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Chuck Hoge, NDSU Research and Technology Park executive director, speaks at the Financing North Dakota conference Tuesday, July 25, 2017, at the Harry D. McGovern Alumni Center. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service

NDSU event brings entrepreneurs together to learn about funding options

FARGO—Class was back in session at North Dakota State University on Tuesday, July 25, but the dozens of people scribbling notes during lectures were entrepreneurs and the business people who support them, not college students.

NDSU's Research and Technology Park organized the first Financing North Dakota, an afternoon-long conference at McGovern Alumni Center, 1241 N. University Drive, with a goal simple enough to fit on a college course syllabus.

"We want to try to connect people that need money to those people that have it," said Chuck Hoge, executive director of the Research and Technology Park. "It sounds simple, doesn't it?"

The truth, he and other speakers at the event said, isn't that easy. But representatives of organizations and financial institutions did have plenty of advice for the more than 100 people who attended, many of them involved with new or growing businesses looking for more money to launch or spread their ideas or products.

Speakers included North Dakota Department of Commerce Commissioner Jay Schuler, a Wahpeton, native who started his first company while studying at NDSU. Schuler also was a founding investor of GIANT Sunflower Seeds.

"I was not as fortunate as what a lot of you people are today," he told the crowd, referring to the lack of programs to help entrepreneurs at the likes of the Commerce Department, Bank of North Dakota and other organizations when he was starting his businesses. "But now we do."

Hoge said it may be tempting to look at some funding sources as "free money," but he said there's no such thing as free money. Even grants, he said, are awarded as an asset and meant for a specific purpose, and recipients must meet time-consuming reporting goals and other requirements to verify they're using the money as intended.

Money from friends and family often comes with strings, too, he said, while loan programs can be a great help but come with risks for both the bank and the applying business if repayment isn't made according to terms.

Equity also has its own conditions, he said, with the exchange of money for ownership in a business costing startups potential future earnings, voting rights or board seats that need to be carefully considered before anything is signed.

Tuesday's conference included several representatives of various grant, loan and equity programs who spoke about some of the many options the state's entrepreneurs now have.

Paul Smith, regional director of the North Dakota Small Business Development Center, said the organization aims to help entrepreneurs start, manage and grow their businesses at no cost. SBDC's costs are covered by the federal Small Business Administration, the state's Department of Commerce and local matching dollars, he said.

North Dakota's SBDC worked with about 1,000 clients last year to obtain about $40 million of capital, he said, and 90 percent of clients who started new businesses since 2013 are still in business today.

The organization typically helps 150 to 200 clients in the Fargo area annually, he said.

Financing North Dakota also brought in entrepreneurs to speak about their personal experiences with the programs and funding options that financial officials recapped at the event.

Chief Technology Officer John Schneider of Fargo's 3DomFuel, which manufactures materials for the 3-D printing industry, said the business participated in the Innovate ND program and attended a boot camp to refine its ideas and take strategic risks.

"I think ultimately that helped us get our business further developed than we would have otherwise," he said.