Entrepreneurship is an exciting but risky business, even in the best of times.

The past 14 months could reasonably be called one of the most uncertain periods of time that our region has endured, where most of us were stopped for unknown periods of time. But entrepreneurs are resilient — individuals for whom challenges are exhilarating rather than fear-inducing, who respond to change by pivoting, and who see opportunities where others see roadblocks. We saw many entrepreneurs try new things, pivot to new ways in which they reached their customers, and overall found a way to stay in business.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed priorities, disrupted day-to-day activities, forced many to work from home and made us all aware of the fact that we cannot predict the future. Despite that chaos and uncertainty, businesses in Superior and Douglas County have shown resilience and opened new doors that were unknown to them before.

At the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, we have been proud to assist our local businesses through this time of uncertainty, assisting them in building a plan, cultivating resources and setting them up for success once this pandemic subsides.

Andy Donahue (Photo courtesy of Donahue)
Andy Donahue (Photo courtesy of Donahue)

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Over the past 14 months, the SBDC assisted more than 800 businesses throughout an eight-county region in Northwestern Wisconsin. Countless hours went in to walk clients through the Paycheck Protection Program, economic impact disaster loans, numerous federal and state programs and, most recently, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

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We have seen success, changes and ways in which entrepreneurs pivoted their business to continue reaching their customers and clients. Just like all of us, entrepreneurs in our region were thrown into periods of uncertainty in which they had to navigate uncharted waters. We should be proud of how our communities have supported each other during these times.

Even though this last year has been a period of unknown, many new businesses have started and have shown success. These businesses have shown resilience as they have launched during the pandemic. They launched with a plan in place to meet the demand that they were seeing, but also to support our local communities.

As we approach halfway through 2021, Superior and Douglas County are seeing more growth due in part to these aspiring entrepreneurs. Collaboration between the SBDC and its regional partners — The Development Association, Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, Superior Business Improvement District and UWS, among others — allows our region to thrive with resources that benefit our local entrepreneurs.

Barista Bri Frank works behind the counter of Empire Coffee in Superior in 2018. (Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram)
Barista Bri Frank works behind the counter of Empire Coffee in Superior in 2018. (Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram)

Moving forward, there is a lot of activity that supports entrepreneurs, and it keeps growing. Biannually, the SBDC holds an eight-week entrepreneurial training program that gives local entrepreneurs the first steps and blueprint to starting their entrepreneurship journey. Many local and established businesses, such as Empire Coffee in Superior and The Atrium in Solon Springs are graduates of this program, along with new businesses, such as Superior Waffles, that will be launching in the next couple months.

The UWS Center for Continuing Education continues to develop innovative programs that meet the needs of lifelong learners and organizations alike. Partnerships with The Development Association have allowed us to launch a "First Steps to Starting a Business," along with a "First Steps to Starting a Food Products Business," allowing entrepreneurs from many walks of life to learn about the foundational building blocks that are available to them.

As we start to get back to “normal” and enjoy the summer months, let’s not forget to support our regional entrepreneurs. They are one of the backbones that help our local economy thrive and always need our continued support. We are in an era of growth within Superior and the greater community and look forward to seeing what will happen in the months and years to come.

Andy Donahue is the director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He can be reached at 715-394-8352 or adonahue@uwsuper.edu.