Initiative Foundation names its new president

Matt Varilek will succeed founding president, Kathy Gaalswyk

Matt Varilek
Matt Varilek

The Initiative Foundation Board of Trustees announced Friday, the selection of Matt Varilek, outgoing chief operating officer (COO) for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in Washington, D.C., as its new president and chief executive officer.

Varilek succeeds founding President Kathy Gaalswyk, who is transitioning out of the organization at year’s end after three decades of economic and community development work in Central Minnesota.

Under Gaalswyk’s leadership, the Initiative Foundation, headquartered in Little Falls, has grown from a start-up community foundation with $2.6 million in seed money into a community- and economy-empowering organization with assets of $63 million and total grant and loan disbursements of more than $81 million since its inception.

Kathy Gaalswyk
Kathy Gaalswyk

“As someone who has personally experienced the transformative impact of philanthropy, I am thrilled to return to Greater Minnesota to join a distinguished organization like the Initiative Foundation, which makes such an incredible impact in the communities it serves,” Varilek said. “I’m eager to build on Kathy Gaalswyk’s legacy to provide strategic funding for more small businesses and nonprofit organizations, to cultivate the next generation of civic leaders, to facilitate a spirit of generosity and inclusivity, and much more.”

As COO of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Varilek oversaw agency-wide operations in support of the SBA’s small-business lending, venture capital and private equity work as well as its entrepreneurial training, government contracting and disaster recovery efforts.

Prior to his Washington, D.C., appointment, Varilek served as SBA regional administrator for the most rural of the agency’s regions, guiding delivery of small business programs and services in South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Montana.

“We are pleased to have Matt lead the Initiative Foundation for the next chapter of the organization,” said Larry Korf, chair of the Initiative Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “He will build upon the solid foundation created under Kathy Gaalswyk’s tenure and stellar leadership. His high emotional intelligence and leadership skills will be beneficial in driving continued progress on strategy and our mission to improve the quality of life in our communities and region.”

Gaalswyk, who announced her decision to transition away from the Initiative Foundation in June, said, “It has been an absolute honor to serve as president of the Initiative Foundation since the inception of the organization 30 years ago. I am deeply indebted to the many people who have helped lead the Foundation as trustees and staff, and to the thousands of community leaders who have leveraged the Foundation’s programs to improve their hometowns and the lives of our region’s residents. I have every confidence in Matt’s leadership, and I look forward to seeing the wonderful ways in which he will lead this organization into the future.”

IQ Magazine, put out by the Initiative Foundation, said when Gaalswyk leaves the Initiative Foundation she will focus on her other passions: her family; her grandchildren; her work as a birth coach; and her increased role with Josiah Venture, a faith-based initiative that works to build young leaders in Central and Eastern Europe.

Before joining the SBA, Varilek, a Yankton, S.D. native and former U.S. House candidate, served two U.S. senators as an economic development director and speechwriter.

In the private sector, Varilek analyzed energy and environmental commodity market dynamics as director of policy and research for Natsource LLC, a commodities brokerage with offices in New York City, London and Washington, D.C.

Varilek has a master’s degree in environment and development from the University of Cambridge, England, where he was funded by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He has a master’s degree in economic development from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where he was funded by the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship established by Rotary International. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and is a former resident of Marshall, Minnesota.

Varilek will officially assume the Initiative Foundation’s leadership role Jan. 3, 2017.

The Initiative Foundation provides business financing and technical assistance, awards nonprofit grants, hosts Turn Key Partner Funds and offers a variety of leadership programs that empower citizens to build stronger communities.

Since its inception, the Foundation has invested more than $81 million in the region through targeted grants and business financing investments, creating and retaining nearly 13,000 jobs while leveraging nearly $310 million in private investment — all aimed at improving the 14 counties of Central Minnesota.