Elevate Business Academy in Willmar is a 12-week immersive program designed to create economic opportunity for all business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs in Kandiyohi County. Students can be anyone from a current small business owner to an entrepreneur with a dream.
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Abdilahi Omar, owner of Ainu-Shams Grocery, and Hte Hte Hta Rue, owner of Chaw's Asian Market, are two of the five 2021 graduates of Elevate, a community-based business academy with the mission to elevate businesses for success through education and mentorship. The program is aimed at helping underserved and female identifying entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color.
"The program is to elevate, exactly as you can see its name, and support our business owners and the new businesses starters," said Abdusalaam Hirsi, an assistant instructor for Elevate. Funded by the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF), the first Elevate cohort started class in March of 2021 and classes were all virtual. The five students of Elevate, Abdiqani Mahamed, Abdilahi Omar, Hte Hte Hta Rue, Stephanie Thompson and Abdiweli Yusuf, all graduated on June 16. They were known as The Fabulous Five.
In the speech during the graduation ceremony, Scott Marquardt, senior vice president of SWIF, said that this night was a product of two years of planning. He said that SWIF was introduced to Rising Tide Capital about two years ago. Rising Tide Capital is a nonprofit organization based in New Jersey that founded the course and curriculum. After visiting New Jersey and seeing a class, Marquardt wanted to start a program in Willmar.
"We believe in you. We believe in your dream. We believe in what you want to do for this community and this region and we're honored to start with you and to be part of your journey," he said during his speech.
Over the duration of the 12-week course, the students met once a week for two to three hours. Rue said that initially she had some hesitations.
"I first think that, 'Oh, I don't speak English. So I think I'm not going.' But is very good for business. So, and then I [said to myself], 'Okay, I try that,'" she recalled. "This Elevate class is very useful for business who are starting business or own a business. So we like it, we love it."
The second elevate cohort class will start in the fall of 2021. The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar EDC, and SWIF are working to organize a second elevate class beginning in September. Informational sessions will be held in July and August. Check elevatebusinessacademy.com for specific dates by mid July.