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Innovate 218 Pitch Contest and Start-Up Mentorship Program Foster Innovation in Northern Minnesota

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The Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) is generating a lot of excitement for new programs and events they’re developing for the communities of northern Minnesota. It has been a busy first quarter of the year for IEDC, as the group has received three major grants to help support the group’s mission to strengthen the business community of Itasca County. To share their excitement and spread the word about the new programs and events afforded by these new grants, Tamara Lowney, IEDC President and CEO, and Amanda Lamppa, Innovate 218 project Manager, stopped by the KAXE/KBXE Morning show to speak with Heidi Holtan and Kari Hedlund. To hear the buzz that these two IEDC emissaries brought to the studio, listen to the full interview by clicking the player at the top of the page.

In partnership with other economic development organizations in northern MN, IEDC has launched “Innovate 218” which is a group designed to support innovators and entrepreneurs located in Greater Minnesota. Through Innovate 218, Lowney and Lamppa said that local entrepreneurs can gain mentorship on business ideas in a number of different ways. “The big challenge is getting people to come forward with their new idea,” Lowney said.

Innovate 218 is encouraging people to do so by offering a scholarship to join the Winter 2022 cohort of Lean Start Up Innovation from ILT Academy. According to the program description, in the Lean Startup Innovation sessions participants walk their idea or startup through a 10-week program to help launch a successful business. Lowney said their goal is to get people to take that first step and embrace the unknown. “We want to build the structure so people feel like ‘this is for me. I can go out there and get the support.’ Even if you’re not sure what the first step even looks like” she said. “We want to get the people before they go talk to a consultant, and get them encouraged and fostered. Good entrepreneurs fail all the time. Failure is you’re learning about what didn't work.”

“It’s about education and confidence to come forward with their big idea. It’s literally taking an idea and seeing if it has merit. ‘Is this an idea that could ever be a business, or is it something that doesn’t have the legs?’ and the cohort helps the entrepreneur realize that” Lowney said.

The IEDC is also sponsoring a live Pitch Contest to further support innovators, small businesses, and entrepreneurs in the area. Applications are currently being accepted for individuals to participate in the live event at Rapids Brewery on May 11th, where they pitch their idea to a panel of funders, investors, and business leaders. “Anybody who has a business idea can apply to be in our pitch competition,” Lammpa said. “We narrow it down to five, so on April 29th we will let people know if they made it to the live event. We’ve got our 5 judges picked out and the 5 pitchers will have 5 minutes to sell their idea. It’s live entertainment here in town. And we have $6000 worth of prizes to give away.”

Lowney added that the Pitch Competition is informal and it is a way to mentor and foster people to achieve their innovation goals. “The judges have great knowledge and experience. It’s cool because you get to try to win some money, but you’ll be in a room with people who care about what you’re trying to do, and they want you to succeed. Our end goal is that the funding that you get from the grant is just the beginning.”

Even if you don’t have an idea or product to pitch, you can still head down to Rapids Brewery on May 11th to attend the event. “Everyone is invited to come down and watch,” Lowney said.

If you are a business owner, an entrepreneur, or just someone with a really good idea, you can participate in either of the Innovate 218 events. Find more information about these events and others by navigating to the Innovate 218 website by clicking here.

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.
The music director at KAXE since 2014, Kari (pronounced Car-ee) Hedlund reviews music on the daily. She also hosts New Music every Wednesday (2 and 10 p.m.) and Sunday (noon), along with the KAXE Morning Show on Thursdays.
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