Year after year, January 1 acts as a refresh—a chance to begin with a clean slate, to set new goals. As you move into the new year with intentions of progress and positive growth, it might be the perfect time to find a mentor. 

January is Mentorship Month, a time to lift up mentorship opportunities and success stories. We’re proud to live in a community that prioritizes connecting people of all ages and experiences to benefit as mentors and mentees. 

The Sioux 52 Mentoring Initiative is a collaboration between the City of Sioux Falls, the Helpline Center, the Rotary Club of Downtown Sioux Falls, and Lawrence & Schiller, among other business leaders and organizations, to make a firm commitment to mentorship in Sioux Falls. 

With a goal of recruiting 5,200 mentors by 2026, Sioux 52 hopes to make Sioux Falls known as the City of Mentoring. Mentoring can take many forms, from young students meeting with community members, to business owners mentoring young entrepreneurs, to volunteers meeting with adults aged 65+. The Helpline Center’s website links to a variety of organizations that are actively seeking mentors.  

At Zeal, we’re trying to build a community of mentors for the aspiring entrepreneurs we work with daily. From our inaugural CO.STARTERS accelerator program to matching startup founders with seasoned business owners, we’re eager to play our part in the Sioux 52 initiative.

We spoke to two of our Zeal board members, Kayla Eitreim and Kurt Loudenback, to hear about their experiences with mentorship. Eitreim is the president of Junior Achievement, and Loudenback is the owner and CEO of Grand Prairie Foods, and both share experiences as mentors and mentees. 

Keep reading to hear their perspectives!

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself—your role, your background, your passions, etc.

Kayla: I grew up in Sioux Falls, and I love this community and the way we can keep the “small town” feel with bigger city amenities. I am married to Andrew, and we have two boys, Connor, who is six, and Gavin, who is three. We love sports and spending time outside, so we’re looking forward to the warmer temperatures spring will bring. I attended Augustana for business and sociology and I’m able to combine those interests with my role at Junior Achievement. I’ve been on the JA team for nearly 15 years, with 9 of those years as President. I love connecting with people, building relationships, and bringing people together, so I am really looking forward to having COVID behind us so we can gather again in person.

Kurt: I am the co-founder (with my wife Valerie) and current CEO of Grand Prairie Foods.  I am a native of Ohio and graduated from Ohio State with a degree in agricultural economics. I spent the first 18 years of my career with Purina Mills before jumping into the food business in 2002.

Have you been mentored—personally or professionally? If so, do you remember the first time you were mentored? When was it and how did it impact you?

Kayla: I’ve been very fortunate to have great mentors in my life. From elementary teachers who told me it was okay to be smart and encouraged me not to be shy, to supervisors at my part-time jobs in high school who taught me how to provide great customer service, to generous board members who have taught me great lessons on leadership, running a business, and trusting my gut.

Kurt: Well, we didn’t call it that at the time, but I have had a lot of mentoring in my 38-year professional career. My first mentor was my sales manager at Purina. He took me under his wing and helped challenge me to grow and develop my skills and personal habits. He is still a great personal friend 30+ years later. I also had other executives at Purina who took an interest in me and mentored me as my career progressed. Even now, my board chairman and lead investor, Gene McGowan, nudges me when appropriate in a mentoring way, challenging me to think about things differently than what may be the obvious. “Ask one more question” is his mantra, and it has served me well.

Have you since had the opportunity to be a mentor for someone? If so, what was that experience like? How were you able to make an impact for them, and how did it affect you?

Kayla: I’ve had the awesome opportunity to connect with students through Junior Achievement for 15 years now, and each time I leave a JA classroom, I feel encouraged. The kids are excited to learn from a new person and understand how to connect what they are learning in school to life after graduation. I have had students from my past JA classes come up to me in the community and say hello, which is so rewarding. Spending a few hours with students really does make a difference in their lives. We have great kids in South Dakota, and our educators and non-profit partners are doing a wonderful job ensuring they have the skills and knowledge they need to become our next generation of leaders.

Kurt: I regularly mentor a young man here in Sioux Falls who is early in his career. We have lunch six to eight times a year, just to help him as a sounding board. He also helps me by introducing new ideas on how to go about doing his job. I’ve also done a number of one-off mentoring sessions with various business owners in Sioux Falls who contact me, looking for someone to “just listen.” I’ve thoroughly enjoyed those sessions, and I find satisfaction in helping others understand that starting a business is not easy, but to stay focused on their mission and “gut through” the difficult times. 

Who could benefit from a mentor? Why is it important?

Kayla: I think everyone can benefit from a mentor! Having someone to bounce ideas off, answer questions, and encourage you to consider ideas you wouldn’t have thought of is vital. Having an outside perspective in work and life is so important. I think we can get in our own way sometimes, and things can seem more difficult than they really are until you talk it out with someone who will be honest with you.

Kurt: Actually, anyone can benefit from mentoring. As I indicated earlier, I’m approaching the ripe old age of 60 and I still seek mentoring opportunities with older and wiser individuals. You can and should never stop learning. Several of my board members are older, successful (retired) businessmen, and I still say I want to be like them when I grow up!

What’s the best way for someone to find a mentor here in Sioux Falls? 

Kayla: I am involved with the steering committee for Sioux52, a mentoring initiative in the Sioux Falls area. Sioux52 is very involved in connecting mentors with those who are seeking mentorship. Those looking to find a mentor (or anyone who wants to serve as a mentor) can visit Sioux52.org and check out the wonderful organizations involved in mentoring in our area.

Kurt: Sioux 52, the mentoring initiative between the City of Sioux Falls and Downtown Rotary, offers great opportunities to mentor and be mentored. The easiest way to connect with that network is to go to the Sioux Falls Helpline website and explore options to be on either side of the mentoring equation. The Downtown Rotary website also has a link to the Sioux 52 Mentoring Initiative.

As a Zeal board member, why do you think mentorship is important in the entrepreneurship community?

Kayla: While I haven’t started a business personally, I know many people who have, and those who are most successful have taken time to secure advice and ideas from others. Sometimes mentors are great sources of encouragement, and other times they can help leaders avoid missteps and potential conflicts. I think it is always valuable to learn from those who have been in your shoes before, as they have invaluable experience and advice.

Kurt: Starting and running a business is tough. It drains the personal batteries rapidly, and having someone who can be a cheerleader, an advisor, and a sounding board can be the difference between success and failure. The statistics would say the odds are stacked against a new business, so those men and women should tap into any resource they can. Plus, mentoring is free, so why not take advantage of any asset that can help achieve success?

Anything else you’d like to share?

Kayla: I would encourage everyone to seek out a mentorship relationship, whether you’re looking to be mentored, or to offer your experience as a mentor. From little kids to teenagers, and from new business owners to our elderly neighbors, everyone has something to learn and something to offer. Oftentimes, mentors gain as much as those they are mentoring. Put yourself out there and get to know someone new!

Kurt: Sioux Falls and South Dakota are great places to start and operate a business. I’m proud that our community is generous enough that we promote things like mentoring so that our fellow business owners can be successful, knowing that paying forward now in the form of mentoring will result in future success for our community. It’s a great example of how the American Dream is alive and well.

If you’d like to be matched with a mentorship opportunity through the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, simply email us at info@realzeal.com and we’ll match you with the right opportunity.