Zeal has long provided a physical space for connection and collaboration within the startup community—a role that required some shifting after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Sioux Falls.

In order to serve the many tenants who rely on a physical workspace, the facility never closed down completely. However, restrictions and safety measures were put in place soon after the first coronavirus case reached Sioux Falls.

“Our first priority was and will always be the people we serve, so it was important that we keep them informed as to the protocols at our facility as well as business resources to ensure business was able to be conducted safely and sustainably,” said Brienne Maner, Zeal’s executive director.

Maner followed guidance from the Mayor’s office, the City of Sioux Falls Health Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and industry partners like NAI Sioux Falls and Avera, as well as other entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country through a membership to the International Business Incubator Association (InBIA). 

“It became apparent pretty quickly that no one governing body or agency had all the answers, so it was important for us to make informed decisions through our strategic research,” Maner said.

Restrictions included limiting the facility’s use to tenants and members only, working remotely when possible, increased cleaning and disinfecting services, and encouraging tenants to remain in their suites rather than spreading out to common areas. 

Zeal staff worked remotely, dropping in periodically to pick up mail and address any concerns. In the midst of the pandemic, Peter Hauck was hired and on-boarded as the new community manager with an entirely remote first day of work. 

Programming and resources were adjusted to fit with social distancing requirements, and the Zeal & Startup Sioux Falls team even hosted several Zoom events, including the Virtual Startup Social and the New & Aspiring Entrepreneurs Meetup.

“Social media, email marketing and Zoom have been incredible tools during quarantine, not to mention a solid network infrastructure in which we’re supported by our partners at Midco and Workplace IT,” Maner said.

After careful consideration, those measures were lifted at the beginning of June. The team at Zeal is excited to be back at the facility full-time, while taking necessary precautions for the safety of tenants and visitors. 

Preparing the facility for safe and healthy work

To ensure a safe return to work for tenants and staff alike, Zeal adopted several new restrictions. These include limiting entrances to the building and advising tenants not to travel unnecessarily between floors of the facility. 

Video surveillance will also be installed, and guests will be asked to check in at the front desk. All conference rooms will have reduced capacity, and chairs will be removed from common areas to maintain social distancing. 

Signage addressing social distancing and hand-washing will be posted throughout the facility, and Servicemaster will continue to clean and sanitize 5 days per week. Zeal will also be upgrading air filters to HEPA grade for air quality.

Partnering with NAI for facility management

Perhaps one of the most impactful changes at Zeal is the addition of property manager, Matt Bruxvoort, in partnership with NAI.NAI Sioux Falls

“It took less than a full year of employment at Zeal Center for me to realize that properly supporting the people we directly serve is the biggest priority for our operation,” Maner said. “Adding a full-time property manager has freed up capacity for our core team to execute a strategic plan and begin tackling mission-driven objectives to serve the greater entrepreneurial population of our city.”

NAI has been a longtime sponsor and supporter of Zeal, and both Maner and NAI Senior Vice President, Gregg Brown, were enthusiastic about the opportunity to partner together on the facility’s management. 

“As a brokerage company that represents tenants, this is a great place to be introduced to entrepreneurs that are just starting up,” said Brown. “Once they outgrow or graduate from Zeal, they need a resource to help navigate the waters, and so it’s really natural for us to have that relationship.” 

Zeal has hosted NAI on numerous occasions over the years to talk to the community about real estate—covering topics like finding the right space, cost considerations, and the leasing process.

The partnership couldn’t have come at a better time. As Maner began to realize Zeal’s need for a property manager, NAI was simultaneously expanding their services in that area.

Bruxvoort is employed by both businesses and splits his time between them. Brown describes him as a “go-getter.”

Matt Bruxvoort

“He’s young, nimble, polite, and eager to learn,” Brown said. “This is a different model than Zeal has had in the past, and as they’re reopening and people are coming back, there’s a lot going on and it’s good to have him on the ground there every day.”

For NAI, a property management client like Zeal is unique. In most scenarios, a hands-off owner or investor will hire NAI for property management to handle maintenance, collect rent checks, and manage middle-of-the-night emergencies. 

Zeal, on the other hand, is an owner-occupant client.

“It’s a much higher degree of service because we have Matt, the on-site property manager, which adds a whole layer of service that not everybody provides to their clients,” Brown said. “Usually we’re just a hired third-party company and we’re not necessarily looked at as a partner, but because of our sponsorship and our shared employee, we’re way more integrated with Zeal. It’s way more rewarding to be involved with the ownership at that level rather than simply being an arms-length contractor.”

What’s been accomplished so far?

NAI took over building maintenance for Zeal several months back, and Bruxvoort started on-site in May. In a short time, they’ve managed to stay busy.

“The property management team has surveyed the building for efficiencies and infrastructure upgrades that we will complete as budget allows, and we are looking to implement new tenant and billing software in the coming months to help streamline the accounting side,” Maner said. 

Brown adds that while tenant needs are always different, the nature of the startup community means the property management team is being asked a lot of non-traditional questions.

“I love how dedicated their team is to supporting the mission of the organization, beyond day-to-day facility management,” Maner said. “Their team engages mine on a weekly basis, bringing solutions-driven ideas that are helping to position Zeal as a true leader and innovator in the ecosystem center management space.”

Zeal recently completed Entrepreneurship Center Management Certification through a program led by InBIA, and Maner says putting the right team in place is just one of the many ways they are capitalizing on that education to move forward.

From assisting with day-to-day maintenance and operations to researching and developing a comprehensive plan to minimize the spread of COVID-19, NAI has proved to be a valuable partner for the Zeal Center. 

NAI Property Management focuses on office, industrial, and retail. They provide a one-stop shop for building owners, managing full accounting, collection of rents and payments, budgeting, management of all vendors, and making sure properties are in peak performance as far as mechanical issues and building and grounds. For more information, visit their website at siouxfallscommercial.com.