Small businesses look for a boost at campus fair

The event is hosted by the University’s Office for Business and Community Economic Development, a department aimed at economically boosting lower-income communities.

Megan Nicolai

Small businesses from across the state took over Coffman UnionâÄôs Great Hall on Tuesday, hoping to catch the eye of University of Minnesota buyers.

The event is hosted every other year by the UniversityâÄôs Office for Business and Community Economic Development, a 12-year-old department aimed at economically boosting lower-income communities. It was the fifth fair for the University, Craig Taylor, executive director of the office, said.

âÄúThis represents opportunity,âÄù said Junita Cathey, who runs a one-person cookie bouquet company called Favorable Treats. âÄúIt means a lot to a company like mine and really opens doors.âÄù

Dan Rooney, who works for Midwest Special Services, a local nonprofit that provides jobs for disabled adults, said knowing how to navigate and be heard in a large institution is difficult for small business owners and he appreciates the opportunity to have the UniversityâÄôs attention.

âÄúItâÄôs a great way to get a foot in the door of such a large government entity,âÄù Rooney said.

Vendors ranged from catering companies to bookkeeping services to trophy designers. More than 30 tables filled the hall.

Taylor said developing relationships with small businesses is vital to the longevity of the University.

âÄúThe success of this university is inextricably linked to the success of the urban community,âÄù Taylor said. âÄúAnd the success of the urban community is inextricably linked to the success of the businesses within them.âÄù

The University spent more than $65 million employing small businesses last fiscal year, Taylor said.

Small business owners were also encouraged to attend a luncheon where the community development office gave awards to companies serving the University and to individuals or departments that made an effort to support local businesses.

Three Stellar awards went to companies that serve the University âÄî one that provides office supplies, one that undertakes engineering projects on campuses around the state and a construction company.

Awards Incentive & Recognition Program awards were also given to individuals and departments within the University that made a point to work with âÄútargeted businesses,âÄù like those owned by women, minorities or disabled persons. Each winner got $10,000.

Robert Jones, the senior vice president for System Academic Administration, said working with small businesses is âÄúa win-win situation as far as weâÄôre concerned.âÄù

Finally, a âÄúFitz award,âÄù named after the UniversityâÄôs chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter, is given to the individual that best represents the AIR targeted businesses program at the University. This year, the award went to former University President Bob Bruininks for how he encouraged departments to work with small businesses.

âÄúItâÄôs all about creating opportunity and creating the innovation that will foster small businesses in the future,âÄù Bruininks said.

More than 100 people attended the luncheon.

University Regent Clyde Allen said in a speech that the nationâÄôs large institutions have taken capitalism in a direction he doesnâÄôt agree with, and programs like the AIR program were necessary to foster growth of the economy as a whole.

âÄúAs a public university, itâÄôs the right thing and the smart thing to do,âÄù he said.