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Funds available for rural small businesses

Two women sitting at a table with 3-ring binder in discussion.
April 26, 2017

Blandin Foundation infuses funds to NRRI's Business Assistance Fund to help entrepreneurs in Itasca County and other small communities.

Entrepreneurs are important innovators and economic drivers. And that’s especially needed in Minnesota’s rural communities. 

But starting and owning a small business is also challenging. Now, a collaborative effort, with a new infusion of funding from The Blandin Foundation, will provide business assistance with technical research and development to drive entrepreneurial success.

Successful applicants to the Business Assistance Fund will receive upfront planning and analysis assistance from Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) and hands-on technical research assistance from the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI).  Support of $150,000 from The Blandin Foundation will target entrepreneurs in Itasca County, plus the rural communities of Hill City, Remer, Blackduck and Northome. Successful applicants would be awarded amounts in the $500 – $25,000 range, to be matched by the applicant.

According to NRRI Business Assistance Fund Manager Shima Hosseinpour, the key for interested applicants will be to identify that their needs complement the expertise and technologies available at NRRI.

“The support businesses and entrepreneurs get from this grant will allow them to reach market faster, with less risk and less cost,” said Hosseinpour.  NRRI’s staff of researchers and scientists put special emphasis on helping companies use their resources efficiently with less waste and higher value.

“This is an exciting partnership program that extends IEDC’s existing business assistance capabilities to include research and development,” said Mark Zimmerman, IEDC president. “Our Small Business Development Center will help evaluate each business to make sure they are good candidates for this grant and will help them bring their product idea to market.”

NRRI has helped many regional businesses over its 30-plus years in Duluth and on the Iron Range. According to Larry Heggedahl, plant manager for Mat, Inc. in Floodwood, MN, partnering with NRRI is “priceless.” The company manufactures a line of erosion and revegetation products and has used NRRI’s expertise in natural fibers and materials to continue to innovate.

“We’ve exchanged a lot of in-kind services over the years for their assistance,” said Heggedahl. “It’s great to work with people who understand how materials work in specific applications.”

Lonza, Inc., in Cohasset produces a tree-based ingredient for a variety of products. This small company used NRRI expertise to find appropriate uses for wood waste and to reduce dust in the plant.

NRRI has laboratories and expertise in the areas of technology development, testing and analytical services; lean manufacturing and productivity training; environmental characterization, materials sourcing, business planning and much more. Visit NRRI’s website to learn more: Contact Shima Hosseinpour at 218-788-2626 or for more information.

MORE: The mission of NRRI at the University of Minnesota Duluth is to deliver research solutions to balance our economy, resources and environment for resilient communities.

Established in 1981 as a non-profit organization, Itasca Economic Development Corporation is dedicated to providing charitable education and research efforts that support and advance the creation and retention of quality jobs by working with the business community and entrepreneurs residing in and around Itasca County.  IEDC houses an advisor from the Small Business Development Center, Entrepreneur Fund and APEX and is the Itasca area resource for business development, retention and attraction. Visit the IEDC website at or call 218-326-9411 for more information.