Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year Named

Shirley Wikner, CEO of Aviation Charter, Chosen for Business Success and Community Involvement
Release Date: 
Monday, March 20, 2017
Release Number: 
Sarah Swenty, sarah.swenty@sba.gov, 612-370-2316

MINNEAPOLIS – Shirley Joann Wikner, CEO of the Eden Prairie-based Aviation Charter and Executive Aviation, was chosen as Minnesota’s Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Minnesota District Office, for her personal achievements and contributions to her community.


Wikner will be honored at the Minnesota Small Business Week Awards luncheon ceremony on May 4 at the Marriot Minneapolis Northwest.  She has been invited to Washington D.C to join winners from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands during National Small Business Week ceremonies to receive her individual award and be there for the naming of the 2017 National Small Business Person of the Year.


The Small Business Person of the Year is selected based on growth in sales or unit volume, increase in the number of employees, financial strength, innovativeness of product or service and evidence of contributions to community-oriented projects. 


“We strive to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs, who, while one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial groups, still face unique obstacles in the world of business,” said Nancy J. Libersky, district director of the SBA’s Minnesota District Office.  “In following our mission, the SBA has helped Shirley grow her business and we are proud to honor her as this year’s Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year.”


Shirley Wikner conquered her fear of flying to build Aviation Charter and Executive Aviation in 1988 with her husband, Roger. When he died suddenly in 2012, she fought on several fronts to preserve the company and emerged stronger than ever. Today, thanks to her tenacity - and with a bit of help from the SBA and its resource partner WomenVenture - Shirley employs 54 people in Eden Prairie, Minn. The business works throughout the contiguous United States, Canada, and Mexico providing corporate flights, flights to organ transplant teams, patient transport, and airline freight.


In addition to her role as employer, Shirley’s gifts of both time and money truly enrich her community, including her role as a primary fundraiser for LifeSource, a medical nonprofit that promotes organ, eye, and tissue donation and her longtime financial support of the Minnesota Vikings Children’s Fund which supports Make a Wish Foundation and others.


"Our company is engaged and inspired to partner in community relationships.  This philosophy of involvement is evident in the corporate arena and more importantly in our mission to support the lifesaving work of organ transplantation.  It is our culture," explained Wikner.


In 2014, Aviation Charter secured a SBA guaranteed loan from Venture Bank and more recently Shirley graduated from the Scale Up! Twin Cities program, which was offered by WomenVenture, a SBA Women's Business Center in Minneapolis. The Scale Up! program provides critical resources and support to established women-owned businesses that have a proven track record and are ready for exponential growth, with a goal of increasing revenues and creating jobs.


To learn more about her, please visit the Minnesota SBA Success Story page at https://www.sba.gov/offices/district/mn/minneapolis/success-stories


The SBA, along with the SCORE Association and the Minnesota State Small Business Development Center, will honor all the 2017 winners at the Minnesota Small Business Week Awards Luncheon on May 4, 2017, at the Marriott Minneapolis Northwest in Brooklyn Park, Minn.


Registration is open for the event until April 30 at http://conta.cc/2ns07WA.


For more information on Small Business Week, which is April 30 through May 6 this year, please visit www.sba.gov/NSBW.