Guest Column: Celebrate small business, support economy

Published 6:30 pm Thursday, November 23, 2017

Guest Column by Tim Penny

We have a lot to be thankful for and much to celebrate at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). The businesses we invest in each and every day through our various loan and equity programs, technical assistance and other programming are reaping benefits not only for these local entrepreneurs, but for all of southern Minnesota and beyond.

Tim Penny

Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and local economies, so as we go into the craze of holiday shopping we want to celebrate all of these businesses that are there for us each and every day. In the past month alone, we have had a front row seat to some exciting successes and have had the pleasure of watching some of the companies SMIF has invested in flourish and receive various awards. For us, it is like watching something you’ve nurtured take flight. These businesses cited below are small but mighty and are part of our growing local economy.

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For example, recently I attended the R.A.V.E. (Recognizing Awarding Valuing Entrepreneurs) event in Rochester during Global Entrepreneurship Week. I was excited to see that two of the three companies honored had a connection to SMIF. Sonex Health is a current equity client and Environlastech is a current loan client. Both are advancing new products to market and driving technological growth here in southern Minnesota.  The rapidly changing technology market is an area where SMIF investments through our equity, seed or loan funds can be transformative. These investments bring long term benefits to our area of the state, including retaining and attracting a skilled workforce.

Another dynamic market in our southern Minnesota region is local foods. SMIF, in partnership with Renewing the Countryside, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and other organizations, will co-sponsor the fourth annual feast! Local Foods Marketplace. This event will host over 100 vendors on Saturday, Dec. 2 at the Mayo Civic Center and is open to the public. You can sip, sample and shop a number of new products that are on the market. There will also be a number of the 2018 Good Food Award finalists in attendance, and that includes three companies we’ve worked with: Alemar Cheese (Loan Client and Food Peer Group), Gardenaire (FEAST! Smart Start recipient), and Grandma’s Gourmets (Loan client, Food Peer Group and FEAST! Smart Start). You can do your holiday shopping and support southern Minnesota’s emerging local foods economy.

A few additional SMIF loan clients were also recently featured in local publications: JR’s Barn was featured in the November 2017 issue of MN Valley Business and Imminent Brewing in Northfield was recently honored in Southern Minnesota Scene’s Best of 2017 as Best Brewpub/Microbrewery category. All of these entrepreneurs are changing the landscape of our communities each and every day.

Consider supporting these entrepreneurs and businesses. They are your friends and neighbors. In doing so, you support a thriving local economy. Here at SMIF, we are humbled to be a small piece of their overall success in southern Minnesota.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.

Tim Penny is the president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.