Viewpoint: Red Wing Ignite living up to its name

Stephanie Elsen serves on the Red Wing Port Authority Board.

I would like to share with the Red Wing community about a resource available in our fine city that is unique and extremely valuable.

Have you heard of Red Wing Ignite? Ever wonder what the organization does and what it's all about?

I like to think of Red Wing Ignite as our tech and innovation hub — a place for entrepreneurs, experienced as well as beginners and those who love technology to learn, share and grow.

There are not many cities the size of Red Wing that have such resources available, and we are so fortunate to have them here.

Red Wing Ignite originally started when the gigabit internet access was brought to Red Wing and in partnership with US Ignite, an organization funded by the National Science Foundation and the White House, to keep the U.S. globally competitive. Red Wing Ignite has received financial support from the city of Red Wing, Xcel Energy, the Jones Family Foundation, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Red Wing Shoe Foundation, Hiawatha Broadband Co., Red Wing Area Fund and the Blandin Foundation.

There is also an amazing board of directors with some very smart and dedicated people. Neela Mollgaard is the executive director. Along with the board and all the support, they have accomplished quite a bit in the three years since its inception.

Red Wing Ignite supports entrepreneurs by offering advice and support, as well as links to investors and investor events where entrepreneurs can pitch their products and seek investment. The agency has already helped many businesses, including a tele-health application, a social neighborhood app and many more.

While the focus of the entrepreneurs is typically new businesses, Red Wing Ignite also supports current businesses in a variety of ways. Gaining more innovative businesses in Red Wing is a great way to add high quality employment opportunities and quality businesses in our community. And while there are not yet any large tech companies starting a business here in Red Wing, it has only been three years, and there have been many different efforts in the works.

My favorite thing about Red Wing Ignite, though, is the opportunity to provide students to get a leg up by learning technology they would not otherwise have the chance to learn.

I happen to teach one of those classes, along with two other teachers. It's a class where the students learn to build and market an app. The students learn about the app building, but they also learn about market research, development processes, presentation and more.

I saw firsthand a group of kids who will go to college way ahead of others, armed with this knowledge. One student went off to college and took and entrepreneurial class and said he already knew a lot of it, having taken the app class in Red Wing. And the students all did this for free, since Red Wing Ignite got a grant for us to teach the class. In addition, there are other classes, such as the Winger Dojo, where students can go in and learn how to code — a highly valued skill in today's society.

In addition to all this, Red Wing Ignite has a co-working space available to those who need an office space. The agency has gotten grants and built a community website (redwinginfo.com) which has an aggregated calendar of events for Red Wing.

Red Wing Ignite provides educational events for entrepreneurs. They attend events and network with businesses and contacts who would have otherwise not known about Red Wing. The group also is supporting the launch of a new "Maker Space" in Red Wing, with Minnesota State College Southeast, whose goal is to provide tools for crafters and makers. The list goes on and on.

I hope that this letter encourages you to support and become involved with Red Wing Ignite. It is a resource so valuable to our community in so many ways. If you want to stay on top of what it has going on, you can follow Red Wing Ignite on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/redwingignite.