DAWN: Quarterly Program Update

2024 Quarter 1 Update

This quarter DAWN (Driving Access to Wealth & Networks) hosted two amazing events. 

Our 1st DAWNtreprenuer Showcase & Pitch Competition 

We had an exceptional lineup of talent, with five ambitious entrepreneurs ready to impress our panel of judges with their groundbreaking ideas. These innovators have been tirelessly honing their pitches, and tonight, they can showcase their vision and passion. 

But before we dive into the pitches, let’s take a moment to recognize the sponsors who made this event possible. We are so pleased to count the following entities as collaborators in creating a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem in our region: DAWN funder United States Capital Readiness Program, The Forge, Itasca Economic Development Corportation, APEX, Great River Energy, and Minnesota Business Finance Corporation. 

We would like to recognize all our showcasers here tonight. We have nine talented individuals showcasing their innovative products and services in our exhibition area. Their dedication to innovation and entrepreneurship is inspiring, and I encourage you all to explore their booths during the networking breaks. 

Introducing the Judges:   

Now, let’s meet the individuals who have the challenging task of evaluating our pitches tonight. Our panel of judges brings a wealth of expertise from various industries, and their insights will be invaluable in determining the winners of tonight’s competition. 

Please join me in welcoming: 

  1. Tamara Lowney: Tamara has been the President of the Itasca Economic Development Corporation since 2019 and lives in Grand Rapids with her family. In 2023, Tamara and her team led the effort to create The Forge, which is a transformative asset for Itasca County communities. 
  2. Jeff Borling, Jeff Borling joined Great River Energy’s economic development team in June of 2016 and works primarily in the northern half of the service area, from North Branch to Northome, and from Park Rapids to Grand Portage. He has also served in leadership roles on numerous boards of directors and advisory committees throughout the region. 
  3. Elissa Hansen, As President & CEO,  Elissa leads Northspan with more than 20 years of experience in business, community, organizational, and economic development across Minnesota and Wisconsin. She works to create a setting for meaningful communications that respects diverse perspectives, creates joint resolve, and inspires individual and group action.
  4. Josh Oswald, As an instructor with ILT Academy, Josh helps facilitate online courses and in-person workshops that unlock talents and confidence in early-stage founders as they unpack their ideas, validate their assumptions, build a network and move towards a plan to “make more than zero dollars”.
  5. Ed Zabinski, CEO of unTapped, LLC: Ed Zabinski has extensive experience in various roles, executive roles in strategic planning, communications, and human resources management at a large manufacturing company and a community bank. He has also started up two businesses—a business-to-business e-commerce company and a Grand Rapids brewpub—and two consulting practices.  

Guidelines and Criteria:   

Before we begin, let’s quickly review the criteria that our judges will be using to evaluate the pitches. Each pitch will be assessed based on innovation, feasibility, market potential, scalability, and overall presentation. Our judges will have the difficult task of scoring each pitch, and their deliberations will ultimately determine the winner. Speaking of winners, each participant who showcased their idea tonight will receive $500 to continue to work on their idea. The top three finalists from the live pitch competition will receive a session with a professional videographer to put together short video that will be debuted at the Engage an Angel event on December 12th at the Zeitgeist Theater in Duluth. This package includes a half day of filming with each winner for 3-5 hours, 15-18 hours of editing with a value of over $2,000 provided by Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College’s ODAS Video Studio. 

And the winner of tonight’s live pitch competition will receive an additional $2,500 and a spot at the state MNCUP pitch competition! 

Without further ado, let’s kick off the pitches! Each contestant will have just 5 minutes to present their idea, followed by a brief Q&A session with our esteemed judges. 

Contestant #1, Salaam Witherspoon, $500 Showcase 

Contestant #2, Rebekah Evingson, Video Production & $500 Showcase 

Contestant #3, Patrick Jackson, $500 Showcase 

Contestant #4, Zak Karnes, Video Production & $500 Showcase 

Contestant #5, Tim White, Grand Prize Winner $2,500, Video Production, and $500 Showcase 

DEED Small Business Resource Connection Event 

  • April 2, 2024 
  • Over 50 attendees 
  • 19 Exhibitor Tables 
  • 4 Panelists 
  • Jacob Bell, Family Freedom Center, Freedom Startups 
  • Nick Tietz, ILT Academy 
  • Jeff Wig, Neighborhood Development Center, Enterprise Academy 
  • ChaQuana McEntyre, Family Rise Together, CM Solutions + Micro-Enterprise Program 


2023 Quarter 4 Update

DAWN: Driving Access to Wealth & Networks successfully launched this past quarter with an amazing kick-off press event. Northspan partnered with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to host Undersecretary, Don Cravis, Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) for a press release and celebration of Native American Heritage month. We have been off running since the launch from working directly with clients to scheduling pitch & resource events. 

  • Currently scheduling several events 
    • 2 DAWNtreprenuer Showcases 
    • Engage an Angel
    • DEED Small Business Resource Connection 
  • Met with 10 clients to date 
  • Provided scholarships to over 50 startup cohort participants 
  • Soft launched new website 
  • Regional Food Business Center