

The Pebble Spa, Duluth, Ely and Virginia.

Beehive Homes, Duluth.

Noteworthy Start-up

Winner: Cantilever Distillery + Hotel, Rainer, Minn.

Launched in January 2020, the Cantilever Distillery and Hotel is the first lodging facility built in Koochiching County in the past 30 years, giving the city a much-needed modern gathering space. The area’s history was an important factor in the construction process, including its role as a border town once known for smuggling spirits into Prohibition-era United States. The 26,000-square-foot facility includes a 31-room boutique hotel, a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for making spirits, cocktail room, restaurant, yoga studio, private events space and an expansive rooftop bar with a sauna and hot tub. The building uses locally sourced material where possible, and the restaurant and distillery use local ingredients. The bourbon, gin, vodka and rye whiskey are handmade onsite using Minnesota grains and water from the Canadian Shield. The Cantilever Distillery and Hotel was made possible by a strong team, including Kalan Wagner, Marty Goulet, CEO Lindsey Goulet, Lead Distiller Charlie Fuller, and Operations Managers Ed Gackley and Robert Olson, and others.

Finalists:

Stonehouse Lodges, Two Harbors.

The Minnesota Marshmallow, Duluth.

Blue Feather Torch, Two Harbors.

Young Entrepreneur

Competition in this category was fierce, and we chose two winners.

Ashley Kalina, Kalina Counseling Services LLC, Two Harbors.

“Ashley Kalina has a deep concern for the growing problem with mental health,” wrote the nominators. At age 33, she purchased her own building and opened Kalina Counseling Services, LLC, in Sept. 2019 to serve the North Shore, an area with limited access to mental health providers. She grew from a solo practice into a group practice in June 2020, offering both in-person and telehealth, and currently employs three therapists (a fourth therapist starts this month) and two administrative staff, with a fourth therapist starting this month. This year, Kalina became a qualified supervisor to provide clinical supervision to pre-licensed practitioners and began providing licensure supervision to her employed therapists. She partners with The College of St. Scholastica to provide internship opportunities for master’s-level social work students and also serves on the Lake County Mental Health Task Force.

Eric Franklin, XMT-3, Duluth.

“Eric Franklin, owner of XMT-3 Training, is both an entrepreneur and a visionary,” wrote his nominator. “What sets him and his business apart … is his extensive knowledge of health and wellness due to his history of bodybuilding, his unmatched passion for training and his individualized approach to each client’s fitness level.” Franklin’s innovative approach to personal training centers on his philosophy that physical fitness should be seen as therapeutic intervention; his training model is based on one-on-one training in a private space. He started XMT out of his home in 2015, and as his clientele broadened, he opened a commercial space in downtown Duluth, and this year opened a new space in Lincoln Park. “Eric’s deep commitment to clients is evident in both his fitness programming and his relationships,” said his nomination. “He understands how to pivot when his environment changes. When the pandemic shut down his gym, he transitioned to online training and started offering free workouts via Facebook. He also debuted the Zero Challenge, a 6-week online wellness program with a cash prize of $1,000. He is constantly thinking creatively about how to grow his business and reach more clients. Duluth is lucky to have Eric, and his clients can attest to what an incredible changemaker he is in this community.”

Finalists:

Ian Scherber, Duluth Screen Printing.

Justine Broderson, Cornucopia Sweet Shoppe.