At the 2021 Hey Sioux Falls event, six local businesses, organizations and entrepreneurs were recognized for their hard work over the last year.
The following winners were chosen by a panel of judges from the startup ecosystem:
New Startup of the Year: Prismatic (Michael Zuercher, founder and CEO)
Startup Champion of the Year: Eric Weisser (CEO, Weisser Distributing)
Small Business of the Year: Terra Shepherd Boutique (Sara Jamison, owner)
Corporate Innovator of the Year: Midco (Paige Pearson Meyer, director of corporate communications)
Best Pivot of the Year: Good Night Theatre Collective (Bob Wendland, artistic director; Luke Tatge, marketing director; Martha Stai, company manager)
Social Impact of the Year: South Dakota Voices for Peace (Taneeza Islam, executive director)
We spoke to several of these award recipients to hear about their experiences as entrepreneurs and startup champions in 2020, as well as what the future holds for their organizations. Keep reading to learn more about the startup ecosystem from these leaders, in their own words.
The following answers have been edited for length and clarity.
How would you characterize the last year for your organization?
Eric Weisser: A motto we have at Weisser Distributing is a quote from Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. When asked about her new role several years ago, she said, “When you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat, you just jump on.” We have been very fortunate that many talented people have joined us this year, not knowing exactly where they were going, but we’re glad they jumped on our rocket ship. Our growth has been nothing short of extraordinary, and we are just getting started. Personally, this has meant that I’m able to carve out some time to give back to people and organizations that need some of that rocket fuel!
Taneeza Islam: The last year was a testament to the power of collaboration, innovation, leaps of faith and a passionate team who cares deeply about the community’s needs. South Dakota Voices for Peace (SDVFP) pivoted to meet immigrant, undocumented and refugee basic needs, something we do not otherwise provide services for. The phone calls we received from community members and clients coupled with the political environment solidified the need for our team to take a leap and create an emergency relief fund for immigrants in South Dakota. With the passion of like minded community members and immigrant-led nonprofits, we formed the South Dakota Dream Coalition to take on this endeavor. We raised $1.2 million and distributed $938k to over 1,730 immigrant-led households impacted by COVID-19 in our state.
Bob Wendland: The last 15 months have been a whirlwind for our company that relies solely on creating community and bringing people together to share in an artistic and entertaining experience. In the seven days after the city (and the country) shut down, we decided to cancel our big closer for our season (the Broadway smash hit, CHICAGO) and pivoted to working on a digital cabaret with original songs that we could send to folks in their homes. That same week, we also designed and started selling magnets to support all five theatre companies in Sioux Falls and were able to split the proceeds of those sales with each of them!
Michael Zuercher: Prismatic is an early stage company, so we’ve been very focused on building our product and spending time with customers to guide that development. Our biggest win has been getting the platform live with paying customers, setting the stage for growth.
Paige Pearson Meyer: Our customers depend on their phones, internet and TVs to keep connected and entertained. At Midco, it’s our job to keep those essential services running, so customers don’t have to worry. As more people worked from home and traffic increased, the Midco Network never wavered – providing reliable, high performing services.
What does winning a Hey Sioux Falls award mean to you? What does it represent for your organization?
EW: Another motto at Weisser Distributing is “Givers gain,” and I’ve certainly been a case study in that mentality. The folks and organizations that I have been introduced to have been open with their time and knowledge, and a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Sioux Falls is a win for Weisser Distributing in many ways.
TI: First and foremost, the social impact cohort this year, which included ACE Academy and The Hurdle Life Coach Foundation, was all new nonprofit organizations led by passionate leaders of color from our community. This was a bold statement made by Hey Sioux Falls and Startup Sioux Falls. Lifting BIPOC leaders into the mainstream entrepreneurial sector was a big step for inclusivity of our ecosystem. For SDVFP specifically, it is a public recognition of the impactful work we are doing in lifting immigrant and refugee voices, hopes and dreams.
BW: As a relatively new arts business in Sioux Falls, this recognition means the world. It means that the larger community of business owners, entrepreneurs and go-getters sees the work we’re pouring into our company and applauds our hard work and efforts to bring high-quality theatre entertainment to our community.
MZ: This award means a lot to us because it represents the support of the Sioux Falls community for startups like Prismatic.
PPM: Innovation is part of Midco’s DNA, and we really had to lean into it this past year. Our entire team is so committed to providing our customers the best services and an exceptional customer experience. While the pandemic changed how we interact with customers, we quickly adapted and innovated. We’re grateful to Hey Sioux Falls for recognizing the team’s efforts.
What do you most appreciate about the entrepreneurial community in Sioux Falls?
EW: The organizational capacity that Startup Sioux Falls brings to the table makes giving back really easy. I don’t have a lot of prep work to put in ahead of time, I just have to show up, answer some questions, give some guidance, and have some fun. The respect that Startup Sioux Falls has in the community is commendable and an asset that no one person could ever garner by themselves.
TI: The energy of our entrepreneurial community is contagious—new ideas, new spaces, new iterations of old ideas have such room to grow and make a positive impact in our community.
RW: The supportive base of folks who truly want to help others find success. It’s so wild how there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of competition between organizations and companies, some of whom are targeting the same folks. I think there’s an understanding that there really are enough people and resources and dollars in our community for everyone to excel and succeed and support each other. It’s that support and encouragement from other entrepreneurs that makes Sioux Falls the perfect place for a new arts organization like ours.
MZ: I’m continually impressed by the amount of energy put into the Sioux Falls entrepreneurial community by various individuals tirelessly moving it forward. So much progress has been made in the last ten years and it seems like the velocity continues to increase.
PPM: Their commitment to making the community better. They see needs and gaps and quickly figure out how to fill them. From South Dakota Voices for Peace to Helen’s Plan, we’re incredibly inspired by the entrepreneurial community, and we hope our essential services are making entrepreneurs’ lives easier.
What can we look forward to from your organization going forward?
EW: I’m happy to play a small part in what Startup Sioux Falls is doing. I really like being an advocate for both entrepreneurs and Startup Sioux Falls, and I will continue to do so. I will continue to take meetings and lead small groups going forward, please reach out to me on LinkedIn if I can ever be of help.
TI: This last year showed that when you take a leap, with the truest of intentions to positively impact the community, change will happen. We will continue building sustainable programs and taking leaps when we are called to, to build power and enable healing in immigrant, refugee and Muslim communities across our beautiful state.
RW: Our upcoming season is going to be our best yet. We have the most talented vocalists and musical theatre artists in this town taking the stage in some of the biggest and most beloved shows out there. And the tricks we have up our sleeves… live bands, community collaborations, more original work… I just can’t wait to reveal it all!
MZ: We have a big vision for the kind of embedded integration platform we’re building, and we see it as an underserved but large global market. Fully achieving that vision will take many years of growth.
PPM: Incredible reliability, enhanced speeds and increased performance to support revolutionary innovations.
Learn more about Hey Sioux Falls at www.heysiouxfalls.com.