Creating a culture of entrepreneurship
By Amy Smolik
Marketing & Communications Manager
Participants from the 2014 South Dakota Technology Business Center Accelerator program
There is perhaps no better time to be an entrepreneur in Sioux Falls than right now. A convergence of opportunity, a strong business climate and changing demographics means that support is available for those who want to take the plunge and turn an idea into a reality.
More than a decade ago, Forward Sioux Falls invested in a brick and mortar incubator called the South Dakota Technology Business Center (SDTBC), located near the Southeast Technical Institute campus. The SDTBC was a significant investment by the business community through Forward Sioux Falls, the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Sioux Falls Development Foundation and others to continue to diversify the Sioux Falls economy. The thought was that if entrepreneurs could focus on developing their ideas without the burdens of managing some of their infrastructure needs or challenges, they would be more successful. If they had access to meeting space and other resources for growing a business, like the Small Business Development Center and the Governor´s Office of Economic Development, they´d be more successful. If they were surrounded by other entrepreneurial-minded individuals, they would be able to network and share ideas – and they would be more successful.
The proof is in the numbers. The SDTBC has helped 22 companies grow and graduate. These companies also impacted the economy by growing to more than 673 full time employees with a combined annual payroll of more than $40.8 million. The SDTBC continues to expand its programs and services as technology and entrepreneurs´ needs change. This year will mark the third year of the SDTBC´s successful Accelerator program, which helps entrepreneurs jumpstart their business ideas and gain access to tools and funding (for more information about the 2015 program and how to apply, see page 38).
In the last decade, education has supported expansion in the areas of research and entrepreneurship, as well. In 2013, the SDTBC partnered with the University of South Dakota (USD) for management of the research park in what is now known as the USD Discovery District (for more information about the Discovery District, see page 33). USD is working with the SDTBC and Forward Sioux Falls to plan and launch the park. These organizations will also play a key role in helping attract and support additional park tenants.
Dr. Ryan Van Zee, University of Sioux Falls, is the Director of Entrepreneurial Studies, which was established in 2008 thanks to a gift from Tom and Cindy Lillibridge. Students can major or minor in entrepreneurial studies or study it as part of their MBA or degree completion. The program continues to grow, Van Zee said, with the largest growth in undergraduate students.
"Millennials feel very empowered and they realize the landscape of the market is going to change a lot," Van Zee said. "Smart phones have changed their world. They´re the group that has the self-confidence to do it and they want to be a part of it."
They take a variety of courses to reach their goals and learn more about sales, financing and team management. Part of the classroom work requires students to start off with determining a problem – and then solve it.
Some of Sioux Falls´ advantages? Van Zee sees the community´s culture as a major asset for entrepreneurs as well as students who would stay in Sioux Falls to grow their business idea. USF uses members of the business community to assist in teaching students real-world applications. Organizations like the SDTBC, SCORE and the Small Business Development Center serve as resources, Van Zee said. USF also helps students with a revolving loan fund that´s available to them.
"The community is there to help out and that support is shown in a number of ways," he said. "We rely on adjunct professors from all over the business community and our guest speakers are almost all exclusively from Sioux Falls."
Guest speakers tell their stories each week at 1 Million Cups (1MC), a gathering of entrepreneurs, students, mentors and community leaders who meet for a cup of coffee and listen to a business story or two with a goal of making connections and leaving inspired. Addie Graham-Kramer, owner of The Event Company and current emcee of 1 Million Cups Sioux Falls, said 1MC is the highlight of her week.
"I have made new friendships, business partnerships and learned so much about the entrepreneurial community by being there. We have some pretty amazing things happening right here in Sioux Falls and some of those may be the â€˜next big thing,´" Graham-Kramer said. "As a new entrepreneur, meeting others and hearing them talk about their passions each week energizes my mind and my soul."
The project was started by The Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City in 2012 and the 1MC name was inspired by the thought that if communities could have 1 million more cups of coffee, they could fundamentally change the landscape and culture for entrepreneurs. Local entrepreneurs John Meyer, 9 Clouds, and Paul Batcheller, PrairieGold Venture Partners, helped start the Sioux Falls program which has been active for one year. Since then, other South Dakota communities have launched their own events. Each city runs the program semi-autonomously and gathers together in local coffee shops, community centers, co-working spaces and other host places. 1MC is just one of several ways the culture is changing across the country as well as here in Sioux Falls.
"The support for new entrepreneurs in Sioux Falls is like no other. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and have never seen the outcry of support as it has been in the last few years. Organizations like 1MC provides that system which helps boost our confidence levels and encourages individuals to take a chance and dream big," Graham-Kramer said. "There have been individuals that have gotten internships, landed new jobs and even new partnerships. As a member of the 1MC community, we care so much for the success of others in our group and we want the best for them. We are there to help them succeed, help them to grow, help them to make new connections and more."
It´s not just new business ideas that can find support in Sioux Falls. This year, Sioux Falls is one of 48 communities taking part in the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Emerging Leaders Initiative, a federal training initiative that provides executives with the organizational framework, resource network and motivation required to build sustainable businesses.
Over the course of seven months, participants are given the opportunity to work with experienced mentors, attend specialized workshops and develop connections with their peers, city leaders and the financial community. The initiative incorporates a curriculum that is research-based and nationally scalable, enabling participating businesses to engage in focused development and expansion strategies, including options for accessing new capital and securing government contracts.
The end result prepares and encourages small businesses to move to the next level on their growth trajectory and to help them emerge as self-sustaining businesses that create jobs and build communities. Entrepreneurs produce a three-year strategic growth action plan with benchmarks and performance targets that will help them access the necessary support and resources to move forward.
For many entrepreneurs, no matter what stage of development they are in, it starts with a dream. Later this spring, a new place for thinkers, doers and creatives will gather in what was once a bakery on the north side of downtown Sioux Falls. The Bakery, as the building is known, is the brainchild of Fluxxr founders Brian Rand and Clint Brown. They combined their need for a new office space with a desire to create a gathering place for entrepreneurs. Their company will occupy part of the building, with the remaining space available for members. Rand and Brown envision a place where problems can be solved and the business and education communities can interact. They see The Bakery as an enhancement to organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and a benefit to Sioux Falls´ growing entrepreneurial community.
"We don´t lack capital, resources or coordination," Brown said of the local entrepreneurial community. "I think we all want the same thing – to make Sioux Falls better and to hone our own crafts in our own ways."
Looking to connect with other entrepreneurs? Here´s a few ways to expand your network and your knowledge base:
INNOVATION NETWORK SOUTH DAKOTA
The Innovation Network South Dakota was created to provide a framework to offer entrepreneurs a resource for educational programming and networking opportunities. The SDTBC coordinates with their resource partners to plan and provide activities and events that will help entrepreneurs and small business start-ups. Look for Innovation Network South Dakota on LinkedIn to learn more about upcoming activities and events like I.N. After Hours, a networking event.
Opening later this spring, this building on N. Main Avenue in downtown is being rehabbed to serve students, entrepreneurs, business leaders and creatives in the Sioux Falls community. The vision of The Bakery is to provide a location where they can receive training, education, mentorship and promotion in order to encourage and equip the community to start, build and grow their businesses.
This annual event is a conference focusing on connecting entrepreneurs, innovators, angel investors, venture capitalists, and the many others who are involved in developing startup companies. The event will consist of speakers, breakout sessions, and networking focusing on the entrepreneurial community. The South Dakota Technology Business Center and Forward Sioux Falls help sponsor the event.
SOUTH DAKOTA TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS CENTER ACCELERATOR CHALLENGE
Learn more about how to apply for this five-month program, which is designed to help entrepreneurs launch and grow successful business with basic training and guidance to help at specific business development stages. Applications are due April 20. There is no fee to participate.
SBA EMERGING LEADERS INITIATIVE
Applications for this seven-month training initiative are now open. The training is for established business owners and is not for start-ups or people who are thinking about starting a business. The Emerging Leaders Initiative advanced training series is open to small business owners and executives who have annual revenues of at least $400,000; have been in business for at least three years and have at least one employee (other than self). There is no fee to participate.
Looking to connect with other entrepreneurs? Here´s a few ways to expand your network and your knowledge base:
SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses start, grow, and succeed nationwide. SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and has been mentoring small business owners for more than 40 years. The Sioux Falls Chapter was chartered in 1966.
SCORE is a valuable network of 13,000-plus volunteers who offer small business entrepreneurs confidential business counseling services at no charge. SCORE volunteers have the knowledge and experience to help any small business owner get the help they need. SCORE also provides local workshops and events throughout the country to connect small business owners with the people and information they need to start, grow, and maintain their businesses as well as online workshops. SCORE provides resources, templates and tools to assist entrepreneurs in developing tools and plans they need to navigate their way to small business success.
SIOUX FALLS AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE SMALL BUSINESS COUNCIL
The Chamber´s Small Business Council provides assistance and support responsive to the needs of small business. Activities include Business Sense Workshops, Chamber Cafés and business start-up information. This is just one of the Chamber´s several committees that provide programming and networking opportunities for members. The Chamber has more than 2,200 businesses and individuals as members, with approximately 80 percent of those businesses having 10 or fewer employees.
SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER
The Small Business Development Center provides free consultation to entrepreneurs and prospective entrepreneurs related to preparing business plans and financial pro formas for business plans. The Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) program is part of the Small Business Development Center that focuses on assisting businesses with doing business with government entities. They provide technical expertise to South Dakota´s businesses interested in bidding on receiving federal, state and local government contracts.
SMALL BUSINESS INNOVATION RESEARCH CENTER
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is a highly competitive, three-phase grant program. The SBIR program provides $2.5 billion per year through 4,800 awards to small businesses to develop new products and processes that address federal research and development needs. Eleven federal agencies participate, so topics range from new corps to new weapons systems and from renewable energy to pollution monitoring. The SBIR program offers great opportunities to entrepreneurs and small businesses, though it is not applicable to all small business ventures. The program is limited to entrepreneurs or businesses developing innovative products and processes that meet federal research and development needs.
SOUTH DAKOTA TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS CENTER
The South Dakota Technology Business Center is an important component in an on-going effort to diversify and grow the regional economy by assisting in the creation and expansion of technology-based businesses in the Sioux Falls area.
The SDTBC is a direct result of the Forward Sioux Falls Technology Program started in April 1999. With the active participation of more than 200 community, education and business leaders as task force members and study participants, the FSF Technology Program crafted a strategy to establish the Southeast Technical Institute and University Center area as a nexus for education, research and business development. These efforts continue with the master planning of the USD Discovery District. The South Dakota Technology Business Center offers a unique business environment in that it brings together entrepreneurs with similar goals and challenges. The SDTBC is also home to several other sources of entrepreneurial support. These partner organizations offer services to SDTBC tenants and others, which include business planning, small business loan guarantees, counseling and business workshops.
SOUTH DAKOTA ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
The South Dakota Enterprise Institute is a private, non-profit corporation that provides customized business development, commercialization, and market research services to entrepreneurs, inventors, and startup companies in South Dakota. The Institute provides free, confidential consulting through the South Dakota Small Business Development Center. Specialized fee-based services are also available to entrepreneurs seeking equity financing and to researchers and inventors that need preliminary commercialization assistance. The Institute is credited with formalizing angel investing in South Dakota by organizing and administering angel investment funds. These funds provide early-stage capital to emerging growth companies in the region.
STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA-GOVERNOR´S OFFICE OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (GOED)
GOED provides information and services to South Dakota businesses and businesses considering locating in South Dakota.
U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
The regional SBA office is located in the SDTBC building. They assist small businesses primarily with their guaranteed loan programs.