Our Program

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The Initiators Fellowship is designed for idea and early-stage entrepreneurs in Greater Minnesota eager to tackle a social or environmental challenge while pursuing leadership growth.  

The Initiators Fellowship fosters the development of a social enterprise, a venture with social or environmental good built into the mission and operations of the business. Entrepreneurs who care about their communities are important to communities, but they are not the same as social entrepreneurs. A coffee shop that donates to community causes is of value to the community, but it is not a social enterprise. A coffee shop that supports unhoused youth with a job, career exploration and training is a social enterprise.

Early-stage development means applicants have identified a particular social problem they are passionate about addressing and have developed a working model for a solution. They may have started testing their idea, have early results or proof of concept or have begun generating revenue. Ventures may be for-profit or nonprofit with a revenue-generating plan. All ventures must have a home in the Initiators Fellowship’s 53-county and six Native nations region

Applicants must have a project that will impact the community and wider region. Those chosen for the cohort must be driven to create and innovate and be ready to develop their leadership skills. 

What is a Social Enterprise?

Fellows are working on a social enterprise while building their community leadership capacity. Social enterprises are ventures that use profit for good, regardless of their business structure.

A Wealth of Support

This program offers Fellows wrap-around support and guidance in their enterprise and leadership journey via individual support and a collective cohort format.

Training and Development

Fellows attend regular virtual trainings and quarterly in-person, multi-day fellowship retreats. The Fellowship provides each Fellow with a $3,000 annual stipend to fund professional development and technical assistance based on their unique needs. Fellows develop an individualized plan in consultation with the Initiators Fellowship Program Manager for use of these funds. 

Mentorship and Consulting

Each Fellow is paired with an industry mentor and business coaching and consulting to support their personal, professional and enterprise growth. Through these connections, program trainings and signature events, such as the annual Brain Trust, Fellows accelerate a lifetime network of advocates, colleagues and friends.

Stipend to Support Time Investment

The expectation is that Fellows dedicate 20 hours per week to the work of the Fellowship and the development of their vision. The Fellowship compensates each Fellow with an annual stipend of $30,000. 


Most individuals who are in the process of starting a social enterprise are eligible to apply, as long as they meet the criteria below. There is no nomination process; applications will be publicly available online. Eligible applicants:

  • Must be at least 18 years old by the start of the Fellowship cycle. 
  • Can be a recent college graduate, a young professional, mid-career or in their encore years.
  • Can be in a partnership enterprise, but only an individual partner with controlling interest may apply to the Fellowship.
  • Cannot be immediate family of any current board or staff members of the four Minnesota Initiative Foundation program partners. Immediate family includes spouse, parent, grandparent, great grandparent, child, grandchild, great grandchild, and spouses of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
  • Must live and work in and their social enterprise must serve one of the four Minnesota Initiative Foundation regions covered by the Fellowship, or within a tribal nation adjacent to one of the four defined regions. We’re looking for individuals committed to Greater Minnesota’s rural renewal.
  • Must have English-language proficiency; all programming will take place in English.
  • Must be eligible for work in the United States. Can be United States citizens, nationals, lawful permanent residents or persons legally residing within the region and who have the following immigration status: refugee, asylee, temporary protected status (TPS) or deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) status. If you aren’t sure if you are eligible to apply based on your immigration status, please reach out to us to discuss further.
  • Come with diverse backgrounds experiences, ability, economic status, and perspectives. Women, non-binary people, minorities, people with disabilities and veterans are strongly encouraged to apply. Diversity is a core program value.

Selected Fellows are required to dedicate an average of 20-plus hours per week to this effort. If their enterprise is already operating, at least one-third of that time must be spent working “on the business” rather than working “in the business.” In other words, those people with existing social enterprises will be expected to commit six to seven hours to different work than they might currently be doing. Those hours are focused on venture-building efforts like writing a business plan, completing Fellowship homework, learning and applying new skills that will help ensure the long-term viability of the enterprise. You can learn more here

Being a social entrepreneur means being more than just a good citizen. While most business owners aim to provide jobs, and many donate to charity, social entrepreneurs have identified a social issue and build their enterprise with social impact at the core of their business model. Social enterprise ventures are profit- and purpose-driven. If you are creating a business with a strong focus on a human, social or environmental benefit, whether for-profit or nonprofit, then you might be a social entrepreneur! Some prominent examples of social ventures—also known as social enterprise initiatives—are Patagonia, a for-profit company that has an environmental mission built into its supply chain, or Cookie Cart, a nonprofit that provides job training to minority youth while selling the cookies they produce. Read our social enterprise fact sheet (PDF) for an expanded definition.

Applicants with a social business idea ready to be tested, in early planning stages, or in operation for five years or less, can apply for the Initiators Fellowship.

Selection is a long and thoughtful process that includes thorough application screening by staff and external reviewers.

Recruitment for the 2026-2027 cohort of the Initiators Fellowship begins in spring 2025. Sign up for the newsletter to stay connected. 

Fellows are selected based on their passion, commitment and potential to meaningfully contribute to their Greater Minnesota community through their leadership and entrepreneurship. They must be dedicated to helping create welcoming, just and equitable communities. They must demonstrate an innovative spirit, perseverance and the ability to contribute to the success of others in their cohort. Fellows are additionally selected to create a balanced, complementary cohort with diverse members who offer diverse ideas from across our four Minnesota Initiative Foundation regions. Lastly, we consider how this program can add value to the applicant. People already well positioned for success may be enticed by the stipend to apply, but we seek high-potential individuals who will strongly benefit from all aspects of the program and dedicate themselves to the Fellowship’s broader success. 

Fellows receive a $30,000 annual living stipend to support them while they participate in the program at least part-time. This stipend can be used for living and learning expenses so they can participate in the program for 20 hours per week. This stipend cannot be used for direct expenses of their social enterprise and may be taxable. Fellows should consult a tax adviser regarding their particular situation. 

Fellows can be in school or working as long as they can regularly dedicate at least 20 hours per week to the Fellowship as described in other FAQs and participate in all the in-person convenings, virtual meetings and trainings. 

This Fellowship is an investment in an individual entrepreneur-leader and not in a team. If your venture is—or you are planning for—a partnership, only the decision-making, managing partner is eligible for this Fellowship.

Anyone reviewing applications is required to sign a non-disclosure agreement and can only talk about the application with other reviewers or the applicant.

The Initiators Fellowship is a program of the Initiative Foundation, which is headquartered in Little Falls. It is operated in partnership with three other regional Minnesota Initiative Foundations: the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Southwest Minnesota Initiative Foundation and West Central Initiative. The Initiative Foundation oversees daily management and coordination of the Fellowship and our three partner foundations contribute to the program financially, consult on program design and assist with recruitment and selection and support of Fellows in their regions. None of the program partners receive any rights or ownership in any Fellow’s idea or business. The sole focus of all of the partners is to help promising social entrepreneurs more successfully contribute to the Greater Minnesota community.

Becoming a Fellow

Are you an entrepreneur eager to tackle a social challenge?

The Fellowship is designed for idea and early operations stage, high-potential leaders and entrepreneurs who are eager to tackle a social challenge and pursue leadership growth. In addition to an annual $30,000 stipend, Fellows benefit from supportive programming, educational opportunities and a resource-rich ecosystem of experts, including dedicated staff and mentors.

Applicants typically are at an early stage in developing their social enterprise idea. They are in an idea to early implementation stage (in operation for five or less years). Early-stage development means applicants have, at the very least, identified a particular social problem that they feel passionate about addressing and have developed a working  theory or model for a potential solution. They may have started testing their idea, and may even have early results, proof of concept or revenue. Ventures may be for-profit or nonprofit. The key is that their operating model has potential for meaningful revenue generation and a path to financial sustainability.

Should I apply?

The Fellowship currently serves 53 Greater Minnesota counties and six native nations. Applicants must live and work within and their social enterprise must serve one of the four participating Minnesota Initiative Foundation regions.

A guiding principle of this program and all the work of the Minnesota Initiative Foundations is that diversity can make our communities stronger when all are welcomed, treated fairly and given the opportunity to contribute their unique gifts. 

The Fellowship is fundamentally about supporting and equipping committed Greater Minnesota community members to develop in leadership roles. Leadership can come in many forms, but we imagine that the purpose-driven individuals applying for the Fellowship have aspirations for their communities as well as for their enterprise and are willing to work hard and get involved.

Social enterprise ventures are purpose-driven, for-profit or nonprofit businesses in which profit- and purpose-motives form a double-bottom-line.

The application period for the January 2022 to December 2023 cohort closes at 5 p.m. on July 19.

application Process

Have an Idea?
Are you passionate about solving social or environmental problems? Are you interested in creating a financially sustainable enterprise? Are you in the early stages of planning and looking for support? Take the eligibility quiz to see if you qualify!
May 1-June 20
Apply for the Initiators Fellowship by noon on June 20. Applications will be evaluated based on the leadership potential of the applicant and the community impact of the social enterprise venture being pursued.
May 1-June 20
August 21-31
Semi-finalist Interviews
Semi-finalists will participate in individual 30-minute interviews with a small selection panel and provide further information on their social enterprises.
August 21-31
September 20
final Selection
Up to 16 applicants will be invited to participate in Finalist Day! Applicants will be notified about their selection status by Sept. 20.
September 20
October 24
Finalist Day
Finalists will share their ideas with a panel of judges and participate in a live pitch session. Finalists also will have the opportunity to access a variety of supportive resources throughout the day.
October 24
January 2024
Program Start!
Eight selected Fellows will receive two years of intensive support and training plus $30,000 annually. Selected Fellows will be matched with a mentor during November and December, and the program will kick off in January 2024.
January 2024

Your Mentor: A Guiding Hand

C-suite skills, talents bring a wealth of support to Fellows

Entrepreneurs brimming with ideas can find a world of advice and research online. But working solo can be isolating and can result in costly missteps. Selected Initiators Fellows can side-step that risk by being paired with a hand-picked C-Suite Mentor who will help guide and shape them on their journey. The benefits flow both ways, and the relationship can last a lifetime.
Play Video

Helpful Links

Explore helpful links to learn more about the Fellowship—from its inception to the expansion of the program to serve more of Greater Minnesota. Additional links will help to strengthen your understanding of social enterprise ventures and the role they play in society.