Feature Image: All attendees, speakers and student competitors of the 2017 Entrepreneurial Bridge in Austin


AUSTIN, Minn., September 22, 2017 – On September 18-19, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) convened more than 100 southern Minnesota business leaders and student entrepreneurs at The Entrepreneurial Bridge conference at the Historic Hormel Home in Austin. The goal of this annual event is to foster connections between high-potential companies. Over 60 companies attended a full-day of panels, keynote speakers and networking periods. Many new connections were sparked and existing ones deepened.

“Consider this a spa day: it’s all about you,” opened SMIF Board Vice Chair Fred Krahmer on Tuesday, September 19. Attendees were encouraged to reflect on how to put key messages to work in their daily operations and to connect with others facing similar struggles.

The theme of the day was the importance of trust and overcoming the unexpected. Nationally acclaimed speaker and author David Horsager, CEO and Founder of the Trust Edge Leadership Institution explained the eight pillars of trust. “A lack of trust is the biggest expense you have,” said Horsager. “Everything of value is built on trust.”

Over the course of the day, three panels of experts spoke on topics including expecting the unexpected, using the “Traction” model to operationalize operations, and collaborative financing. In addition to David Horsager, the group also heard from Megan Turek of Closing the Gap (Henderson) and the founder of Tastefully Simple, Jill Blashack Strahan. Both spoke on how they overcame fear to make their businesses more sustainable. 

Another component of The Entrepreneurial Bridge was a student business competition. The student business competition was held on Monday evening; all students presented to the full conference again on Tuesday to be judged for “Audience Favorite.” 

Entrepreneurs Gather In Austin For Third Annual Entrepreneurial Bridge 02

Student business competition winners: (L-R), Levi Johnson & Anthony Valiulis of Da Vinci Industries (1st Prize & Audience Favorite), Benjamin Lindquist & Robert Pederson of Endura Mark (2nd Prize)

This year, 10 student groups representing four schools – Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter), Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSU), St. Olaf College (Northfield), and Winona State University – presented their business plans to SMIF’s Leadership Circle. Da Vinci Industries (St. Olaf College) won both the judged competition ($5,000) and the audience favorite ($2,000). Endura Mark (MSU) was the second prize winner ($3,000).

This event was generously sponsored by Rosen’s Diversified Inc. (RDI) in Fairmont and The Hormel Foundation in Austin. “Giving is not a natural response, it’s a learned response,” said Tom Rosen, CEO of Rosen’s Diversified.  “My hope is that some people in this room will start businesses like Rosen’s Diversified and create jobs in this region.”

“The Bridge event is a great way for The Hormel Foundation to expand its reach beyond Mower County,” said Roland Gentzler, Board Treasurer for the Hormel Foundation.

View photos from the event on SMIF’s Facebook page. SMIF provides a range of finance and management assistance services to start and grow businesses. To learn more, contact Marcia Haley at 507-455-3215 or marciah@smifoundation.org, or visit www.smifoundation.org. SMIF is an equal opportunity lender. 

About Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), a donor-supported foundation, invests for economic growth in the 20 counties of south central and southeastern Minnesota. The Foundation has provided more than $106 million in grants, loans and programming within the region during the past 31 years. SMIF’s key interests include early childhood, community and economic development. To learn more about our work and mission, visit www.smifoundation.org.


Kallie Rollenhagen, Communications Coordinator

507-214-7022  l  kallier@smifoundation.org