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Entrepreneurial programs

The Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation on S. Dewey Street in Eau Claire has a number of events to help entrepreneurs in the area get a leg up and grow. 

For entrepreneurs in the Chippewa Valley, the programs, organizations and other businesses in the area form a community to support them.

In addition to chambers of commerce, there are private and public groups dedicated to helping grow and form businesses.

Christina Wasson, marketing manager at the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp., said they have a number of programs they do that bring entrepreneurs of all experience levels together.

Startup 48, for instance, is a home grown event for those interested in entrepreneurship, where teams take an idea and work to create a minimal viable product.

Wasson said the goal is to help give a crash course in what it takes to grow and create product, and it gives the attendees the opportunity to learn from and work with more experienced mentors and learn about available resources.

“The entrepreneurial community is strong and it’s growing,” Wasson said.

The EDC is also involved in the national program One Million Cups, where local entrepreneurs meet and present their startups to business leaders in Eau Claire.

One of their longest running programs is the Ideas Challenge, where anyone in Eau Claire County can submit a business or product idea to be evaluated by business professionals.

All those submitting get free guidance help connecting with resources and advice. Finalists can win money and business services, and an opportunity to pitch to business professionals and investors to gain support.

The grand prize is $5,000 of reimbursable business expenses.

They also operate the Near Equity Fund program to assist companies that are scaling from a start-up or early-stage to an established organization and whose revenues are often not sufficient to support cash flow needs.

The program usually helps small business with annual revenues under $1 million to provide the liquidity needed through the transition phase.

Wasson said that the support is critical because the growth of businesses in the area props up the whole local economy.

“When we support our entrepreneurs, we support our local businesses,” Wasson said.

Others in the business community noted that the area has a history of startups and growing businesses locally.

“Chippewa Falls is what it is because of entrepreneurialism,” said Mike Jordan, president of the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jordan said examples like Cray, Inc. and Spectrum Industries, among others, show an entrepreneurial spirit in the area.

For their part, the chamber helps smaller businesses and new ones make sure they’re on the right track with permits and what they will need to know to continue growing their business.

“All of the logistical stuff, we point them in the right direction on those things,” Jordan said.

Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce President David Minor said that they also get a lot of questions from people just starting out and he too encourages them to get their foundational support, like a lawyer, an accountant and appropriate resources.

Minor said that the Chippewa Valley area had a number of factors that were helping spur on entrepreneurial growth.

For one, the younger population and interest in the arts has opened up new business opportunities, but also attracted people looking for a community.

Minor also pointed to the investment in buildings and infrastructure in the area.

The number of banks and potential funding options in the area is also a plus, Minor said, with private banks of various sizes adding to funding options alongside state and government assistance.

“We’ve got a nice, large variety,” Minor said.

“When we support our entrepreneurs, we support our local businesses.” Christina Wasson, marketing manager at the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp.

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