Entrepreneurship alive in DL
The entrepreneurial spirit is going strong in the Detroit Lakes area, even as the economy's "return" takes a turtle's pace.
"This is something I've always wanted to do -- own my own business," said Melody Kruckenberg, who recently started her own Budget Blinds business in Detroit Lakes after 18 years working for a non-profit organization in Bismarck.
"I just got to a point where I was sick of working for a board of directors and knew it was time -- it was now or never."
Although she had worked her way up to executive director, Kruckenberg left good pay and security for a chance at something new in Detroit Lakes.
Realizing that getting another good job "at her age" wasn't in the cards, and knowing she had no real experience in other fields, she chose a franchise that was interesting to her.
"They train you, they're there for questions, and they have a business model for you to go by," Kruckenberg said.
In her Budget Blinds van, which she calls her office, Kruckenberg now does in-home consultations for window treatments.
She sets her own schedule and answers only to herself while beginning the next chapter of her life.
And while many may find her story inspiring, it's not necessarily unique.
According to Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Johnston, the number of people starting up their own businesses in this area is increasing.
"Especially in the service industry," said Johnston, "The plumbers, the electricians and lawn care have really increased in chamber membership over the past couple of years."
Johnston says in talking to a couple of the newer chamber members operating businesses in Detroit Lakes, many people just get too fed up with the corporations they work for.
Beth Pridday, who directs the Business and Entrepreneur Services (BES) program at M State, agrees.
She says a bad economy is exactly what is prompting people to take matters into their own hands.
"There's a sense of control there," said Pridday, "Sometimes when people work for a large corporation, they have so little control over what can happen, and so they turn to themselves -- they trust in their own talents and abilities."
Pridday also says in addition to those who are displaced by jobs, there are also those entrepreneurs who get a "side gig" to make ends meet.
"These days a lot of people need more income, whether it's for braces, family vacation or simply to pay the bills," Pridday said, "So they get a side hustle, and sometimes that side hustle grows to become something much bigger."
Pridday says M State's incubator program is helping budding entrepreneurs do just that.
The idea behind an incubator is to take brand new, small businesses and house them all in the same building -- each getting their own space.
M State has one incubator on its Detroit Lakes campus and one in Frazee, as well as plans to expand into Perham, Hawley and Barnesville.
In those incubators, new business owners receive classes and workshops, mentoring and the benefit of low overhead.
"They still pay market-rate rent, but they get a computer, furniture, free printing and faxing -- basically support services that help them get a leg up," said Pridday.
There are currently 16 small business owners between the Frazee and Detroit Lakes locations that are taking advantage of the incubators.
One of those tenants is Tim Woessner, who started Lakes Sew and Vac.
"I do sewing machine and vacuum repair and sales; I do some sewing for people, and I also have a sharpening service. So I do knives, scissors, chainsaw chains -- pretty much any type of sharpening," said Woessner, who started his business in the Frazee incubator April 1.
The 27-year old Detroit Lakes man says he already had the skills for his business, but the incubator is providing him with the tools to take the next step.
"They teach you about advertising and marketing ... just a whole bunch of material to help you get started."
After three years, incubator businesses are encouraged to begin making plans for their future by finding a new place.
Five years is the maximum time allowed in.
Pridday says incubators (like little chicks in an incubator just waiting to hatch) are a good way to nurture the local talent and small business potential.
For years, Linda Pagenkopf trained social workers for both private companies and for the state of Minnesota.
"But I always had that entrepreneurialism in me," Pegenkopf said, "I knew I wanted to open up my own practice, but had to wait for the right time."
The right time came when the state of Minnesota started making budget cuts in 2009, and although Pegenkopf's job wasn't cut then, the threat was enough to move her to action.
"I started my own part-time practice, called Life Choices Counseling in the incubator at M State in '09 while keeping my fulltime job," said Pegenkopf, "But in 2010, my department did not survive the budget cuts. It was perfect timing though, because my practice had grown enough for me to begin doing that full time."
Pegenkopf says had it not been for the inexpensive start up in the incubators, she probably couldn't have afforded to even get her door open.
The full time therapist says she's now doing well with her practice, and plans to move into her own office in Detroit Lakes sometime down the line.
Pridday says in addition to the incubator tenants, experts in the BES program continue to help more and more entrepreneurs who make a go of it all on their own as well.
"We've seen over 600 people come in here over the past two years with business ideas," said Pridday, who talks about the "amazing" things local people are doing from their basements, garages and sewing rooms.
"Let's face it, living in a small community, we're probably not going to attract too many large scale employers, so we really need to nurture our own people and retain and expand our own business and help them grow."