UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
At left, Mary Field, owner of Simply Sourdough; Angie Larson, owner of Mindful Fork; Sheri Marnell, St. Croix Valley Business Innovation Center director; and Ed Rosheim, owner of Workplace Languages, meet at the St. Croix Valley Business Innovation Center. The center was a finalist for an international rural entrepreneurial award.
July 18, 2022 – The St. Croix Valley Business Innovation Center was recently a finalist for the International Business Innovation Association Entrepreneur Support Organization rural category.
“We had a really great year at the Innovation Center,” Director Sheri Marnell said. “We grew 400% in the last 12 months. We are nearing full capacity with programs. In the last four years, we have helped retain 100 jobs and created an additional 200 jobs in the area. One hundred percent of our members recommend us. About $33 million has been invested in capital to the economy.”
The center first opened in January 2018. It is a collaborative effort of four founding partners including the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, the city of River Falls, Chippewa Valley Technical College and the River Falls Economic Development Corp.
“Our incubator is unique because we have four partners. I am so proud of our four founding members,” Marnell said. “Our members continuously share that they would not be the success that they are without us, our center and the ecosystem we have built here. We are a multi-use facility, and our core values are to innovate, support, be flexible, collaborate and believe. We attribute our members’ success to staying true to these values. Innovation is inspired by our members and the roadblocks they have and our flexibility in innovating to support and believe in them.”
The business incubator provides management guidance and technical assistance to new business owners, as well as a variety of workspaces available for rent from cubicles and private offices to co-working rooms and industrial space. The incubator has 10,000 square feet of industrial space.
This past spring the center added a 3,000-square-foot Food Ready Space to help entrepreneurs grow or launch their food product businesses. At the center, members rent a 225-square-foot space for their own personal/business use, have a 1,500-square-foot of shared space including a mop station, three compartment handwashing and food prep sinks, and can choose to rent four-foot sections underneath a kitchen hood with fire suppression equipment to install equipment such as stovetops and ovens. Members bring in the equipment they need at the Food Ready Space.
Marnell is available to the incubator tenants as a coach and adviser to talk about what is working with their businesses and to help them establish goals to grow their businesses.
The center provides UWRF the opportunity to work with businesses and the community and connect students with business and faculty research with businesses, Marnell said. There are student internship opportunities with the center as well.
Marnell presented about the center on June 26 in Atlanta.
Even though the Innovation Center did not win the award, it was an honor to present, Marnell said, adding Ohio University won the award.
Bill Lamb, who is part of the center’s Management Committee and a River Falls Economic Development Corp. board of directors, said it was a tremendous honor for the Innovation Center to be selected as a finalist for the prestigious award.
“The work of innovation centers all over the world is vitally important to their respective local communities as a place to encourage and foster entrepreneurship and innovation,” Lamb said. “To be recognized on an international level is a tremendous honor for the Innovation Center and the hard work of Dr. Sheri Marnell and her staff. Since its opening, the St. Croix Valley Business Innovation Center has assisted the fulfillment of entrepreneurs’ visions and hopes for their businesses. And the recent completion of a Food Ready Space has been particularly exciting.”
At the InBIA conference there were representatives from Europe, Africa, Australia, Canada and throughout the U.S., Marnell said.
"It was important to tell the story of what we are doing in western Wisconsin,” Marnell said. “Nationally, I feel Wisconsin is somewhat a forgotten state, particularly the west side of Wisconsin. It was an honor and we at the center were excited to be a finalist.”
For more information on the resources available at the St. Croix Valley Business Innovation Center, visit https://www.stcroixinnovation.org/.