Red Wing Ignite (RWI) celebrated a considerable milestone

Red Wing Ignite (RWI) celebrated a considerable milestone on October 12th as it marked its 10th anniversary. Our organization was founded in 2013 through significant support from the City of Red Wing and many community stakeholders, with Neela Mollgaard as our first Executive Director. One year later in 2014 we were selected by US Ignite as the first and smallest rural community in the United States to receive Smart City designation. We were honored to be nominated as a US Ignite Community due to the successful implementation of our city’s gigabit broadband provided by HBC. Out of 25 US Ignite cities selected, we were proud to be the smallest.

RWI has since partnered with multiple national organizations. Glen Ricart, the founder of US Ignite, commended Red Wing Ignite as one of their most productive and active communities, highlighting the Midwest’s ability to foster growth and collaboration across traditional boundaries. RWI was also selected as one of the first communities to partner with the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) which recognized our entrepreneurial and innovative focus. By leveraging our combined expertise and resources, RWI and CORI have made a significant impact on supporting entrepreneurs and driving innovation in rural areas.

Over the past decade, we have focused on building a strong foundation, forging partnerships, and fostering collaborations. “Our journey has been filled with moments of trial and error, strategic pivots, shared laughter, tears, and well-deserved celebrations.” Shannan Harris, our Operations Director, eloquently captured the essence of our journey. 

In 2019 RWI was awarded a highly sought-after federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) i6 Challenge grant, which allowed us to hire two full time employees including current Executive Director, Stacy Nimmo. This funding played a crucial role in supporting our initiatives to foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth in the community.

Under Nimmo’s leadership, RWI’s outreach, vision, and team have grown significantly. Currently, in our small rural area we are serving numbers of entrepreneurs at a level equal to or above that of the greater Twin Cities; rural entrepreneurship is a thing. In addition to numerous state and other grants received in the past four years, in 2022 RWI successfully competed for and won the prestigious U.S. Economic Development Agency’s “Build to Scale” grant, totaling 4 million dollars. This grant has been a game-changer, providing additional resources and support to further enhance our efforts in fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth across our rural region. 

In additon

RWI was the recipient of Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s MinneInno Blazer award for the top Community Builder organization in the state for 2022, recognizing our impact on the region as a whole. Throughout this period of growth RWI has expanded programs, strengthened partnerships, and created even more opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs to thrive.

In 2023, we have made significant strides in supporting entrepreneurs and fostering a growing business community. With over 850 entrepreneurs served, we have been able to provide valuable resources and opportunities for growth. Our commitment to education is evident through the 97 educational events we have organized, equipping entrepreneurs with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Additionally, we have provided mentoring and coaching to 191 entrepreneurs, offering personalized guidance and support on their entrepreneurial journey. We are proud to have received over 70 applications for the Ignite Cup, a testament to the impact and value our programs bring to aspiring business owners. 

The future

Is bright and we know that entrepreneurs and small businesses are crucial for our rural communities to grow and flourish. To that end, RW Ignite will launch SE Minnesota’s first industry-agnostic accelerator program in SE Minnesota. Our pre-accelerator for early winter of 2024 is designed for ideation and early-stage startups, while our accelerator in the fall of 2024 will prioritize scalable tech and tech-enabled startup ventures. With access to our collaborative regional network, connection to mentors, access to funding, 1:1 coaching, and customized training and education we aim to provide the support startups need to be successful. We will continue to partner with organizations such as the Minority Owned Business Network and the Red Wing Port Authority along with others to support rural and other underestimated entrepreneurs. 

Our mission and singular focus remains on creating entrepreneurial success across our rural region. Since earning our grant in 2022, we have expanded our team, built more relationships, and strengthened our foundation. We are a single point of contact/resource for entrepreneurs, providing access to comprehensive support for business creation and growth through all phases of the business life cycle. As we embark on this exciting journey into the future, we remain committed to being a catalyst for rural entrepreneurial success and a hub for innovation.

Here's to another decade of achievement and transformation!

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