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Igniting innovation: Red Wing Ignite selected for nationwide initiative

Red Wing Ignite fuels economic development by working with key sectors of the community to spur innovation by supporting entrepreneurs, businesses and students. The nonprofit organization was founded by the community of Red Wing in 2013. Photo courtesy of Red Wing Ignite

Red Wing Ignite's successes have landed the incubator a spot in the Rural Innovation Initiative.

The Center for Rural Innovation and the Rural Innovation Strategies launched the new program with the intent of supporting rural communities working to create digital economy jobs with an innovation hub strategy.

Red Wing learned Thursday it is one of only nine communities selected. More than 130 communities applied.

"Red Wing Ignite has established itself as one of the leading innovation centers in rural America, building an entrepreneurial environment and developing cross-sectional partnerships that are necessary for a rural innovation ecosystem to thrive," Matt Dunne, founder of CORI and executive director of Rural Innovation Strategies, said in a news release.

When Neela Mollgaard, the executive director of Red Wing Ignite, was asked why being chosen to participate in the Rural Innovation Initiative is important she stated:

"It affirms that rural communities, as we work together, can compete and be competitive in our economy. But the way that we have to create an innovating ecosystem or an entrepreneurial ecosystem in rural areas is different and so it will be nice to learn from others."

Red Wing Ignite has had a variety of successes during the past five years. For example:

• Helping entrepreneurs find customers, investors and peers to help grow their new business.

• The creation of the Makerspace at Minnesota State College Southeast that allows individuals and businesses to build and create using a variety of tools and equipment.

• Learn and Earn, a program that helps train high school students in high-demand jobs. So far, seven school districts and 14 businesses have joined this program. 20 students have received their OSHA 10 certification through Learn and Earn.

• Providing shared space for individuals that need space to work.

"Rural Innovation Initiative participants will have access to significant technical assistance to refine their economic development strategy, help them identify partnerships, and leverage existing resources," the news release said.

The Rural Innovation Initiative will work to help the nine participating organizations grow through a range of support services — from onsite and video conference time with RISI staff to templates and written materials as they execute an innovation hub strategy. There is an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs, and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their digital economy.

"We worked diligently... over the last five years to create an innovative ecosystem for students, entrepreneurs and businesses in our area. We look forward to strengthening our efforts with CORI's technical assistance, resources and knowledge of best practices from others in their national network." Mollgaard said.

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