A pool of 80 applicants has been winnowed to 15 finalists as the Initiators Fellowship -- serving central, southwest and west-central Minnesota -- marches toward its Oct. 25 selection day and the announcement of seven fellows who will participate in the two-year program.

Among the finalists are social entrepreneurs representing Crow Wing, Mille Lacs and Wadena counties.

“We were blessed with a rich and deep pool of socially enterprising applicants,” stated Jeff Wig, vice president of entrepreneurship with the Initiative Foundation, in a news release. “It’s a testament to how much potential and commitment there is for growth and innovation in Greater Minnesota.”

The Initiators Fellowship originated with the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation in 2017 as a way to help aspiring social entrepreneurs fast-track their ideas, grow their social and professional networks and further develop their business and community leadership skills. The program, which graduated four fellows in 2019, provides a $30,000 annual stipend along with an executive-level mentor, comprehensive programming, educational opportunities and support from dedicated staff members.

The expanded Initiators Fellowship program will support seven fellows from across 41 Greater Minnesota counties: three in the Initiative Foundation’s central Minnesota service area and two each in the Southwest Initiative Foundation and West Central Initiative service areas.

Jonathan Friesner is a finalist from Crow Wing County. Friesner is bringing to market GroShed, an automated hydroponic growing system that allows for year-round produce, even in the depths of a Minnesota winter. The stand-alone GroShed building is heated solely by four LED grow lights.

Finalist Bradley Harrington is a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Harrington’s social enterprise venture is to use contemporary media to engage and elevate awareness of Ojibwe customs and to improve understanding and the self-identity of the Anishinaabe people.

Emily Kreklau of Wadena County is another social entrepreneur in the running. Kreklau’s venture provides communication skills and parenting resources for families in the foster care and family court systems. Through classes and coaching, and by creating a safe place for visitations, Kreklau’s aim is to restore healthy family dynamics.

Other finalists for the central Minnesota region include: Eunice Adjei, Benton County, intergenerational child care; Hamdia Mohamed, Stearns County, sober homes; Alise Sjostrom, Stearns County, sustainable agriculture; and Marc Ban Herr, Stearns County, mental health care.