From the Foundation: Supporting women entrepreneurs in southern Minnesota

Women make up 38 percent of entrepreneurial loan clients at the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, and the number is growing each year. Holly Jorgensen created her dental nonprofit, Let’s Smile Inc., in 2013 and works with SMIF to assist other dental programs around southern Minnesota. (Southern Minn Media photo)

By: Tim Penny
February 1, 2018

Minnesota now has two women United States senators, so it should be no surprise to see so many women business leaders in our state and the growth of women entrepreneurship in Minnesota. According to the 2016 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, women now make up 40 percent of new entrepreneurs in the United States — the highest percentage since 1996.

Women’s entrepreneurship rates rose by 13 percent on average in both 2011 and 2016 according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey, authored by Donna Kelly, a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Massachusetts. Men’s entrepreneurship rates rose by 5 percent during the same period, according to the survey.

Here at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, we have seen a significant increase in women entrepreneurs throughout our programming. In 2016 and 2017, an average of 38 percent of our loan clients were female entrepreneurs, an increase of 11 percent compared to the preceding two years.

While these women-owned businesses are located throughout SMIF’s 20-county region, several of our women entrepreneurs are right here in Steele County.

Paula Trenda of Curly Girlz Candy recently relocated her business from Medford to downtown Owatonna. She specializes in retail and wholesale candy sales and has found her niche in making natural, preservative-free candies, including “keto-friendly” candies, utilizing locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. Trenda has grown her business exponentially with the help of SMIF’s Small Enterprise Loan Program.

“It’s been a very easy process,” says Trenda. “We didn’t have a ton of collateral to put down for a traditional loan, so this has helped us get the equipment we needed, and the payment terms were very simple for us. The loan program has also allowed us to chat with a QuickBooks expert on SMIF’s staff.”

In addition, Trenda had the opportunity to join one of SMIF’s Local Foods Peer Councils. This group meets once per month to discuss business issues relevant to the local foods industry and to hear guest speakers talk about their experience as business owners. Each month, participants choose “Fast Burns” – any issue or challenge they currently face in their business that they would like to get insight and perspective on from other members. In addition to Curly Girlz Candy, the businesses range from salsa makers and maple syrup producers to craft beer brewers and coffee roasters.

Curly Girlz Candy also was chosen as one of fifteen local food businesses to participate in SMIF’s Feast! Smart Start Initiative, supported by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and in partnership with Renewing the Countryside. She receives six months of free one-on-one coaching and mentoring from experts in the areas where she needs assistance.

“[This program] offered us the ability to attend some executive training sessions that we wouldn’t have otherwise taken because of the cost,” Trenda says.

In SMIF’s early childhood work, entrepreneur Holly Jorgensen started a non-profit called Let’s Smile based in Steele County. Jorgensen provides dental care to children and adults who are underinsured or uninsured. Jorgensen is active with the Owatonna Early Childhood Initiative, and SMIF currently works with 25 ECI communities across the region. The ECI program supports programming to enhance early childhood activities. SMIF has partnered with Jorgensen on projects for the Early Childhood Dental Network in Martin County as part of our ECI work.

Another success story is Katie Sollid of Sollid Yoga. Sollid is a recent SMIF loan client who launched her business in Owatonna. She offers a wide variety of classes in her heated yoga studio including slow flow, vinyasa, barre, sculpting, restorative, gentle and yin yoga.

“I couldn’t have done it without SMIF,” says Sollid. “SMIF has been supportive even after the loan process with employees coming to my classes, or thinking of me when planning an event. It’s more than just getting a loan.”

SMIF offers a variety of services for all entrepreneurs. To learn more about SMIF’s offerings, visit

 Tim Penny is the President and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Previously, he represented Minnesota’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982-1994. 

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