Entrepreneur encourages students to create a sustainable world

Allison Mueller

Victoria McKenzie/ Winonan

As college students graduate and begin to take over the job force, engineering solutions to society’s problems will begin to fall on their shoulders.

Eric Sannerud, a regenerative entrepreneur, spoke for Winona State University’s College of Business speaker series on Jan. 29 about solving these challenges.

He asked the audience, “We have a lot of challenges as a society; what are we going to do about it?”

Sannerud said there is a need for more regenerative entrepreneurs.

“You are responsible for what you do and regenerative entrepreneurs take ownership of that,” Sannerud said.

Regenerative entrepreneurs consider their social responsibilities when making business decisions, especially in regard to fair wages and environmental factors, Sannerud said.

Three years ago, Sannerud opened a local hops farm called Mighty Axe Hope, where he grows hops and uses a localized supply chain to make and sell local beer.

Sannerud explained two strategies he uses that help him with success and efficiency.

First, he explained the concept of “the five whys,” which involved continuously asking why to get to the root of the problem rather than just addressing symptoms of a larger problem.

Second, Sannerud explained “30 percent ideas”: the concept of developing an idea only 30 percent at first, then deciding if the idea is worth committing the time and resources.

On Feb. 8, Sannerud will be launching the Sandbox Center for Regenerative Entrepreneurship.  This new organization will provide tools, land and advising to young farmers trying to start up businesses.

Sannerud said he fell in love with food in college and wants to make a better food system, because he believes there are many problems that need addressing.

“Figure out what you care about and do something about it. The more that you fail, the more you’re going to know. We need new ways of approaching our problems,” said Sannerud, who acknowledged that this requires much trial and error.

Charles Opatz, who helps coordinate the College of Business Speaker Series at Winona State, said they try to have some of the speakers’ topics align with the campus theme. This year’s theme is sustainability.

“To open students to other thoughts, other philosophies. It creates ideas for our students to think about,” Opatz said.

Sannerud readily encourages this idea with sustainability.

“We want WSU in 2100 or 2200,” Sannerud said. “And we can’t do that by chopping off legs beneath us.”