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Community support helps ignite entrepreneurial spark

Main street scene with four people walking downtown and a water tower far away

Many factors help transform the spark of inspiration into a successful entrepreneurial venture. Right time, right place. Right idea, right plan. Right supply, right demand. 

But what about the right community? For the answer, University of Minnesota Extension’s Neil Linscheid is digging deep into finding out how communities can create environments that help entrepreneurs flourish. In late 2022, Linscheid was appointed as state specialist in entrepreneurship and has begun helping lead related programming and research. 

He’s putting considerable experience to work as an Extension community economics educator for the last  15 years.  

Neil Linscheid's staff portrait
Neil Linscheid

The new effort is part of a partnership with University of Wisconsin Extension, made possible by gifts from Compeer Financial and AgCountry Farm Credit, both financial services companies with significant stakes in rural community vitality. His role isn’t about direct guidance to would-be business owners but rather what makes a place conducive to entrepreneurial success. 

“We’re looking at how communities can work to support entrepreneurship. Each community has different strengths they bring to the table when it comes to creating a supporting environment. Some communities have built a culture that values entrepreneurs and trying new things,” Linscheid says. “Other communities have cultivated resources like financing, business technical assistance, and a strong economic development strategy. Community leaders that think their community could do a little better are the people we think we can support.”   

Connections nurture growth, even the ones that don’t come with a sign on the door. As Linscheid notes, mentorship for emerging entrepreneurs is important, as is support for risk-taking. He also will examine what’s needed for underserved communities and immigrants to have a stronger role in the entrepreneurial landscape. 

The joint programming has opened the door to introducing a University of Wisconsin Extension program called Homegrown Entrepreneurship, which will be piloted in two communities in southeastern Minnesota. In addition to his outreach efforts, Linscheid will also bring a research focus to his work. Extension researchers are well-suited to the task.

“One of the things that makes our work unique is that we do our work in the community,” he says. “And we are committed to being rigorous in our mission to understand what works and what doesn’t in supporting entrepreneurs.” 


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