Established small businesses get a boost.
After successfully navigating the challenging startup phase, small business owners often encounter the need for additional resources to propel them to the next level. A promising local initiative has emerged to support these businesses, ensuring they have the necessary means to achieve their growth aspirations.
The Edina Innovation Lab—known as The Lab—welcomes established local businesses looking to innovate and grow. The Lab launched in 2022 with grant funding from the Edina Chamber of Commerce (ECC), the City of Edina and Paul and Jean Mooty.
“We know how much of a role small businesses play in our communities,” says Paul Mooty, ECC’s board chair. “The Innovation Lab is the perfect resource for the small business owner to meet with peers and a business coach to help encourage them, learn, network, innovate and grow.”
Business owners with at least three years under their belts are jumping into an exciting new program. Businesses who Innovate and Grow (BIG) is a six-month masterclass-style program that covers all things small business related.
Each cohort includes a maximum of 10 entrepreneurs or small business owners with various industries represented—retail, wholesale, manufacturing and service-based businesses.
Dietrich Nissen—a student in the first cohort, BIG 01—was ready to grow his Edina-based video storytelling business but wasn’t sure exactly what to do.
Nissen was a one-person operation, and his business, Inherited Stories, is based on building personal relationships with clients. His issue was how to expand while maintaining a customized connection with his clients.
Students in Nissen’s cohort discussed his growth dilemma and brainstormed ideas as a group. Working together is what makes The Lab special. Owning a small business can feel like you’re on an island. “It’s nice to not feel alone and get different opinions and perspectives,” Nissen says.
Nissen implemented a new sales strategy, created with the group’s input before the six-month class finished.
Before registering for BIG 01, Nissen had participated in other entrepreneurship mastermind classes. But said they were too general and didn’t address his specific needs. The Lab is different.
“I’m grateful for the different opinions,” he says. As a one-person business, “I missed things because I didn’t have an outside perspective,” he says.
That outside perspective is helpful in moving forward.
“Scalability is a hard thing when you’re an entrepreneur,” says Annette Wildenauer, chief innovation officer of The Lab. “Figuring it out without giving up too much control and losing your brand or your identity” is problematic.
Wildenauer is the energy behind The Lab and facilitates the BIG programs. She saw a hole in the market for second-stage businesses (those past the three-year startup window) looking to sustain growth.
“When you run your own business, you work by yourself a lot. You don’t get input from what’s really going on in the world,” she says.
“When we’re all together, we help each other and learn from each other’s experiences,” she says. Through her guidance, the group works on decision-making, strategy and problem-solving.
The space gives business owners the confidence to explore bold solutions. They not only learn from each other, but renowned business leaders and industry experts are invited to impart their knowledge to the group.
Wildenauer has extensive experience in the business world as a designer, business owner and an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas. Her breadth of expertise aligns with the variety of businesses signing up for the BIG program.
In the BIG program, in addition to individual coaching, business owners get to know each other and their businesses through twice-monthly classroom sessions, meet-and-greet events and informal catch-ups.
More programs are on the horizon, including a series of half-day Dare to Lead workshops.
“Small business owners wear so many hats and juggle so many balls it can be lonely and stressful in dealing with all that comes before them,” says Mooty, who, in addition to his duties at the ECC, is the vice chairman and partner of Faribault Mill. “It has been so inspiring to see the impact The Lab has already had on the participants and is something we really want to support.”
To learn more about the Edina Innovation Lab and its programs to help businesses innovate and grow, visit edinainnovationlab.com.