Alex Ostenson

Alex Ostenson of Evansville has been named one of two 2022-23 Initiators Fellows in west central Minnesota, joining seven other social entrepreneurs who bring innovative ideas for business growth in rural Minnesota.

FERGUS FALLS, MINN — Alex Ostenson of Evansville has been named one of two 2022-23 Initiators Fellows in west central Minnesota, joining seven other social entrepreneurs who bring innovative ideas for business growth in rural Minnesota.

Locally supported by West Central Initiative, Ostenson will receive a stipend and mentoring advice to help evolve his new rural grocery store model that combines traditional shopping with 24/7 accessibility. Ostenson’s Main Street Market in downtown Evansville is the prototype.

The eight Fellows selected for the 2022-2023 cohort represent 53 counties and six sovereign tribal nations in Central, Northwest, Southwest and West Central Minnesota. They will receive an annual $30,000 stipend during the two-year program, which also includes comprehensive programming, executive-level mentoring and leadership training, ongoing education, and support from dedicated staff members to advance their mission-driven business or nonprofit endeavors.

“When I was younger, I really valued being outside, helping on my grandparents' farm, and having a sense of community,” Ostenson wrote in his competitive application. “As my wife and I started our family and looked to the future, we made the decision to move back home and to be close to where I grew up. We really enjoy being able to raise our children in a county setting while also having the sense of community that a small town can provide.”

He continued: “I have been working in the Field Service industry for several years. This type of work is very physically demanding and generally comes with uncertain and varied hours. I know that many other people living and working in rural Minnesota are in similar situations. It’s hard to find a traditional store that is open or available after ‘normal retail hours,’ making it difficult for many people to access necessities such as healthy foods.”

Alex took on this challenge, and opened Main Street Market, a store that mixes the traditional grocery shopping experience of limited normal daytime hours with a 24/7 availability for food shopping. With a swipe of a key fob or a scan of the grocery store’s cellphone app, members can have 24-hour access. The store also offers traditional hours for non-members, fulfilling a community need.

The two-year Initiators Fellowship will provide Alex with the flexibility to pursue his goal of decreasing food deserts and food related insecurities in rural communities. He will be able to test the Main Street Market hybrid model grocery shopping experience in other markets.

The Initiators Fellowship originated with the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation in 2017 to help aspiring social entrepreneurs fast-track their ideas, grow their social and professional networks and further develop their business and community leadership skills. West Central Initiative, along with Northwest Minnesota Foundation and Southwest Initiative Foundation, joined to support eight total Fellows this year.

Noreen Thomas of Moorhead is this region’s other 2022-23 Fellow. Caring deeply about the land she and her husband farm, Thomas wants to convert local food waste into fertilizer. The biodigester process, she said, would provide a community-based resource and eliminate the need to import fertilizer from miles or even continents away while also promoting clean waterways and sustainable farming practices.

Visit fellows.greaterminnesota.net for a map of the Fellows' locations and question-and-answer responses about their social enterprise ventures.

About West Central Initiative

West Central Initiative is a regional community foundation serving the nine west central Minnesota counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse, and Wilkin and the portion of White Earth Nation in Becker County. West Central Initiative invests resources in our communities for regional success, using the tools of economic development and community development, and by promoting philanthropy. Learn more at wcif.org.