If you’re an entrepreneur in the Sioux Falls area and you haven’t been to the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, you are missing out on a hub of support and resources for growing businesses. The Zeal building, which is on the northwest side of Sioux Falls near Southeast Tech, houses a mix of idea-stage entrepreneurs, scaling companies, and government entities that support small businesses. Zeal rents space to all of these groups, but they are much more than landlords. Their main work is to provide a supportive home for growing businesses and connect them with the resources they need.
Zeal was founded fifteen years ago by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation and the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. For many years, it was called the South Dakota Technology Business Center (SDTBC), but over the years they evolved to serve a wide variety of scalable businesses, and in 2016 they rebranded as Zeal.
“Entrepreneurship can be very isolating. They feel like they’re on an island,” says Wendy Dooley, the program manager and relationship builder at Zeal. But when entrepreneurs choose to work at Zeal, they’re connected with the resources they need, and they’re surrounded by other entrepreneurs who are also working to make their ideas real.
Zeal offers several levels of service, and their newest service offering is a simple monthly membership. At just $49 a month, membership works much like belonging to a 24/7 gym. Members get a key fob and can come in anytime, find a spot in the open work area, and get stuff done. Coffee and popcorn are provided, but the real benefits are the camaraderie and the resources at one’s fingertips. Talk with other entrepreneurs. Ask staff for a recommendation for a service provider. Use the gigabit internet. Take a mental break in the fitness room. Reserve one of Zeal’s several meeting spaces. And since the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and several other business-supporting organizations are anchor tenants in the same building, entrepreneurs can get answers to their questions quickly.
To make this type of flexible membership available, Zeal underwent a major renovation last year at the time of their rebrand. “For so long we were facility focused, and we were missing out on early-stage people that weren’t ready to rent an office yet,” Wendy says. This level of service is perfect for many idea-stage entrepreneurs who need a space that bolsters their business development but who don’t have the traction to justify renting a dedicated desk quite yet.
Co-working at Zeal means getting a dedicated workstation. Co-workers are able to move out of working in coffee shops or from home, and be surrounded by other like-minded entrepreneurs. Coworking comes with a Chamber membership, a locker and/or mailbox, and a multitude of meeting spaces. Coworking members also receive support from Zeal staff and partners.
For even more support and accountability, Zeal and its partners provide a select group of startups with a 12-week intensive accelerator program. Program placement is competitive and comes with many benefits, including funding, dedicated workspace, branding and strategy development, and lots of mentorship. The 2017 cohort will be wrapping up their session soon, and Zeal plans to offer an accelerator session annually with the help of key corporate partners in the community.
For businesses that have moved past the idea stage and who need their own office, Zeal has many options. Even with the recent renovations, Zeal still has twenty-seven private offices and six wet labs (a wet lab is a laboratory equipped with plumbing and ventilation). Zeal leases these spaces out to young businesses and research teams. These member clients get office space at an affordable square footage rate and have the opportunity to take part in Zeal’s incubator program. Zeal allows startups to sign a one-year lease with an option to renew. The flexible lease terms helps mitigate risk for a company that is just starting to find their place in the market. Startups can stay at Zeal for up to five years. By the end of those five years, companies are either at a stage where they’re ready to move out on their own, or they’ve determined it’s time for a pivot. Some successful alumni of Zeal’s incubator program are DocuTAP, McGowan Capital Group, Meta Payment Systems, Datasync, and Equity Trust’s Sioux Falls branch.
Zeal has some tenants that have been in the building much longer than five years. These anchor tenants are government entities that exist to grow the economy by supporting small businesses: The South Dakota Small Business Administration (SBA), SCORE (which is a resource partner of the SBA), South Dakota Small Business Development Center (SBDC), South Dakota Manufacturing & Technology Solutions (MTS), the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the Enterprise Institute, and SD Bio Tech. This alphabet soup of organizations becomes much more accessible when you know that you can find them all under one roof and that Zeal staff will help you find the resource you need when you need it.
Zeal also partners with local businesses who desire to provide professional services to startups. These are businesses that Zeal has vetted and who want to see startups succeed. Wendy explains, “In Sioux Falls, people tend to stick with their service providers as much as possible as their businesses grow, so it hasn’t been a challenge to find businesses that want to be partners. These businesses also have a desire to give back. They are committed to helping the startup community of Sioux Falls, and they want to help provide service in areas that are simple to them, but not to the entrepreneur.” Partner businesses are frequently referred to Zeal clients, and are encouraged to spend time on-site, attend Zeal events, and make connections.
With coworking, acceleration, and incubation all under one roof, Zeal can claim the title of “super-hub,” as far as entrepreneurial centers go. And yet they’re always looking to serve the entrepreneurial community better. Zeal uses their space to host educational and networking events. They also host other events if there is a good fit with Zeal’s mission and vision. Knowing that mentorship is something that many area entrepreneurs are seeking, Zeal is working to build a bench of seasoned entrepreneurs & executives that are willing to mentor. With so many resources in one building, there is something for entrepreneurs at every stage.
Two things you can do this week:
- Go out and tour the Zeal space. Bring your laptop and work for awhile. See if one of their levels of service would be a good fit for you.
- Like and follow Zeal’s Facebook page to stay aware of events they are hosting.