2020 was a year like no other, and business owners and entrepreneurs continue to experience its effects. Through it all, we’ve been encouraged by the stories of resilience, grit and spirit that continue to rise up out of our community. 

At Zeal, we had to adapt quickly in order to continue engaging and supporting the startup ecosystem in Sioux Falls. From providing virtual programming to lifting up business resources, we’re proud of the ways we remained in touch with our community.

Amidst the chaos of navigating COVID-19, we still found time for strategic growth. Our team grew by 150 percent, and we launched multiple new events and programs, perhaps most notably, our Co.Starters Accelerator program which kicks off on January 12.  

We also continued to assess our purpose in the community, participating in a spatial needs analysis, conducting community surveys, and connecting with similar ecosystem centers across the country to gain a better understanding of how COVID-19 has affected entrepreneurs. Rest assured, we will be working hard to be the most beneficial and supportive resource for our community, regardless of what the future holds. 

Check out our list of the top 20 achievements we’re celebrating as 2020 comes to a close.

Zeal’s Top 20 of 2020

  1. Growing our team. We expanded the Zeal team by 150 percent by hiring a Community Manager, Peter Hauck, an Administrative Specialist, Marilyn Stroh, and a Program and Marketing Manager, Sara Lum. Peter, Marilyn, and Sarah are all fantastic and talented additions to our crew. If you haven’t already, we hope you have the opportunity to meet them in person in 2021.
  2. Building a partnership with NAI. This spring, we formed a new partnership with NAI Sioux Falls to help us implement the COVID-19 safety protocols that would allow our facility to remain operational. This included bringing on Matt Bruxvoort part-time as our Associate Property Manager. 
  3. Implementing EOS Traction. To support our strategic plan, we have implemented EOS Traction, the Entrepreneurial Operating System.
  4. Supporting an active membership. Zeal experienced unprecedented vacancy rates this year, keeping the facility vibrant and active through the pandemic. We maintained an average occupancy rate of 92 percent, with 13 Coworking Members, 19 Incubation Residents, and 7 Anchor Tenants. We’re grateful for each and every one of our members and tenants and the community they support. 
  5. NonProfit Pitch Night. On December 1, we hosted Non-Profit Pitch Night via Zoom. Five Sioux Falls area non-profits in startup mode pitched to our audience of 130, and the audience was able to vote for a winner who received $2,000 plus $1,000 in advertising from Sunny Radio. Second place received $1,000, and all five non-profits received professional advice from Cindy Elifrits Peterson, founder and CEO of Maximizing Excellence. The participating non-profit organizations were:
  6. Launching Co.Starters Accelerator Program and Co.Starters Rebuild. Applications opened in November for the initial cohort of our Co.Starters Accelerator Program. We built the program through the national Co.Starters platform, and are excited to host our first cohort. We received 30 applications which we narrowed down to 22 excellent participants. We’re also lucky to have 15 certified, local facilitators to lead our cohorts moving forward. Additionally, we partnered with the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber and Downtown Sioux Falls, Inc. organizations to send 10 local small businesses on scholarship to participate in the Co.Starters Rebuild cohort, specially designed to support businesses affected by the pandemic.
  7. Taking 1 Million Cups Virtual. In partnership with Pinnacle Productions and the Kaufmann Foundation, we were fortunate to be able to offer 1 Million Cups virtually via Zoom and Facebook livestream during the pandemic.
  8. Staying connected with our community. We found a myriad of ways to stay connected this year, from launching Startup Office Hours, to hosting Zoom events like the Innovation Expo and the Startup Social to keep businesses connected virtually. We hosted and sponsored more than 50 entrepreneurial training, networking and educational events this year. Did you attend any?
  9. Food Truck Thursdays. We launched Food Truck Thursdays on the Zeal campus this year in an effort to support local businesses and lift spirits.
  10. Updating Zeal Membership Levels and Perks. We continue to update our systems to make Zeal memberships valuable and efficient. This year we updated our CRM and room booking platform with Nexudus.
  11. University Partnerships. We were proud to work with Augustana University and the University of South Dakota to support the Hult Prize competitors. We also participated in pitch nights through Dakota State University and took part in the Sanford Health Hackathon. 
  12. Staying open safely. We took the Safer Sioux Falls pledge to remain a safe workplace for our community.
  13. Incubating Notable Startups. Working with incredible startups is what we do best, and this year introduced us to two impressive entrepreneurs—Henry Wegehaupt of Provender Technologies, and Walter Portz of Helen’s Plan. You can read our feature story on Henry here, and on Walter, here.
  14. Celebrating Anniversaries. Cindy Elifrits Peterson of Maximizing Excellence celebrated her 10-year business anniversary in July, and we’re proud to have had her as a tenant early on in her journey. Read our feature story on Cindy here.
  15. Enhancing our marketing efforts. With Peter and Sara on board for all things marketing and communications, we’ve been working to enhance our efforts throughout the year, including an engaging new email template. If you’re not already subscribed to Zeal emails, sign up here.
  16. Sharing resources and support with our community partners. We’re incredibly grateful for our community partners at the Sioux Falls Development Foundation and Chamber of Commerce, the City of Sioux Falls, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. In the midst of the pandemic, these partners have helped our community with an array of critical COVID-19 resources.
  17. Partnering with DRACO for tech donations. We partnered with DRACO for the RE:BOOT Sioux Falls technology drive, which benefits local non-profit organizations. 2020 beneficiaries include Toy Lending Library, Habitat Sioux Falls/ReStore, Helpline Center, Salvation Army of Siouxland, Volunteers of America, Dakotas, McCrossan Boys Ranch, Active Generations, Feeding South Dakota, Glory House, EmBe, Reclaim Community, and Alpha Center Friends.
  18. Telling Zeal’s Story. We firmly believe in the power of sharing stories—both our own and those within our startup ecosystem. Our writer, Andrea Van Essen, produces Ecosystem Features and other news content for us, and we started a partnership with SiouxFalls.Business for increased media coverage. At Zeal, we’ve increased communications to over 3,883 social media followers, 4,161 email subscribers, and 7,124 Facebook group members.
  19. Maintaining a strong board of directors. We’re fortunate to have a strong leadership team in our Board of Directors and that of our partner, the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce. The SFCC welcomed new board members this year, Jeff Griffin and Kayla Eitreim of Junior Achievement. We also celebrate the achievements and generosity of our Zeal board members:
    • Karla Santi was named one of Prairie Business Magazine’s Top 25 Women in Business.
    • Matt Paulson and wife, Karine, donated $300k to Dakota State University.
    • Steve Watson was named among Prairie Business Magazine’s 40 Under 40.
    • Bill Anderson and First National Bank in Sioux Falls were named 7(a) Dollar Volume Lender of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
  20.  Celebrating Team Accomplishments. Each member of our team had something to celebrate this year:

If all of these amazing things can happen in a year like 2020, we’re certainly excited for the fresh start and opportunities in 2021!