(St. Paul, MN) — March 1, 2023 – Neela Mollgaard, the current director of Launch Minnesota at the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), has been appointed the agency’s new Executive Director of Small Business Development, DEED announced today.
In her new position, Mollgaard will lead DEED initiatives to serve Minnesota’s small business sector, including entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. This new position brings together four offices of DEED: the Small Business Development Centers, Office of Small Business Partnerships, Small Business Assistance Office and Launch Minnesota. She will be charged with connecting Minnesota’s small businesses and entrepreneurs and the organizations across the state that support them to DEED resources, including research and information, grantmaking to partner organizations, technical assistance and leadership development.
“Minnesota’s small businesses have a strong ally in Neela,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “As the director of Launch Minnesota, she has been a fierce advocate and reliable resource for our state’s start-up founders. She will bring that same passion and expertise to Minnesota’s entire small business ecosystem, helping our state’s economy continue to grow and thrive.”
“Small businesses are the bedrock of Minnesota’s economy. They provide good-paying jobs to millions of Minnesotans and help make Minnesota’s business culture unique,” said Kevin McKinnon, Deputy Commissioner of Economic Development. “With Neela’s help, thousands of entrepreneurs will be able to realize their dreams of starting a business and making an impact in Minnesota.”
At Launch Minnesota, Mollgaard raised the visibility and importance of entrepreneurship for individuals and communities statewide, building the infrastructure and connectivity to better support businesses across the state. Under her leadership, Launch Minnesota increased access to capital, awarding over $6.5 million to businesses that went on to raise almost $80 million.
Mollgaard has experience working in corporate, government and the nonprofit sector. Before joining DEED, Mollgaard founded and led the nonprofit Red Wing Ignite, helping small businesses in the Greater Minnesota community succeed. She also believes strongly in giving back to her community and has served in numerous leadership roles including the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband and chair and a founder of Women Cents.
Small businesses are a core part of Minnesota’s economy, employing three out of every four workers in the state. Entrepreneurs continue to see new opportunity across Minnesota: small business starts have increased by nearly one-third in Minnesota since 2019, and businesses are launching faster than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, new business starts totaled over 61,000, nearly 15% above 2020 and nearly 32% above 2019.
Last year, DEED announced nearly $100 million to support small businesses through the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). The initiative includes six new programs to provide additional financing support to Minnesota small businesses.
DEED also launched an online small business hub to serve as a one-stop-shop for all of DEED’s small business resources. The hub a comprehensive list of DEED programs to support small businesses. It can be found joinusmn.com/smallbusiness.
One Minnesota Budget Provisions to Help Small Businesses
Mollgaard’s appointment comes as DEED advocates for several high-impact small business programs in Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan’s One Minnesota budget. These include:
- Revitalizing Minnesota Main Streets: The Main Street Economic Revitalization Fund is one of the ways Governor Walz, Lieutenant Governor Flanagan and DEED are reinvesting in Minnesota communities that were hit hard by the events of 2020. By partnering with local economic development nonprofits, DEED has provided $80 million since 2021 to catalyze investments in business corridors – neighborhoods and main streets – where they can make a big difference for individual businesses and communities as a whole. The One Minnesota Budget includes nearly $85 million in new funding to multiply the positive impacts of this program across the state.
- New Funding for Small Business Programs: The Governor and Lieutenant Governor recommend new funding for the Small Business Navigation Program, Small Business Development Centers, and the Small Business Partnerships Program. These programs provide the funding, coaching, and consulting small businesses deeply need – and the programs target communities facing systemic barriers to growth. All of these programs are proven ways to help Minnesota’s small businesses thrive.
- Expanding Opportunity Fund for Small Businesses: Small business owners and entrepreneurs are often unable to obtain the loan capital they need to start or expand their businesses – a critical miss for job creation as the state emerges from the pandemic. Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan recommend $40 million for an Expanding Opportunity Fund, which will vastly accelerate capital flowing into small businesses through partnerships with nonprofit lenders. The fund would provide additional capital for nonprofit lenders so the state can maximize its access to federal funds and benefit over 1,000 businesses with access to capital.
- Innovation Investing via the Angel Tax Credit: The Angel Tax Credit is Minnesota’s primary economic development tool for assisting and attracting early-stage businesses. It has already resulted in over $500 million in private investment for Minnesota startups focused on new technologies or services in specified fields. Expanding the tax credit will incentivize investment in companies with founders who are women, veterans, people of color, Indigenous people and those headquartered in Greater Minnesota.
- Empowering Entrepreneurs at Launch Minnesota: DEED’s Launch Minnesota supports innovation and entrepreneurship by increasing access to capital, creating a connected and collaborative culture, and expanding entrepreneurial talent and expertise. Investing in Launch Minnesota will connect more start-ups to funding, expand entrepreneurial expertise, jumpstart commercialization and cultivate collaboration with business leaders.