Northspan Receives $2M to Support Underserved Entrepreneurs

Northspan Is One of 43 Awardees for the U.S. Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency’s Capital Readiness Program

Northspan is pleased to report that it has been selected as one of 43 recipients of funding through the Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Capital Readiness Program. The program provides Northspan $2 million in funding over a four-year period to help underserved entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses. Northspan celebrated the award at an event with Under Secretary of Commerce for Minority Business Development Donald R. Cravins, Jr. on November 20 at the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Cultural Language and Learning Center.

“The Minority Business Development Agency’s Capital Readiness Program is the largest-ever Federal investment in small business incubators and accelerators of its kind,” said Donald R. Cravins, Jr., Under Secretary of Commerce for Minority Business Development. “This historic program reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to investing with equity and intention and will help underserved entrepreneurs tackle one of the greatest challenges they face: access to capital. Northspan understands the unique needs and challenges facing Minnesota entrepreneurs—in particular, Native and Indigenous entrepreneurs—and MBDA is grateful they are joining our network and our collective mission of creating an economy that gives every American a shot at building a successful business.”

On August 4, Elissa Hansen, President and CEO of Northspan, joined fellow recipients in Washington, DC for an official announcement of the awards by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The funds are part of a major injection of funding into supporting entrepreneurship in historically disadvantaged communities. In 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act reauthorized the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) program to support entrepreneurship as part of the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and funded the program with nearly $10 billion. $125 million of this funding was designated for MBDA to provide technical assistance to businesses as they launch or scale their operations and seek to access capital through SSBCI or other public and private sources of capital. “The Capital Readiness Program marks the largest investment to support underserved entrepreneurs and businesses in Commerce Department history,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in an August 4 press release.

The program funded groups across the nation to support minorities and other underserved entrepreneurs. Its main areas of focus are to help these individuals develop the tools to launch or scale existing businesses, access SSBCI capital, and secure other forms of capital. It provides support for capacity building, technical assistance for access to capital, and provides access to networks that include mentors, coaches, and service providers. The MBDA funding coincides with Northspan’s assumption of the ten-county northeastern Minnesota hub of the Launch Minnesota program, a regional program that supports and share geography with six Native Nations. This regional hub, formerly known as Innovate 218, is being rebranded as DAWN, or Driving Access to Wealth and Networks. Northspan plans to build on the strong foundations created by the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) and continue partnerships with organizations like ILT Academy for programming while using this new injection of funding to broaden its efforts.

In Greater Minnesota we know supporting entrepreneurs and startups requires a village,” said IEDC President Tamara Lowney. “Northspan has shown incredible innovative leadership across the region. IEDC is proud to work alongside them on this journey to serve our community of entrepreneurs.”

The creation of DAWN fits directly with Northspan’s existing work to support both business development and equity in the communities it serves. Since 2020, Northspan has been developing and deploying Welcoming Community programming in northeast Minnesota, which seeks to bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds to explore intercultural differences and adapt to the challenges that can emerge from them. It also aligns with existing SSBCI programs in northeast Minnesota, as Northspan is already working with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa on their SSBCI initiatives. Northspan also continues to work with a wide array of partners on a broader concept of improving our entrepreneurial ecosystem to ensure the region works together to meet all entrepreneurs where they are and support them at all stages of their journeys.

DAWN will allow Northspan, with regional partners, bring a full suite of services for emerging entrepreneurs, with a special emphasis on underserved communities that stand to benefit most from services they have historically struggled to access due to significant barriers to entry. The DAWN model envisions a two-track approach that assists both early-stage businesses as they launch their initial concepts and emerging businesses as they scale up their operations. The four-year funding cycle from MBDA allows Northspan to scale up its efforts and cultivate a culture of entrepreneurial support in northeast Minnesota.

Northspan will roll out its DAWN programming in Fall 2023 and will provide more updates as opportunities become available for businesses in the DAWN region, which includes Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Mille Lacs, Pine, and St. Louis Counties and the Native Nations of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and Red Lake Nation. Please contact President & CEO Elissa Hansen at with any questions.


1. “Biden- Harris Administration Announces Competition Winners for the Minority Business Development Agency’s Capital Readiness Program,” August 4, 2023, U.S. Department of Commerce,

# # #

Northspan is a nonprofit consulting firm based in Duluth. With a vision to engage and elevate, the Northspan mission is to be expert navigators, transforming ideas into accomplishments. Learn more at