University of Wisconsin-River Falls

News Source

July 30, 2004


Xcel Energy Provides UW-RF Entrepreneurship Grant

The Xcel Energy Foundation, based in Minneapolis, Minn., has awarded the University of Wisconsin-River Falls' College of Business and Economics a grant to establish an annual entrepreneurial conference.

"Our partnership with UW-River Falls to provide the entrepreneurship conference and business plan competition is just one example of how businesses can work with the University to provide opportunities for students that will hopefully translate into real-world experience," says Trudy Popenhagen, community service manager for Xcel. "Ultimately, we hope that the conference will help students consider starting a new business in Wisconsin."

The goal of the conference is to bring together UW System students, faculty, entrepreneurs and business people through the creation of an educational forum aimed at facilitating regional economic development, according to Barbara Nemecek, dean of the College of Business and Economics.

"The conference will stimulate small business development in the state by providing entrepreneurial training to young people, who are our next generation of business leaders," said Nemecek. "Because St. Croix and Pierce counties are among the fastest-growing counties in Wisconsin, and next to a major metropolitan area, UW-River Falls is a prime location for such an endeavor."

Establishing an annual entrepreneurship conference fits well with the College's mission, says Nemecek. "As a state-owned comprehensive regional institution, UW-River Falls is committed to servicing the region and contributing to the cultivation of its economic growth. And entrepreneurial small business is the predominant type of growth occurring in the St. Croix Valley region. Training business students to excel as entrepreneurs in the small business environment is in line with the College's mission."

The conference will include presentations and panels by leading entrepreneurs, breakout sessions led by business executives or faculty on current topics of interest to young entrepreneurs, and networking opportunities for students, faculty and business people. Business people who participate in the conference will benefit by having the opportunity to network with students, as well as mentor and possibly hire future graduates for their organizations, says Nemecek.

The two-day conference will culminate with a business plan competition and other awards. Local economic development organizations are currently considering sponsoring or establishing awards and participating in the conference. The Pierce County Economic Development Corporation has agreed to establish an award for a young entrepreneur in the memory of the late Chancellor Ann Lydecker.

"The conference will be an excellent addition to the business curriculum at UW-River Falls and other UW schools in the training of future entrepreneurs," says Nemecek. "In a state that is becoming increasingly dependent upon the successful development of new small businesses for its economic growth, this program will provide an additional step in the training of these future entrepreneurs, hopefully encouraging more students to take this career path and be prepared to do it successfully."

Plans for other entrepreneurship endeavors in the College include introducing entrepreneurial components to existing courses, adding new courses, and creating additional knowledge-sharing opportunities like the conference among entrepreneurs, business executives, faculty and students, says Nemecek. In addition, the College hopes to establish an entrepreneurship center, with a mission of research and knowledge-sharing, education, and services for entrepreneurs and other business people.

Popenhagen says Xcel's help in establishing the conference benefits the region as well. "We know the success of our company is directly related to the health of the communities we serve. Our goal is to use our collective knowledge, resources, and skills to meet the needs of our communities and ensure that Xcel Energy's service area is a highly desirable place for all people to live, work, or own a business. Xcel Energy Foundation grants makes possible these partnerships with education, community and arts organizations."

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