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Young Innovators and Entrepreneurs

Thriving communities have one thing in common: a multiplicity of people representing various business models, ideas and points of view.

The Fox Cities is making numerous strides to that effect. While many residents make their mark by strategically climbing the corporate ladder, an increasing number of younger leaders are building those ladders themselves and creating innovative businesses by building relationships with one another.

Yes, the new look of the Fox Valley of Wisconsin is one that reflects a partnership among established institutions and a new breed of entrepreneur who is looking to develop more independent and innovative paths to success.

While the outlook for economic growth is positive and robust here, a lot of that optimism rests on the shoulders of the younger generation of entrepreneur who plays a vital role in keeping industry moving forward.

The Fox Valley infrastructure is doing its part, too, by offering collaborative environments and relationship-building opportunities to foster creativity. In some instances, it is established businesses that are tapping younger workers for fresh ideas about better, faster and smarter ways of doing things. At other times, newer businesses are culling wisdom from industry vets.

With a workforce that is getting progressively older, the Fox Cities knows that it is vital to attract and retain younger people who see the benefits of doing business here.

One initiative that has experienced success is Talent Upload, a collective effort of the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and the Fox Cities Regional Partnership. This program, aimed at college students from around the Midwest, looks to introduce young leaders to the community, potential employers and other opportunities the area has to offer.

“There is a lot of excitement and a ton of momentum” in programs like this, says Adrienne Palm, director of Pulse Young Professionals Network, a program that connects young professionals with continuing education, business development skills or place-making initiatives.

Big and small businesses, Palm says are embracing such forms of outreach and being open to new ways of connecting. It’s a time when people welcome creativity and new ideas to achieve common goals.

“The young ones are educating people about what they need,” she says. “You can feel the progress happening. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this community.”

That is why there’s been a concerted effort to fill the region with various forms of entertainment and opportunities to attract and keep these brilliant young minds.

To keep the area moving forward and fresh, the area plans numerous events annually, like:

• Pop-up art galleries
• Late-night dinners
• Ongoing IT developments, like with ambitious young techy consultant company Digital Fertilizer
• Urban arts markets
• Diverse ethnic celebrations
• Music festivals like Mile of Music
• Robust farmers markets
• Car shows

Lectures and other on-campus events at nearby Lawrence University in Appleton

The result has been more freelance businesspeople are calling the Fox Valley home. They are finding success by partnering together with others of likeminded, creative flair.

Such is the case for the Fine Fox in Neenah, Wisconsin. About 50 artisans work under one roof, bringing handmade crafts, candies and housewares together and selling them to the public, mostly online and via social media.

This group of millennials has also found ways to further plug in to the community by joining groups like the Appleton Makerspace (a think tank consortium in the Fox Valley area of Wisconsin).

The bottom line is that Fox Cities entrepreneurs want to be in a position to best meet the needs of an ever-savvy customer base.

Jennifer Theuerkauf, owner of the Fine Fox boutique, says that increasingly customers want to shop locally and care about the origin of their products. She and the other artisans take great pride in saying that their products are from “right here in the valley or Wisconsin.”

Entrepreneurs like Theuerkauf could take their business anywhere, but she chose the Fox Valley for all of the right reasons. “I’m here because this area offers the perfect balance. I want to raise a family and also to move forward (professionally),” she says.

Her advice to others is to spark up relationships when establishing your business and afterward. “Find someone like the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce. Plug into resources, and once you figure out how to start your business, check back in with what is changing,” she concludes.

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