There have always been those who have a nugget of idea, drive, determination and the dream of starting a business.

The past two years have brought new twists, opportunities and people to the world of entrepreneurship.

“There have always been people who want to start their own business, but I think the pandemic has created more of an incentive to do so. The pandemic has really made people rethink what they want to do,” said Ann Fitch, executive director of Waseca Chamber.

Last year, the Chamber organized a New Business Challenge aimed at finding entrepreneurs who had a business idea in Waseca but needed training and advice.

Jonathan Berg won the competition with his business plan for Good Game Gaming Center, a place where people can gather socially and play PC or console games with their friends. Think arcade but with gaming computers. It hopes to open in March.

Another challenge participant, Tina Mittelsteadt, is already renovating a building and will soon be opening her Waseekers online auction business.

The Chamber has partnered with the South Central Minnesota Small Business Development Center in Mankato to offer a 10-week training course to the dozen participants so they have a better chance of succeeding with their business idea. business.

Mittelsteadt said the training was invaluable.

“I would never have had this opportunity without the Chamber and the SBDC. They helped me with my business plan and SBDC helped me with projections and budgets. I never thought I would be an entrepreneur and as I went through this I thought I was going to hit a roadblock, but it turned out okay. I went to the bank for financing and they thought everything seemed fine with my plan,” Mittelsteadt said.

SBDC regional director Mike Hahn said they’ve seen more and more people dip their toes into the pool of entrepreneurs to see if they can start something new, while maintaining some degree of security.

“We see people looking at entrepreneurship differently. Most keep their W2 jobs and do other things on the side – freelancing, developing website apps, building food businesses. But with food, they first look for ways to get into farmers markets or street fairs or stalls, and then move into a trucking operation.

For Derrick Fountain, a Mankato resident with a long history of entrepreneurship and taking risks in jobs around the world, the pandemic has indirectly made his latest venture more understandable and palatable to potential clients.

Fountain is launching Backhouse Brands, a company that works with restaurants and bars to expand their cuisine beyond a two-or-more kitchen type and sell the food for delivery only. Fountain said the business concept allows restaurants and bars to sell more food without changing their core model while giving consumers, especially in smaller communities, many more options for different types of food.

The startup comes as the idea of ​​home-delivered meals through DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats or other services is no longer an exotic or alien concept.

“During the pandemic, people have gotten used to ordering food for delivery and are willing to pay that premium for delivery,” Fountain said. “But people only have a certain number of places (from which to order), so we try to take advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit of these restaurateurs. They know how to do a lot of different things.

He said the company also comes at a time when young people in particular are not tied to a specific time slot during the day to eat.

“The concept of going to restaurants for breakfast and restaurants for lunch and restaurants for dinner has changed. They eat different things at different times of the day.

Virtual restaurants

At 43, Fountain already has a world of experience – literally.

Originally from Texas, he started creating and coding his own products when he was around 16 years old, learning various programming languages.

Ten years ago, he and his wife, who lived near St. Cloud, embarked on an international tour during which Fountain led digital teams in Iraq, Qatar and Turkey for media companies such as Al Jazeera. He has also worked in Kenya and Poland.

Fountain attributes his success to his curiosity, self-learning and drive.

“Hard work pays off. I was hired instead of people with master’s degrees because of the work I did from home. I could teach myself and learn and advance my career. In 1996, I made my first website, I tell my son to learn things even if he doesn’t think he will use it because you just don’t know.

“You have to have a passion and work hard.”

After traveling the world, Fountain told his wife that their next move was up to her and they landed in Mankato about a year and a half ago.

Fountain’s new venture is aided by a business partner and financial backing from Great North Ventures, a Minnesota-based venture capital firm Fountain worked for before leaving the country. He reconnected with Great Northern founders Ryan and Rob Weber upon his return and they were optimistic about his virtual restaurant idea.

Fountain has spent the last year talking to restaurant owners about Backhouse brands and helping restaurants build online-only brands that operate from their existing commercial kitchen space.

“If you’re in a small town, you might only have four options, but we want to turn those into 12 or 13 options by using existing kitchens to create multiple kitchens. So if you have a restaurant and serve one cuisine and want to expand into other cuisines and delivery, only you can do that.

He also works with food suppliers. “They can sell more supplies to restaurants. If they sell to a Thai restaurant now, they can also provide them with wings and other food.

Soon, the first Backhouse brands will launch in St. Cloud and Mankato with plans to branch out to the rest of the state and the Dakotas.

Fountain said the business model is designed for cities with populations of 6,000 or more. “If there are three bars in town, we could turn them into six or more (food) options.”

He said the concept would also be appealing to restaurants in northern tourist areas that see business slow in the winter or college towns where students head off for the summer.

Fountain said the biggest challenge was pitching his idea to restaurateurs. “Restoration is built on relationships. They get hit with a lot of pitches.

But he has the experience to do the job.

“Getting caught by a bulletproof SUV in Iraq is like walking into a restaurant and being thrown out like a drop in the bucket. There is no comparison.

Waseca start-ups

Fitch said the Chamber’s New Business Challenge goes above and beyond similar competitions by not only offering financial assistance to the winner, but providing SBDC training to all applicants to help them succeed.

In the end, six entrepreneurs completed the training and are pursuing their dreams, three of whom plan to open businesses soon.

As the winner, Berg qualifies for $30,000 in start-up aid from the Waseca Economic Development Authority and other sponsors.

Berg researched other gaming centers and got a lot of help with his business plan from the SBDC.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. The crash course (from the SBDC) really helped,” Berg said.

Mittelsteadt is renovating a building on the outskirts of Waseca to hold auctions for her new business, which she plans to commission in the coming weeks.

Waseekers Online Auctions will take shipments and display the items for those who want to see them in person, as well as show them online. An online auction will take place every week.

“I have a passion for auctions. I’ve been going to them since I was a kid, but there aren’t many in-person auctions anymore.