entrepreneurhsip

Blooming Prairie Fosters Local Entrepreneurship

We have strong pockets of entrepreneurship in southeast Minnesota that are making a real impact on their communities. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Blooming Prairie, a small town about forty miles southwest of Rochester. This town is dominated by locally grown businesses that serve as a cornerstone for the community, not only creating jobs that may not have existed otherwise, but enriching the community and inspiring innovation.

While manufacturing rules the employment scene, Blooming Prairie has a pretty well-rounded business ecosystem. And most of these businesses were started by people born and raised in Blooming Prairie. Of the three largest manufacturing employers in town- Minimizer, Tandem Products, and Arkema- only the latter was not founded by a Blooming Prairie resident. Emerging manufacturers, like Smooth Move Seats and Heavy Metal, were started by Blooming Prairie entrepreneurs. Non-manufacturing businesses built in Blooming Prairie, like Extreme Powder Coating and Sportstitch, round out the scene creating a strong, Blooming Prairie grown business base.

Entrepreneurship must be in the water.

One reason for the success of Blooming Prairie born-and-bred businesses may be due to a strong, hardworking workforce explained Luke Swenson, President of the Blooming Prairie Chamber of Commerce. The town serves as an employment hub for the surrounding communities in Steele and Mower counties and draws employees in from as far away as Rochester, Mankato, and even Eden Prairie.

“We’re doing something right, I think, in Blooming Prairie,” explained Luke.

The Chamber of Commerce itself plays a role in the business success of the town. The Blooming Prairie Chamber of Commerce has 140 members from the town and areas that service Blooming Prairie like Owatonna, Austin, Geneva, and Ellendale. Workforce development is one major push for the Chamber, helping to address one of the largest issues in Blooming Prairie.

The Chamber also supports and runs several community events to engage and encourage interactions between business leaders and help to attract and keep high quality workers in the region. Their most popular event is an Old Fashioned Fourth of July, which attracts over 30,000 people to Blooming Prairie every year. The Holiday Dazzle is the next event on the docket on December 2nd. This festival will take place along Main Street and includes displays from local businesses and games for children.

Call Taylor at (507) 424-3648.

Call Taylor at (507) 424-3648.

Blooming Prairie is a unique place both to live and to do business. The town has a well-rounded business community with a mix of both young and more mature companies that collaborate and support each other, a hard find these days. The Chamber itself is progressive and “understands that what’s good for the community is good for the businesses in the community,” explained Luke.

While Blooming Prairie continues to draw in workers, it still maintains a small town feel.

“We’re not a bedroom community. A lot of the smaller communities surrounding Rochester and Mankato have turned into bedroom communities, where a lot of people don’t even know their neighbors. Everybody [in Blooming Prairie] knows everybody, so it’s easy to do business with each other,” said Luke. 

Rochester Rising Launches Crowdfunding Campaign to make News Site a Sustainable Part of the Community

Rochester Rising is launching a crowdfunding campaign, starting today, to make this news site a sustainable part of the community. You can become a supporter by clicking here to be re-directed to the Rochester Rising Patreon site. It’s crowdfunding, so of course there are prizes for contributing to the campaign! There are seven different incentive levels, including advertisement for businesses and startups.

  • At a $25/month, a startup or emerging small business gets one week of advertisement per month on the Rochester Rising homepage.
  • At $100/month a, more established, local business or nonprofit gets one week of advertisement per month on the Rochester Rising homepage.

 

What is Rochester Rising?

Hopefully this is not your first visit here, but if it is I hope it’s not your last. Rochester Rising is an online-only news site that delivers in-depth, insightful, original articles and podcasts about the entrepreneurial and emerging small business sectors in Rochester, Minnesota.

I told my story as a new entrepreneur here just a few weeks ago. But Rochester Rising was really started to fill a gap in news coverage in our community. We have a very young, but emerging entrepreneurial community here in Rochester. We have a great bioscience and medical community here, and some of these entrepreneurs are operating in that industry. But we also have so much more. We have tech entrepreneurs, food and beverage entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, student entrepreneurs, and innovative non-profits. We have a growing small business community. People here are really starting to take risks and put themselves out there, but no one is talking about it.

Rochester Rising gives our innovators and entrepreneurs a voice. It’s a place to tell the stories of our risk-takers, both the good parts and the bad. And hopefully it’s a place that will inspire change through words and motive others to start something, no matter how small.

 

Why Should you Care?

Rochester Rising is not out to craft click bait headlines. Not every story will be of interest to everyone. But there’s something here for anyone interested in community development, entrepreneurship, innovation, and business development in Rochester and even beyond this city. There’s something here for everyone who wants to be inspired. These are the stories that we feel need to be told.

There’s no large production team behind Rochester Rising. It’s just me. One person. I do all the writing, editing, podcasting, web development, sales, marketing, business development, etc. I am currently not financed by any promotional or business development entities in town. It’s just me trying to make this work long enough to make a difference.

 

What’s Crowdfunding and What’s in it For Me?

Crowdfunding is a way to raise small amounts of money from a large number of people. People who financially back a product or business through crowdfunding typically get some type of reward. Most people are probably more familiar with crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, where supporters make a one-time financial contribution and the fundraising campaign ends in 30-60 days.

I’m using a different crowdfunding platform called Patreon. These campaigns last until the creator (me in this case) ends them. And instead of the one-time financial support, supporting patrons give a monthly financial contribution. So it’s more similar to an MPR-like model where supporters, or patrons in this case, give however much they want each month to the business.

Besides just knowing that you’re helping to make Rochester Rising a sustainable part of the community here, there are seven other incentive levels for patrons contributing monthly to the campaign. Here’s what Rochester Rising patrons will receive:

  • For $1/month: A special “I support Rochester Rising” sticker + access to patron-only teasers about upcoming interviews. These teasers can be accessed on the Patreon website or mobile app.
  • For $5/month: All of the above incentives + access to patron-only weekly, exclusive Rochester Rising content. This content is will be available through the Patreon website or app.
  • For $10/month: All of the above incentives + one Rochester Rising coffee mug.
  • For $15/month: All of the above incentives + one Rochester Rising T-shirt + the ability to submit questions for upcoming interviews (through the Patreon website or app).
  • For $25/month: All of the above incentives + tickets to an exclusive live taping of a Rochester Rising roundtable podcast + 1 week/month of free advertising for a startup or emerging small business on the Rochester Rising homepage.
  • $50/month: All of the above incentives + one surprise sent to you in the mail each month from me! + 1 free month of Collider Community membership ($20 value).
  • $100/month: All of the above incentives + listing as a Founding Patron on Rochester Rising (if you want) + 1 free week/month of free advertising for a local business or non-profit on the Rochester Rising homepage.

 

Check out the Patreon page for more information on how the money will be spent and to become a patron.

Any amount really helps Rochester Rising continue to exist. If you have read some of the articles or listen to the podcasts and have learned even one thing, please consider become a patron. If you really see the value of having something like this in the community, or if you even know me personally and believe in me, consider helping to make this a voice for entrepreneurship.

 

How to Pivot your Business Model: Transforming Sontes into a Rochester Brewpub

“But that’s part of being an entrepreneur, is forward thinking about where you’re going to be.  What do you want to do?  Where do I want to be in ten to fifteen years?” explained Tessa Leung, owner of Grand Rounds Brew Pub

Tessa has been innovating in Rochester’s food and drink scene for a long time.

This female businesswoman previously owned and ran Sontes, an upscale, locally sourced food and wine bar that used to sit right on the corner of 3rd Street SW and South Broadway.  While business at Sontes was great, Tessa could see that it was time for a change.  On April 15th last year, tax day for those keeping score, Tessa and her business partner/head brewer Steve Finnie opened up Grand Rounds Brew Pub, the very first brewpub in over twenty years in Rochester. 

Tessa previously met Steve at an event where he was serving up his beer and she absolutely loved his product.  “Then we looked at what was missing in Rochester and asked what did we really like,” she explained.  Tessa was passionate about wine.  Sontes was her “first baby”.  But when looking at Sontes’ business model, she realized the opportunity to really engage the local community and grow with Sontes was limited.

"Wine in the Midwest doesn't really scream camaraderie like it does in California, because we don't yet have that sense of wine culture, yet.  Wine is not a known commodity like beer in the Midwest.  But beer, it really is part of our Midwestern collective memories and consciousness."

Adding a community-focused piece was important for Tessa in this phase of her career as a food and beverage innovator.  While growing up in Stewartville, one of her favorite jobs was working at this local pizza place, a restaurant that was really inclusive and drew in everybody from the community.

“And it was the best pizza ever.  I’m not going to lie. …The whole town stood behind that.  The whole town got it.  The whole town was proud of that,” she said.

“I think in any business, and especially small business, I think involving the community and the local people, that’s what makes your business your business.  And that’s what makes your business really cool. …And it’s nice for Rochester people to say, ‘This is our beer.  We have this,’” Tessa explained.  

Even the Grand Rounds name is rooted in connectivity and community.  Grand rounds are part of the medical education process where physicians, students, and residents come together to talk about problems and to learn.  Gathering around the table over some beers at the end of the day is just an extension of this process. 

“What do people do when you get together and drink a pint?  You talk about problems.  You try to figure things out.  It’s kind of a grand round.”

The name Grand Rounds is a nod to Rochester’s past, but it also acknowledges Rochester’s future.  A future beyond these medical ties.  A future in entrepreneurship.  A future in beer.

The craft beer scene in Minnesota is one of the best in the country.  Minnesota has 105 craft breweries, or about 2.7 breweries per 100,000 people 21 years of age or older, according to the Brewers Association.  The beer scene in Rochester is starting to grow.  Kinney Creek set the pace, becoming the first brewery to open in Rochester since prohibition. 

“Rochester’s really starting to get this massive education on food and wine and beer and entrepreneurship.  Things aren’t what they were ten years ago.  And that’s good.  That’s really good,” said Tessa.

Now we have Kinney Creek Brewery, Grand Rounds Brew Pub, Forager Brewery, and LTS Brewing Company.  People are starting to take notice of our Rochester beers and breweries.  You don’t need to trek to the Twin Cities any more for a good, local craft beer.

“I’m so hopeful that this city becomes more like you see in Minneapolis or what you see in Portland or Seattle or Sonoma.  It’s a city that embraces that you have quality products and quality chefs and quality producers here and that Rochester does have a lot to offer,” Tessa explained.

Rochester has brewers making some phenomenal, award-winning beers from locally sourced ingredients.  As residents of this city, we’re starting to work through our beer primer and finally understand the difference between a brewery and a brew pub.  Our brewers are creating some innovative products.  Grand Rounds themselves just brewed their 100th batch of beer last month.  That’s 1400 kegs of beer. 

As a southeastern Minnesota born and bred girl, Tessa loves Rochester and the talent held within.  With all the changes happening in the community, Rochester is becoming an entrepreneurial hot spot in Minnesota and more and more people are finally starting to take risks

“I was the only one by myself for a quite some time that was doing something so different that it felt pretty lonely at times.  I really don't feel alone anymore.  It is nice be amongst fellow adventurers in the community, that are inspiring me!”