Northwest Minnesota Foundation seeks applicants for its Initiative Fellowship

Times Report
Crookston Times

    Applicants are being sought for a unique fellowship program that powers up the innovators and idea people in Northwest Minnesota. The Initiators Fellowship, launched by the Initiative Foundation in 2016, is now available to social entrepreneurs in the Northwest Minnesota Foundation’s 12-county service area, including Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, and Roseau, and the two tribal nations of Red Lake and White Earth.

    The two-year, 2022-2023 Fellows program awards a $30,000 annual stipend along with a variety of other supports to promising entrepreneurs who want to grow as leaders and who have a passion to tackle a social challenge.

    Imagined in 2015, designed in 2016 and piloted with an inaugural cohort of four in 2017, the Initiators Fellowship is developing Greater Minnesota innovators and community leaders. It starts with people committed to social change, an inspirational idea and a plan for harnessing the power of the marketplace.

    Through a rigorous selection process, Fellows are vetted from a pool of applicants to receive a two-year suite of supports that includes training, mentoring, networking and financial backing to foster their growth and development. Social enterprise ventures are for-profit or nonprofit businesses that are created to achieve a mission.

Mark Van Herr’s story

    Marc Van Herr is a member of the 2021-2022 Fellows cohort. When Marc found out he had diabetes five years ago, the St. Cloud man immediately shared his diagnosis on social media. That experience led him to an epiphany: Why had he so readily told the world about his diabetes when he had never felt free to share openly about his bipolar disorder, which he’d been managing for a decade? “When I realized that both conditions are chemical imbalances that require medicine for my body to work properly, a light went on,” he said.

    That light shines throughout Central Minnesota, thanks to a nonprofit that Van Herr was inspired to start. The mission of The Beautiful Mind Project is to “change the way we treat mental health in our community, both from a cultural and clinical perspective.”

    To achieve that, The Beautiful Mind Project has two parts: providing mental health education and granting college scholarships to youth who share how mental health has affected their lives. Recently, Van Herr created a supplemental LLC, Urgent Care for Mental Health, that establishes a network of mental health providers committed to providing same- or next-day appointments. “We’re like the Uber of mental health,” Van Herr said. “We connect people who need counseling with those who can provide it.”

    Urgent Care for Mental Health’s network of mental health providers has grown quickly, with four affiliates in Central Minnesota and plans to have as many as 30 locations in Central and Southern Minnesota by year-end.

    “Access is everything,” Van Herr said. “If you need help and you finally make that call but you can’t get an appointment for a month, you may lose motivation. We want people to quickly get the help they need.”

More than just a fellowship

    In addition to the annual stipend, Fellows benefit from an executive-level mentor, deep programming, educational opportunities and support from dedicated staff members. A complete definition of social entrepreneurship and other details can be found in the resources section at

    The Initiators Fellowship is suitable for emerging social entrepreneurs ranging from recent college graduates to mid-career individuals. Additional requirements include living within one of four participating Minnesota Initiative Foundation regions, or an adjacent tribal nation, for the two-year duration of the Fellowship term. Diversity is a core program value. Applicants with diverse backgrounds, experiences, ability, economic status and perspectives are encouraged to apply. Full eligibility details and an eligibility quiz can be found Fellowship website,

    “We are excited to bring this unique opportunity to northwest Minnesota,” said Michael Neusser, vice president for operations at the Northwest Minnesota Initiative Foundation. “We know our region has many social entrepreneurs working to make a difference in our communities, and this is just one more way that we’re able to support them in that mission.”

    The program is open to applicants from the regions represented by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, West Central Initiative Foundation, Initiative Foundation and Southwest Initiative Foundation. Online applications for the 2022-2023 cohort are open from May 24 through June 15, 2021.

    Learn more about the program and social entrepreneurship by visiting or by contacting Michael Neusser, Vice President for Operations at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation,