Southwest Initiative Foundation

The Southwest Initiative Foundation has its headquarters in Hutchinson and field staff throughout the 18-county region. It is teaming up with the Initiatie Foundation of Little Falls to bring an entrepreneur program to the area.

Have you ever had a great idea for a business or nonprofit that would make a difference?

The Initiative Foundation of Little Falls wants to hear from you. It has teamed up with the Southwest Initiative Foundation, which is headquartered in Hutchinson, and the West Central Initiative to search 41 Greater Minnesota counties for entrepreneurs with great ideas to help their communities.

“We know one person with the right tools can make a difference in a community,” said Chris Fastner, program manager for the Initiators Fellowship. “It’s about supporting local leaders and making good things happen in their communities. There are a lot of younger people interested in getting more involved.”

The two-year fellowship awards a $30,000 stipend each year for up to seven early stage entrepreneurs who have an idea to take on a social challenge and pursue leadership growth. But that’s just one piece of the program. Fellows receive executive-level mentorship, programming and educational opportunities. Applicants must be age 18 or older. They can be recent college graduates, young professionals, mid-career or in encore careers. Applicants must live within one of the three initiative foundation regions or an adjacent tribal nation. Those with diverse backgrounds, experiences, ability, economic status and perspective are encouraged to apply.

Four participants graduated from a pilot version of the program in December. This second round has grown from 14 to 41 counties.

“One individual (Quinn Nystrom) was working a full-time job,” Fastner said. “She had this desire. Kind of on the side she had been speaking about diabetes education. She was an advocate. She wanted to develop this into a social business. With the business mentoring, the training and annual support she was able to cut down her other job to part time and expand this business. In the last couple of months she has been showcased in the (Star Tribune) and some national newspapers for leading caravans to Canada to buy insulin and bring awareness to the exorbitant price of insulin.”

Hudda Ibrahim, a Somali-American in St. Cloud, expanded a fledgling business designed to address a workforce shortage in the St. Cloud area.

“(She helped) employers become more welcoming, creating a more welcoming environment for new immigrants,” Fastner said, adding that she also helped new Americans navigate the workforce.

To read more about the previous fellows, visit To learn more about the fellowship or to apply, visit

The program is funded by Granite Equity Partners, the Bush Foundation, Sourcewell and CliftonLarsonAllen, among others. It was inspired by Echoing Green, an international program. A member of the Initiative Foundation’s board of trustees learned about Echoing Green and wanted to see if a similar local program could be started.

“That’s the backstory,” Fastner said. “Fundamentally, the way I’ve been thinking about it is it’s just in the DNA of the initiative foundations to support rural revitalization.” We’ve always supported entrepreneurship and business development, and rural leadership. This combines the two into one.”