As we prepare to graduate our second cohort of entrepreneurs from the CO.STARTERS accelerator program, the value of this experience becomes even more clear to our team here at Startup Sioux Falls. 

While the tactical knowledge and skills that the CO.STARTERS framework provides is excellent—and often what draws applicants to the program—we have found that it’s the connections and camaraderie between facilitators, participants and community members that truly stands out once all is said and done. 

We spoke with a few members of this second cohort to hear about their businesses and the connections they’ve made. Keep reading to learn more!

Welcome Sioux Falls aims to make a positive impact on newcomers

When Rhiannon Israel first moved to Sioux Falls in 2016, she didn’t think it could ever feel like home.

She moved with her husband, who had a new job opportunity in town, and while his company provided extensive relocation support, the transition was challenging. The company covered everything from logistics to temporary housing, but once the boxes had been unpacked, no one was there to show them how to make Sioux Falls home. 

“We really struggled with how to make this home, how to make this our life and how to transition our lifestyle successfully,” Israel said. “For that first six months to a year, I was convinced we’d be leaving as soon as possible, and that was really hard.”

While Israel went on to find her place in the community—and ultimately grew to love it—her experience pushed her to explore the concept of relocation support.

“I found that there's not a lot focused on how families and individuals are able to transition successfully. It’s usually about getting the employees onboarded and covering costs, but there's definitely more to it than that. Relocation is a major life change that affects every aspect of your life,” Israel said.

So, in 2018, she decided to do something about it and launched her business, Welcome Sioux Falls (WSF), a professional welcome service for the Sioux Falls community. Through WSF, she partners with companies who are relocating employees, as well as individuals seeking personal assistance with their transition.

WSF provides an array of services that can be tailored to any situation, whether you’re looking for assistance with logistics and finding service providers or trying to get engaged with your new community. 

“Where I really like to work with people is in that transition,” Israel said. “We do a lifestyle assessment where we look at what their lifestyle looked like before, and what they anticipate it looking like after the move. There are components that will change that maybe they don’t want to change, but there are also positive things that they’ll have the opportunity to change with the move.”

Israel emphasizes that most people don’t consider the different aspects of life that are affected by relocation. Through WSF, she addresses each of these, from community, to personal interests and hobbies, as well as communication with friends and family.

There are numerous questions to consider, such as how your spouse will be affected, how you’ll make friends, how you’ll support your kids, how you’ll make your new home feel like home and how you’ll find all of your new resources, from doctors, to grocery stores, to auto mechanics.

WSF is a business under the umbrella company of The Relocation Companion, which Israel started as a national relocation service provider. Additionally, she started the Newcomers Club, a platform where new Sioux Falls residents can meet people and build relationships, as well as attend various events and activities like cookouts, sporting events, book clubs and happy hours. 

Israel joined CO.STARTERS hoping to raise more awareness about her business and gain new clientele. These are goals she’s been able to work toward throughout the program, with the help of new connections and her fellow participants. 

“The biggest benefit I’ve seen has just been the encouragement to talk to people about my business,” she said. 

“In these last 9 weeks or so, I’ve been having many more conversations and many connections being made. Some of those connections have been facilitated by Sara [Lum] and Brienne [Maner], but also with the other participants, some of those connections have been really cool.” 

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Dakota Dietitians provides exceptional nutritional care for aging and rural populations

Gavin Van De Walle first had the idea for his dietitian consulting and staffing firm, Dakota Dietitians, back in 2018 while going through his dietetics internship, which had a business and entrepreneurship focus.

He built up a base of clients by sending letters about his services to all of the nursing homes and long-term care facilities in South Dakota—around 120 of them. His marketing efforts were successful, and he was able to sign contracts with 10 facilities throughout the state, as well as some in Iowa and Nebraska. 

Van De Walle kept plugging away at the business until mid-2019, when he realized he wanted to scale it beyond what he could manage as one person. Unfortunately, with 10 contracts to service, he didn’t have the time necessary to pour into business development. Ultimately, the stress of managing the business all on his own led him to put Dakota Dietitians on pause for a season and get a full-time job. 

The dream wasn’t dead though. Last month, in the midst of his CO.STARTERS program, Van De Walle quit the day job to return to Dakota Dietitians.

“Getting that job was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to maneuver the business to a more manageable place, and now I’m able to move forward and scale it at a good pace,” he said. 

Van De Walle is working with three of his original clients, and he’s hired two part-time employees as well, to help manage the workload. His mission with Dakota Dietitians is to provide exceptional nutritional care, specifically for elderly populations in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. He also has an interest in rural areas which face challenges with inadequate staffing. 

“I don’t think dietitians get as much recognition as other healthcare professionals,” he said. 

“There are lots of chronic diseases that can be prevented with good nutrition, and lots of times we tend to have a reactive approach instead of a preventive approach. Everyone eats, and everyone has their own idea of what’s healthy, but our job is to lead them in a way that’s healthy for their nutritional needs.”

With his mission and business model dialed in, Van De Walle knew that the area he needed help with was growth. That’s when he turned to CO.STARTERS.

“I’d been part of the Startup Sioux Falls Facebook community for a long time, and when I initially saw the posting for CO.STARTERS it intrigued me. I thought it’d be super helpful for my next steps which are getting new clients contracts and finding additional staffing candidates,” he said. 

When it comes to finding new clients, CO.STARTERS challenges participants to talk to customers, even offering a prize for whoever talks to the most people. 

“It just forces you to get out there and talk with customers about what they’re needing, and what their pain points are,” he said.

Van De Walle adds that the connections made through the program are another benefit. 

That collaboration between classmates provides so much energy that as soon as the class is over, you want to work on whatever the topic was that night,” he said. 

“You have 10 or 15 people to bounce off ideas, and these are people you can have in your circle long-term to hold you accountable. They’re really able to challenge you because everyone thinks about business differently.”  

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Your Story Studios encourages everyone to preserve their family histories

Makenzie Huber tells stories for a living.

As a reporter for the Argus Leader, she has been honing her craft with breaking news and business reporting for over three years. 

But if you thought she’d be ready to put down her pen when she gets home at the end of the day, you’d be wrong. In her spare time, Huber launched a storytelling business called Your Story Studios where she documents the stories and legacies of people’s loved ones. 

The process typically involves a lengthy interview, which Huber then uses to create a magazine-length story, preserving a family history. The story is delivered digitally, but can also be printed in a high-quality booklet format. 

While the end product makes a perfect gift for a loved one, Huber also emphasizes the importance of preserving these stories. She wrote her first family story in college while taking a class on the history of journalism. 

“We would do these oral histories of journalism professionals, and I took that and thought, ‘I should be doing this for my grandparents,’” she said. 

“I ended up getting such valuable information and learning about who my grandpa was, seeing him as more than just a grandparent but as a whole person.”

Unfortunately, before Huber launched her business and had time to complete an interview with her other grandfather, he passed away. 

“I thought I had time, but I didn’t. Things got in the way, and I lost the stories he had told me growing up,” she said. “I realized that this needs to happen now. Too many families lose their loved ones the same way that I did, and if I can help it, I don’t want people to lose those stories and that valuable connection.”

She joined CO.STARTERS to jump start her business’ launch and growth plan. 

“I had this idea, I knew what I wanted to do, and I had the drive to get it done, but I didn’t know the pieces, the structure, the financials—I didn’t know how to make it a reality,” she said. 

“With the help of CO.STARTERS, I’ve been able to get that business plan, talk to mentors and talk with customers to really structure what they want and what they need from this service. The best part about it though, is just the energy. It’s three hours, and I always come out with more ideas and new ways to improve my business.”

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