Success Stories

We have someone in our corner, someone to talk to, someone to run ideas by, and check if things are going well…we have someone to really help us out

Sheet Metal Solutions

Mark LaTour contacted the Northeast Minnesota SBDC to receive consulting assistance a number of years ago. At that time he and a partner wanted to discuss starting an HVAC/sheet metal fabrication business.  They were young ambitious men ready to start their entrepreneurial journey.

After a period of time Mark’s partner decided not to pursue this venture and he was left without a business partner. Mark however had a life partnership. His wife Becky, had a full-time job as an accounting controller and owned a tax preparation business. They decided Becky would leave her job so that husband and wife could start what is now Sheet Metal Solutions, an HVAC contractor and metal fabricating shop.

The SBDC helped the LaTour’s on their entrepreneurial journey by assisting with developing financial projections, a business plan, and advising on the different types and entities in the lending process. Business consultant, Curt Walczak, encouraged them to keep going and became a sounding board for Mark and Becky as they experienced these trials.  From finding a building, financing problems, and navigating the world of business regulations Mark and Becky have overcome the ups and downs of starting a business.

“The SMS team’s passion truly shows in their work at Tavern on the Hill. Their ability to get things done quickly and professionally is second to none.” –Cullen Flaherty, Vice President of Operations, Black Woods Group, Restaurants & Catering

Mark and Becky are honest, hard-working, and tenacious in making their dream come true. They reflect the culture and work ethic that is inherent in the Duluth community.  They have worked hard to start and grow their business and still make time for each other and their two young boys. They can be admired for their values and work ethic.

Becky LaTour expressed her gratitude, “We are so very proud of this! Our business consultant Curt Walczak and the Northeast Minnesota SBDC have been nothing short of a blessing to us. It’s been an interesting (almost) 3 years as we’ve learned how to navigate the world of business ownership and purchasing a building. Every day we continue to learn and grow as a team. Thank you to all of our friends, family, and customers who have been there to support us. Words cannot express our gratitude.”

“We are so very proud of this! Our business consultant Curt Walczak and the UMD Center for Economic Development have been nothing short of a blessing to us.”


Financing Help to Get Started
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Amber Michalek and Spence Haugen are the owners of Dunbar Creek Bait Co. located in Squaw Lake, MN.  The company services 17 resorts and 11 shops throughout northern MN covering Itasca, Beltrami, Cass & Koochiching counties delivering high quality live bait year round.

Prior to starting their business, Spence Haugen worked for Stone Bait Services of Northome, MN under the ownership of James Stone who had been in the industry for over 35 years.  James extended his knowledge and expertise to Spence for one year prior to retiring and closing his shop.  Amber and Spence obtained all of his equipment including two delivery trucks, built a 1600 square foot bait shop on their property, and were open for business as soon as ice went on in November.  They were fortunate enough to keep all original clients and add five new accounts in their first year of business. The two of them work the business themselves with Spence running day to day operations and Amber filling in on routes where needed and bookkeeping.  They hire one full time employee to operate their second truck in peek season from May-September and travel up to 200 miles one way to fill their bait tanks from around the state.

In the summer of 2014, Amber contacted the SBDC at the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) after being referred by her Uncle, a former client.  She started working with SBDC Consultant Shannon Benolken who was able to immediately ask and answer questions that were critical to the business planning process.  “I feel the most crucial thing that got us up and running by our deadline aside from the business plan was the financial projections that Shannon and I put together.  The bank was so impressed! ”  Amber said she’s happy to report they were within 8% of their projected gross revenue sales for 2015 and use the program still today to adjust their expenses, allowing them to keep on track for their 2016 goals.  “I’m forever grateful for Shannon and the SBDC!  I can’t say enough good things about the services they offer.”

“I’m forever grateful for Shannon and the SBDC!  I can’t say enough good things about the services they offer.”

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Dreams Do Come True

John and Mindy Fredrikson have realized their longtime dream of embracing the North Woods resort lifestyle by acquiring the Gunflint Lodge and Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters, a staple on the Minnesota-Ontario border since 1925.  The Gunflint Lodge has cabins, a lodge building, 125 beds, gourmet restaurant, horseback riding, ski trails, zip line through beautiful wooded country and 100 acres of lakeshore property.

The Fredrikson’s roots are in the Dakotas and they worked in the Twin cities and Atlanta.  Three years ago they got serious about making their dream come true and started their search for just the right resort.  That led them to seek the assistance of the SBDC.  The Northest Minnesota SBDC Consultants helped them make the right connections with realtors, lodge owners, lenders including the SBA through MBFC and additional advisors and as John put it “we’ve always loved Northern Minnesota and were finally able to get the stars to align.”

John and Mindy plan to continue the traditions of the Gunflint Lodge and Outfitters operation.  They are embracing their business and getting to know their guests and the community.  They are located just 43 miles north of Grand Marais on Gunflint Lake and at 800-328-3325 and

We wish John and Mindy many years of success as the owners of The Gunflint Lodge!

CED Consultants helped them make the right connections with realtors, lodge owners, lenders including the SBA through MBFC and additional advisors

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Getting A Business Off The Ground

Naomi has just published  The Belly Bulb Adventures,  a children’s book about growing into who you are.

This awesome first children’s first picture book is the story of Little Bug. While being tucked in at bedtime by Grandpillar and Grandmiller, Little Bug notices how colorful their caterpillar belly bulbs are and asks how they grew. Through the telling of four different adventures, they teach Little Bug that he too will grow and become who he is by the actions and experiences he has in life.  When an experience is meaningful, a belly bulb will grow with a POP! and forever be a colorful reminder of that event or feeling.

Naomi requested assistance from the SBDC on publishing her novel. Initially, her preference was to look for an agent and a publisher who loved the book and was anxious to work with her. What she quickly learned is that the market is saturated and even if a publisher would take on the book, it would be up to 2 years before it even hit the shelves. It was then she decided to start her own business was a better opportunity.

During the decision-making time Naomi worked with Pat Campanaro, an SBDC business consultant. Pat suggested she printed prototypes of the book and set up focus groups with Preschoolers to 3rd-grade classes, child-life specialists, teachers, and parents to test the book. Out of this experience, the book changed a bit and the coloring pages were born. They seemed like an excellent communication tool for teachers and caregivers.

Writing and illustrating the book is only 1/3 of the process. The next step was learning an entire business from the ground up. This includes learning about ISBN numbers, copyright laws, barcodes, building a website, learning about shipping rates, PayPal buttons, hyperlinks, etc. “Publishing just one book is actually setting up an entire business around that one product. The final step will be securing my vendors and book signing events; AKA the marketing/promotional side of the business. The SBDC was helpful in all aspects of getting my business off the ground,” said Naomi.

To print the book, she worked with an amazing team of people at Print Ninja Children’s Book Printer. “Soon we were off to the press in Shenzhen China. It could not have been a better experience working with them and the book turned out beautiful! I especially like how the coloring pages on the back of the dust jacket turned out, “ Naomi said.

To purchase your copy of  The Belly Bulb Adventures, the perfect holiday gift, go to

Naomi was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and has been a graphic designer for a large healthcare system for the past 16 years.

Naomi, her husband Mark, and daughter Olivia live in the historical city of Duluth, Minnesota.

“I’m forever grateful for Shannon and the SBDC!  I can’t say enough good things about the services they offer.”

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