SBA awards Entrepreneur Fund

Photo by Emily Carlson

Minnesota SBA District Director Nancy Libersky (right) presents Shawn Wellnitz, Entrepreneur Fund CEO with the Minnesota Rural Lender of the Year award during a special event Monday at Rapids Brewing in Grand Rapids. Several regional small business owners and economic development leaders attended the event.

Regional economic development lenders recognized for 30 years of work

The Small Business Administration (SBA) presented their award for the Minnesota Rural Lender of the Year to the Entrepreneur Fund Monday, Oct. 7, in Grand Rapids. The regional economic development lender was recognized for its 30 years of service to northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Entrepreneur Fund was first recognized for this award at the Seventh Annual SBA Lenders Conference on Sept. 13, 2019 along with other lenders in the state. The October celebration was held at Rapids Brewing Company. Minnesota SBA District Director Nancy Libersky, various clients of the Entrepreneur Fund and other partners attended the event.

“We’re extremely proud to be named the SBA’s Rural Lender of the year in Minnesota,” said Shawn Wellnitz, Entrepreneur Fund CEO. “Access to adequate financing is one of the biggest challenges rural entrepreneurs face in Minnesota, and support from the SBA and other key partners helps us provide access to funding, programs and services designed to help business owners grow.”

Founded in 1989, the Entrepreneur Fund has three decades of experience strengthening entrepreneurship in the region. Their services cover many counties in northern Minnesota, including: Aitkin, Benton, Carlton, Cass, Cook, Crow Wing, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, St. Louis, Stearns and Todd Counties in Minnesota and Douglas County in Wisconsin. Through business loans and financing, the organization partners with entrepreneurs to create opportunities and grow business.

“They are definitely one of SBA’s strongest and best partners,” Libersky said.

The Entrepreneur Fund disbursed $2.7 million worth of small businesses loans in 2013. As of 2018, the Entrepreneur Fund disbursed 210 small business loans for a total of more than $12.6 million. This is represented a 367% growth in loans from the previous five years. Since its beginning in 1989, more than 14,000 business have been supported and funded with over $48 million in loans through the Entrepreneur Fund.

“This is one of our fastest lending communities,” Wellnitz remarked, regarding the Grand Rapids area. “That’s 210 people who are putting that to work to create good, quality jobs right here in our region.”

One of these businesses includes, 24hr Bookkeeper Inc. in Hibbing. Chief Executive Officer of 24hr Bookkeeper Inc. Karine Woodman shared her experience working with the Entrepreneur Fund to help fund a much needed parking lot for her newest business, Tech Tank, a co-working space in Hibbing that opened in August 2019.

“With that came needing extra funding. I talked to the Entrepreneur Fund and they helped me get that additional funding that I needed,” Woodman said. “I really believe that because of the SBA and the Entrepreneur Fund I was able to just literally fill that gap and move it forward, otherwise I think it would have caused additional hardship on myself.”

Another client of the Entrepreneur Fund, Co-Owner and Vice President of Syvantis Technologies Todd Froemming in Baxter, shared his thoughts on working with the lending company.

“None of this would have been possible without the support we’ve received,” Froemming said.

Congressman Pete Stauber attended the event and shared his congratulations with the Entrepreneur Fund. Additionally, a representative from the office of Senator Amy Klobuchar read a message from the senator to the group.

“A strong rural economy is largely dependent on the success of small business,” Wade Fauth, Blandin Foundation Vice President, said. “Congratulations to the Entrepreneur Fund for being named the SBA’s Rural Lender of the Year, a very deserving award for an organization doing important work to strengthen local businesses that in turn build vibrant, resilient communities in northern Minnesota and beyond.”

For more information about the Entrepreneur Fund, visit To learn more about the SBA, visit


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