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Big Ideas, Sizable Financing

Business plan competition offered by College of Business aids student entrepreneurs.

Kristine Goodrich, Mankato Free Press, 4-22-2016

MANKATO — The graduate of a Minnesota State University, Mankato satellite school has $10,000 to help him launch Iron Range Maker Space, thanks to the university’s Big Ideas Challenge.

Andrew Hangemon wants to create a facility in Hibbing where tradespeople of many kinds can come to use equipment, teach classes, sell their creations and access other resources.

On Thursday, Hangemon won the second annual competition that invited entrepreneurial Minnesota State Mankato students and recent graduates to develop a business plan and make a pitch to a panel of judges for an opportunity to win startup funds. The participants compete for two grants from business sponsors.

A panel of business executives, many of them Minnesota State Mankato alumni, selected Hangemon to receive $10,000 to help make his maker space a reality. Dietetics major Hannah Thompson received the $2,500 awarded by a vote of the audience members who observed the five finalists make their biggest pitches.

College of Business Dean Brenda Flannery said the Big Ideas Challenge was born from a desire to provide all entrepreneurial Minnesota State Mankato students an opportunity and incentive to pursue their business ideas. The College of Business already has such opportunities for its students, but its leaders wanted to start a campus-wide program, Flannery said.

Alumnus Craig Lloyd of Lloyd Companies agreed to cover the administrative costs and provide $10,000 in prize funds. This year a second sponsor, Marc Blumenthal of CWP Northstar, joined to increase the prize amount.

The 2015-16 challenge kicked off in November with alumni giving presentations about their successful business ventures and providing advice to students. Program leader April Femrite, a graduate fellow, organized workshops and recruited business leader volunteers to mentor the 17 student who enlisted in the challenge.

Business and faculty judges selected five finalists who received additional support developing a more detailed business plan and preparing to make a pitch to a new group of judges Thursday.

Those judges said they had a difficult decision to make.

“I was surprised by the qualify of all five plans.

They were all very impressive,” said judge Paul Rasmussen, founder of Zepal Corporation.

“The competition was very tight this year,” said returning judge Stuart Sneer, president of United Prairie Bank. “They all presented very well. I was amazed to see the confidence level of the students.”

Judge Jeff Meyerhofer, senior vice president of UnitedHealthcare Dental, said Hangemon won his vote because his proposal will create more opportunities for entrepreneurs on the struggling Iron Range.

“All across the Range are craftspeople and laborers who have been laid off who know how to use high-powered manufacturing equipment,” Hangemon wrote in his business proposal. “By having a space available for these workers to come and use their skillset to help them create equipment they need or even use this equipment for their own small business, it has the potential to help people in this region both from a mental health standpoint and an economic standpoint.”

The Iron Range Maker Space will have a variety of metalworking, woodworking, painting, 3-printing and other equipment available, Hanemon said. There will also be computer design software and space for its members to hold meetings and classes for the public.

And there will be a store where members can sell their work.

Hanemon, who is a December graduate of Minnesota State Mankato’s Iron Range Engineering school and works as a manufacturing supervisor at a Hibbing manufacturing business, said he wanted to start a maker space on the Iron Range after touring one in Pittsburgh.

The business, which Hanemon would manage, would earn funds by charging ongoing membership fees and one-time rental fees, and taking a portion of the store’s sales.

Hanemon said he’s already received $212,000 in equipment donations and has a building picked out: the former VFW in Hibbing. The Big Ideas Challenge prize will help with the down payment and he hopes a Kickstarter campaign will raise the remainder needed.

Thompson won the audience choice award with a recently launched personal chef service. It’s the first in the Mankato area, she said.

She shops for ingredients, prepares them in the client’s home and cleans the kitchen before she departs. She charges about $16 per four-person meal and usually makes five meals during a visit.

She first practiced pitching her idea by participating in the Regional Center for Entrepreneurial Facilitation’s Biz Pitch program in January. A panel or judges heard the pitch and provided feedback.

She was mentioned in an article about the program in The Free Press and two readers found her on social media and requested to be her first clients. The fact prospective clients sought her out reinforced that there is a market for a personal chef service in this area, she said.

She’s taken on two more clients as she developed her business plan with the help of Big Ideas Challenge She’ll use her $2,500 prize to fund some of her start-up costs, she said.

Next year, if demand continues to grow, she might hire an employee to help her prepare meals.

After she graduates, the Plainville native said she’d like to expand her small business to include other services such as nutrition counseling.

The other three finalist proposals were for a website, a garden hose and a nonprofit clothing recycler. Charles Jennings wants to launch a new social media website called The family-oriented site would be for users who want an alternative more private site in which they can connect with a smaller group of close family.

The site would generate funds through a monthly subscription and advertising. A beta version of the site has already been built.

Senior accounting and corporate finance major Kody Henning pitched an e-commerce business which first product would be a 150-foot flexible garden hose with a unique spray nozzle. The product would be made in China and sold on Amazon through the Fulfillment by Amazon system.

Kylen Feltes entered the challenge seeking help expanding her existing campus organization: Dream Closet. Three times a year she collects clothing and gives clothes away at free shopping events on campus. She’s hoping to make Dream Closet a nonprofit organization and expand the concept to other college campuses.

The winners of the inaugural Big Ideas Challenge were senior nursing students Katie McDonald and Megan Chase. They earned both the $8,000 judges prize and $2,000 audience choice prize with an idea to start a pediatric respite care service.

They proposed to employ Minnesota State Mankato nursing students to provide in-home care for children with medical needs.

The winning duo has started a nonprofit but are still in need of additional funding before launching.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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