Igniting the Entrepreneurial Flame in Red Wing

Igniting the Entrepreneurial Flame in Red Wing Main Photo

1 Jun 2022


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Red Wing has been a historical model of entrepreneurism and business innovation in Minnesota for more than 100 years. Local companies like Red Wing Shoes and 3M have developed their international brands in manufacturing operations located in the city. That tradition continues today as Red Wing has become a bastion for small business success. The Red Wing Port Authority helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into successful economic ventures by introducing them to many financial assistance options. Perhaps even more importantly, the Authority has collaborative relationships with area resources designed to impart their wisdom and expertise to budding entrepreneurs. 

One such group is Red Wing Ignite, a non-profit business support organization founded by the community of Red Wing in 2013. The organization is tasked with working with experts to fuel economic development and spur innovation by supporting entrepreneurs, businesses and students.

“Red Wing Ignite seeks to leverage the incredibly knowledgeable stakeholders in the local and regional community to attract and develop small businesses and entrepreneurs to Red Wing,” said Stacy Nimmo, Red Wing Ignite Executive Director. “We are here to help foster and continue a spirit of innovation.” 

The organization accomplishes its goals through a series of parallel activities, from critical events to help educate and connect entrepreneurs to necessary resources for all business stages. It facilitates programs from regional and national networks to prepare students for the workforce of tomorrow. It does so at its Innovation Center, a collaborative space for meetings, co-working space and private offices with an excellent gigabit internet infrastructure.

Historical Impact

Red Wing Ignite has led small business development in Red Wing for nearly a decade. Over the last two years, it has served nearly 350 entrepreneurs through more than 1,500 one-on-one coaching hours and awarded nearly $60,000 in technical assistance.

Its efforts have received national recognition, such as helping Red Wing become the first rural community in the United States to earn SMART City designation by U.S. Ignite in 2014. That foundation of work caught the attention of the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI), which considers Red Wing a model for other rural communities. Red Wing was one of the first five communities from across the country to be highlighted in its “Portraits of a Community” series on exceptional innovation in a community. Today, Red Wing is a part of CORI’s Rural Innovation Network, which works to advance the economic fortunes of small-town America. CORI performed a case study on Red Wing to illustrate how regional collaboration can lead to growth in rural communities. Nimmo participated in a CORI-led Roundtable discussion on future economic development in rural America this past February. 

“We have been fortunate to develop this relationship with CORI and continue maintaining it as the programming grows significantly,” said Nimmo.

The relationship has delivered many benefits to the Red Wing economic community. In 2019, Red Wing Ignite was awarded an i6 Challenge grant through the U.S. EDA Regional Innovation Strategies Program to help communities transform innovations into jobs through proof-of-concept and commercialization assistance. The federal share is $750,000, with a local match to date of $940,602. The award has allowed Red Wing Ignite to offer its services to a wide range of entrepreneurs, meet the talent needs of area employers and prepare 75 students for the future workforce by convening ecosystem builders and stakeholders in 11 counties of Southeast Minnesota.

Tangible assistance

The assistance Red Wing Ignite provides is a significant factor in attracting startups and new business ideas to the Red Wing area.  Red Wing Ignite is the hub organization through Launch MN for the Entrepreneur First (E1) Collaborative. This partnership model was piloted in 2018 by Red Wing Ignite to enhance regional connectivity among ecosystem builders and stakeholders in 11 counties within southeastern Minnesota.

“We probably take for granted how fortunate we are with the presence of high-speed and reliable Gigabyte broadband,” said Nimmo. “The City had the foresight to partner with Hiawatha Broadband Communications to install high-speed broadband and deliver the advantage businesses and residents enjoy today,” said Nimmo.

Red Wing Ignite offers a series of educational events and workshops this summer to help entrepreneurs overcome obstacles in the way of their economic success. Several are led by CORI experts and are provided through grant funding to be either free or very low cost, with scholarship opportunities available. 

“While CORI is leading this series, they are dedicated to a “train the trainer” process, so we plan to offer this series every few months,” said Nimmo.

One upcoming course, the Ideation Workshop - Anyone Can Be an Entrepreneur, a class facilitated by experts as an introduction to entrepreneurship and anyone interested in potentially starting a business but doesn’t know where to get started. Registration is open for the course Tuesday, June 21, from 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., held at Red Wing Ignite.

Startup Sprint is a three-day pre-venture course designed to  help individuals through the discovery and validation process. Budding entrepreneurs present startup ideas to mentors and experts to further develop their concepts. This course will be offered again this fall.  The Ideation Bootcamp is an in-depth course for aspiring entrepreneurs to improve upon an early idea for a startup with input from subject matter experts and develop a launch strategy that will be offered in early 2023.

Other Ignite services

Ignite’s technical assistance program provides up to $2,500 for startups to address the factors that limit advancing their businesses, such as website development, marketing assistance, setting up e-commerce sites, designing logos and QuickBooks setup. 

Red Wing Ignite also offers a co-working and meeting space that can hold groups from two to 150 persons and is perfect for scheduled meetings and drop-ins. Zoom Room technology is available in two of our Conference Rooms. More information about Red Wing Ignite can be found at:

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To learn more about how the Red Wing Port Authority can help manufacturing companies in Red Wing, email us or call (651) 385-3639.

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