As mentorship continues to be a significant focus for Sioux Falls, the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship has begun building its own network of mentors for entrepreneurs. 

“I have to give credit to the City of Sioux Falls for taking the initiative with the Sioux 52 program and setting some really big goals to become a city of mentorship,” said Brienne Maner, executive director at Zeal.

“For me that resonated both personally and professionally because a lot of what we do at Zeal is either connect people with business mentors, or we ourselves are also acting as mentors to those that are coming into our facility.”

Zeal has sharpened its focus on mentorship in three areas: its own mentor network and directory, the CO.STARTERS accelerator program, and the introduction of quarterly Startup Office Hours events.

These offerings allow entrepreneurs at varying stages of the business cycle to be matched with support from leaders across the startup ecosystem. 

“Mentorship is one of our core values, and it’s something that’s a foundation of entrepreneurship,” Maner said.

“These folks can’t do it alone, you need someone to hold your hand along the way, and on the flip side of that, it’s also important that we continue to connect with those who have gone through our programs and been in our facility and want to give back.”

Maner references Eric Weisser as a prime example. He went through the process himself, he worked with his family to get his business, Weisser Distributing, off the ground, and now he wants to give back. He currently serves as the facilitator for Zeal’s inaugural CO.STARTERS cohort.

“This is the perfect opportunity to be able to do this through the CO.STARTERS platform and also as a mentor within our network,” Maner said. 

“It’s a way for us to tie a bow on it and have a mechanism that allows people to understand more about what mentorship through the Zeal network would look like.” 

Getting to know the Zeal Mentorship Network

The most foundational aspect of Zeal’s efforts in this space is the recent creation of the Mentorship Network.

The online list and application was launched two weeks ago, and it currently includes around 15 active mentors, with many more to come. Mentors on the list include well-known Sioux Falls business leaders, such as John Meyer, Amy Colgan, Jodi Schwan, and Michael Zuercher, to name just a few.

While prospective mentees can scroll through the list to see who might be a fit, they must fill out an application detailing why they are seeking a mentor and specific challenges they’re facing in their business. The Zeal team will then assess their robust network to find the best match of mentor and mentee. 

“There is value to letting someone else take an objective look at what your needs are, so that they can connect you to someone who isn’t necessarily in your network,” Maner said.

“You’re in good hands with our organization and our team who will be trying to match people based on their needs and who in the community is right for them.”

It’s important to note that students are also welcome to apply for mentorship. 

“We have some really great connections with area universities, and we just continue to beat the drum that if you need assistance and want to connect, we’re here to make it happen,” Maner said.

As far as what mentee-mentor relationships look like, Maner says Zeal is keeping the parameters as loose as possible because everyone’s situation is different.

At a minimum, the mentor and mentee will commit to meeting once a month for two months to establish rapport. Mentors are required to attend an initial training session, and they are committed to listening, asking questions, making connections, and challenging mentees when necessary.

The Zeal team will check in along the way to keep both parties accountable, and they will be available to reassign mentors if the match doesn’t work out. 

CO.STARTERS participants to receive mentor match

Mentorship is part of the nature of the CO.STARTERS accelerator program, as participants learn weekly from their facilitator and various guest speakers. They are encouraged to reach out to people within the startup ecosystem and ask their facilitator to make relevant connections for them. 

However, participants didn’t know going into it that they would also be matched with a mentor after the program concludes. 

“It was intended to be a bit of a surprise,” Maner said. “We want to give them all a mentor when the program ends because we don’t want this to be the last step in the journey. We want to make sure we’re acclimating each of those participants into the startup ecosystem, keeping them motivated and accountable, and mentorship is a huge part of that.”

Maner and her colleagues, Peter Hauck and Sara Lum, sit in on every CO.STARTERS session, and they are intentional about observing the participants, their personalities, and their needs. After 10 weeks, they will be able to facilitate ideal mentee-mentor matches. 

“It has a lot to do with personality type, that’s one thing, but it’s also about where they land at the end of the program with their businesses and what their next steps and needs are,” Maner said.

“We’ll match them with someone who can bring out the best in whatever situation they’re in, see what the possibilities are, and help them attain more for themselves.”

Virtual Startup Office Hours event coming this month

For those looking to dip their toes in the waters of mentorship, Zeal will be hosting quarterly Startup Office Hours events. 

Participants apply for a 25-minute slot with a local entrepreneur-in-residence, and they get that time to ask specific questions or simply learn a little more about a mentoring relationship. 

The next Office Hours event will be on February 25 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and it will be hosted virtually via Zoom. The three featured entrepreneurs-in-residence will be Melissa Johnson of Oh My Cupcakes, local photographer and business coach Maddie Peschong, and Mike Vetter of Flywheel.  

“It’s kind of a toe-dipping exercise in that we hope the event will spark some relationships, and spark the idea that startups need mentors,” Maner said. 

“To have 25 minutes of someone’s time is invaluable, but to be matched with someone and just get comfortable being vulnerable with someone else is the intention of the entire program.”

Becoming a hub for mentorship and networking

Maner hopes that these efforts will lead Zeal to the point that, in the next 5 years, they are the networking hub for entrepreneurs in Sioux Falls and the surrounding area. 

“Our organization seeks out mentors too, through our own market research and reaching out to ecosystems across the U.S.,” she said. “We’re being mentored ourselves and we’re also being vulnerable in this process as an organization and a team.”

Ultimately, Maner and her team at Zeal hope to be the support system that entrepreneurs need in their business journey. 

“We see the startup ecosystem growing before our eyes, and we have room to grow with them.” 

If you’re interested in finding a mentor, applying for Startup Office Hours, or applying for the second cohort of CO.STARTERS, visit www.startupsiouxfalls.com/mentorship.