Michelle Landsverk grew up on a farm where her Dad made it clear that the girls could do any work that the boys were doing, and that she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up. She had an innate entrepreneurial spirit from a young age, “Farmers are natural entrepreneurs – they’re the biggest risk takers out there,” she said.
hBorn in Mahnomen, MN, Landsverk has always loved living and working in Northwest Minnesota. She attended Concordia College in Moorhead where she received a degree in English Writing. When she had an opportunity to leave Minnesota and venture off somewhere new, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. “I just thought about it for a long time and came to the conclusion that this region is where I’m meant to be. It’s who I am,” she said.
From 1991 to 2001, she was a partner in a retail business in Fosston. From 2001 to 2005, she took a position as Director of the Minnesota Women’s Business Center, where she worked with women entrepreneurs. In 2005, she launched her own consulting business, Landsverk and Associates. Her business took off with a bang when she was contracted to serve as project coordinator for Ingenuity Frontier, a regional economic development initiative that focused on the manufacturing sector, led by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, in partnership with Bemidji State University, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Headwaters Regional Development Commission and Northland Community and Technical College. When the partnership accomplished its primary goals, it began to examine the impact of entrepreneurship in northwest Minnesota, and methods for nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs. Landsverk researched promising models for accelerating entrepreneurship, including a Kauffman Foundation report on a promising new model that was based on competition. This new model helped launch entrepreneurs in much the same way that American Idol nurtured and launched pop stars. Landsverk and Ingenuity Frontier partners were convinced that this model would work in northwest Minnesota and decided to design and build their own entrepreneur competition which they called “IDEA,” an acronym for Ingenuity Drives Entrepreneur Acceleration. Landsverk led the initial design of the competition and helped partners with successive refinements of the program, serving as project coordinator for the first nine years. Since its inception, IDEA has supported more than 40 entrepreneurs and awarded over $350,000 in startup funding.
Over the past 14 years, she has worked with nonprofit organizations, small and large businesses, and community development groups. Other noteworthy work includes the establishment and capitalization of a regional Angel Fund and an 8-year stint as project coordinator for IMPACT 20/20, an effort to grow the region’s economy. She is a successful grant writer and has helped to raise more than $10M for the region’s organizations. Most recently, she helped launch a new economic development initiative in Thief River Falls, called Advance Thief River. She is acting Director of Advance Thief River, which is a partnership between TRF Jobs, Inc., the City of Thief River Falls, and Pennington County.
Landsverk continues to work in her hometown of Fosston, working with community and economic development on several fronts. “I’m often asked, ‘what’s the secret of Fosston’s success?’” Landsverk said. “I believe that the success Fosston has seen is largely due to a strong culture of leadership. No matter how hard the issue, we figure out how to get things done. We have a mindset of we can do this.”
When asked what advice she’d give to entrepreneurs who are just starting out, Landsverk said, “you have to dream big, and wake up every day and just get after it.”
The IDEA Competition recognizes Michelle Landsverk not only as a key partner in the competition’s legacy, but as an inspirational leader that has left a lasting impact for entrepreneurs and the economic wellbeing of Northwest Minnesota.