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Initiative Quarterly

7 Graduate From 2020-2021 Initiators Fellowship

December 23, 2021

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Entrepreneurs from Central, Southwest and West Central Minnesota leverage two-year, $60,000 fellowship to grow, expand their social ventures

LITTLE FALLS, MN—Seven social entrepreneurs recently graduated from the 2020-2021 Initiators Fellowship. Each Fellow was supported by an executive mentor, $60,000 in financial resources and a rich ecosystem of regional leaders to help them grow and flourish. Fellows hail from the 41 Greater Minnesota counties and five native nations served by the Initiative Foundation, Southwest Initiative Foundation and West Central Initiative.

Alise Sjostrom, Jon Friesner, Hamdia Mohamed, Mark Van Herr, Anne O’Keefe Jackson, Erin Schutte Wadzinski and Rachel Stone have spent the last two years connecting in-person and virtually and learning from consultants, mentors and one another. Learn more at fellows.greaterminnesota.net.


The Initiative Foundation serves 14 counties in Central Minnesota.

Alise Sjostrom | Stearns County | Farmstead Cheesemaking

Alise Sjostrom adapted to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep Redhead Creamery in Brooten growing and expanding. “I am very grateful for the Initiative Foundation’s support and the leadership trainings that I’ve been able to be part of.” 

Jon Friesner | Crow Wing County | Year-Round Agriculture

Emily resident Jon Friesner used what he learned in the Fellowship to grow his business, GroShed. “On my own, I’d never have the time or money to learn what the Fellowship program has taught me,” Friesner said. “But because of the stipend and the network connections, I got both. I was paid to get leadership-level training, and that is incredible!”

Hamdia Mohamed | Stearns County | Sober Housing

Hamdia Mohamed more than doubled the number of clients served at Victory Plus Housing, a St. Cloud business supporting those on the path to sobriety and financial stability. “My business grew from housing seven clients to 16," Mohamed said. “In this program you have a lot of opportunities for personal growth, for your business to be exposed and for doors to open.”

Marc Van Herr | Stearns County | Mental Health

Marc Van Herr adapted The Beautiful Mind Project and added a business, Urgent Care for Mental Health, to better serve those facing mental health challenges. “This Fellowship has provided me with the space [to do the work], and that is so valuable, especially when you have a program like ours where there isn’t a blueprint. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the Initiators Fellowship.”


Southwest Initiative Foundation serves 18 counties in southwestern Minnesota.

Anne O'Keefe Jackson | Renville County | Native Arts

Anne O’Keefe Jackson of the Lower Sioux Tribal Nation continues to build her native arts supply business, Mni Sota Arts. “For me, the mentorship has been one of the best parts of the Fellowship,” O’Keefe Jackson said. In a unique arrangement, her hand-selected Native mentors from South Dakota provided critical support in clarifying and expanding her vision.

Erin Schutte Wadzinski | Nobles County | Immigration Law

Erin Schutte Wadzinski opened Kivu Immigration Law in Worthington and added five employees. During her two years in business, she has provided legal consultation to 500 immigrants. “The Initiators Fellowship gave me the boost I needed to launch my social enterprise,” Schutte Wadzinski said. “It has been more successful than I could have imagined.”


West Central Initiative serves nine counties in west central Minnesota.

Rachel Stone | Clay County | Youth Development

Rachel Stone, Moorhead, continued the good work with her youth empowerment organization, P’s & Q’s Etiquette. “This program has been amazing,” Stone said. “Whatever you think you lack, they are here to support you. For a long time, I felt like I was alone out here, but I felt such support having this program, and I know that this was exactly what I needed.”


The Initiators Fellowship originated with the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation in 2017. Launched with crucial support from Granite Partners and with subsequent support from the Bush Foundation and Sourcewell, the program aspires to help social entrepreneurs fast-track their ideas, grow their social and professional networks and further develop their business and community leadership skills.

The first cohort of four Fellows graduated in December 2018. A new 2022-2023 cohort featuring eight fellows—and new partner Northwest Initiative Foundation—will begin its work in January.

“Watching each cohort of the Initiators Fellowship accelerate their social entrepreneurship ideas and businesses has been such a joy,” said program manager Chris Fastner. “I look forward to supporting them as they continue to do good and important work in their communities and businesses.”

About the Initiative Foundation
Celebrating its 35th year in 2021, the Initiative Foundation supports a 14-county service area that includes Benton, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties and the sovereign tribal nations of the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe. Based in Little Falls, the Foundation exists to improve the quality of life and to build stronger communities in Central Minnesota by offering business loans, nonprofit grants, leadership training and donor services through its Partner Funds programs. Since 1986, the Initiative Foundation and its Partner Funds have invested multiple millions in the region through targeted grants and business financing investments. 

About the Funders
The Initiators Fellowship is made possible by generous funders, including Granite Partners, an original founding funder and partner, along with the Bush Foundation and Sourcewell.



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