On July 13, Startup Sioux Falls’ second CO.STARTERS cohort marked the successful  completion of their accelerator program with a graduation celebration at Icon Events Hall that was attended by many in the entrepreneurial community.

10 startups participated in the summer cohort, encompassing an array of industries and concepts that are sure to make a lasting impact on the community. 

Several of the graduates also participated in a pitch competition that night, in which Rhiannon Israel of Welcome Sioux Falls took home the first place prize of $1,000. The other winners included Emmett Reistroffer of Sioux Falls Pedicab Company and Matthew Cole and Logan Wolf of Prairie BioTechnology, LLC.

A packed house listens to Startup Pitch Night presentations at Icon Event Hall

“The cohort put everything into this experience, you could feel it. And we were more than pleasantly surprised with both the turnout and the energy in the room—I would describe it as electric,” said Brienne Maner, executive director at Startup Sioux Falls.

“It was a really special night for us, and it was a huge feather in our cap to the fact that we needed this program in our community.”

From the connections made between participants and community members, to the lessons learned in class, it’s clear that CO.STARTERS is a valuable investment for budding entrepreneurs. 

“If I had just had that curriculum 25 years ago, my life would have been so much easier. I can’t say enough about how wonderful the curriculum is in helping you develop and hone an idea. I mean, it’s crazy good,” said Tove Hoff Bormes, facilitator of the second cohort. 

“I told Brienne [Maner] that my one big question now is, ‘If I’ve already been the facilitator, can I be a participant later?’ I want to take the whole thing because I would love to be able to brainstorm with people as one of the participants. You could just see the idea light bulbs popping up over people’s heads, I swear.”

Meet some of the graduates

For Rhiannon Israel, founder of Welcome Sioux Falls and first-place winner at the pitch night, the conversations that CO.STARTERS facilitated and inspired were some of the most valuable takeaways. 

“The more you discuss your business with others, the more life is breathed into it. It’s amazing the different perspective and insight you gain from these conversations,” she said. 

Israel says Welcome Sioux Falls, which provides professional welcoming services to individuals and businesses who are relocating to the area, is preparing to make a greater impact within the

Rhiannon Israel of Welcome Sioux Falls accepts first place at Startup Pitch Night


“I’m really looking forward to filling the gap and being the support that our new residents need.”

Participating in and winning the pitch competition offered Israel a valuable confidence boost that will benefit her business’ future growth.

“I’ve been working very hard on my business and to receive that recognition was amazing. Making my pitch was an extremely valuable experience, and it’s not something I would have done on my own or without the support of my cohort. I now have the confidence to jump into other opportunities that I previously may have been hesitant to but are relevant to my business.”  

Learn more at welcomesiouxfalls.com

Carrie Kuhl is the founder of UpFrame Creative, a boutique creative agency focused on helping small businesses and entrepreneurs through website design, graphic design, logos and branding. While Kuhl has been in business since 2014, joining CO.STARTERS gave her the opportunity to pour into her own branding for a change.

“I really practiced what I preach and focused on building some of the foundational items within my business that I haven’t looked at or updated in quite a while,” she said. 

Upframe Creative’s Logo

“It helped me gain a new perspective on my business, and I made some key connections who will help me grow.”

For many small business owners, finding a community of like-minded people is also critical for success. The challenges of self-employment and entrepreneurship are distinct, and it’s important to find peers and mentors who understand the ups and downs.

“The most rewarding thing is just the feeling you get from being around other entrepreneurs. It’s difficult to explain, but there’s just a feeling of excitement in the possibilities ahead,” Kuhl said.

Learn more at upframecreative.com

Move To Heal South Dakota is a nonprofit organization devoted to creating a safe space for underserved populations to experience the healing arts. Move To Heal’s founder, Sydney Bartunek Bender, defines the healing arts as movement, meditation, mindfulness, yoga and the performing arts.

Bartunek Bender established the organization in 2019, and she has recently shifted its focus primarily to kids and those who serve them, such as teachers, counselors, coaches and after-school

Sydney Bartunek Bender presents her pitch for Move to Heal South Dakota to the crowd at Startup Pitch Night


“We’re most excited about becoming the state’s premier wellness resource and professional development trainer,” she said. 

With that goal in mind, Bartunek Bender hopes to partner with entities like the Boys & Girls Club, tribal schools and the state school districts in order to train their staff members on content and best practices. 

Throughout the CO.STARTERS experience, Bartunek Bender says she valued the opportunity to further define and solidify her brand and story. 

“I really gravitated toward the marketing aspect—just knowing the importance of owning your story and sticking to it so you can create consistency for your consumers and really get people who are backing that storyline to rally around their one common identity,” she said. 

She emphasizes the importance of committing to the program and putting in the necessary work.

“If you really put everything into it, it can be transformative. You have so many like-minded people that you’re surrounded with, and you’re exposed to networks that you might not otherwise get an introduction to. It’s really important to know what you want and go after it.”

Learn more at movetohealsouthdakota.org

What’s next for CO.STARTERS?

Keep an eye out for information on the next available cohort, coming soon. In the meantime, those interested in applying to the program can complete their application here: Apply for CO.STARTERS

Thank you to Falls Angel Fund for sponsoring the celebration and pitch night event, and thank you to all of our Startup Sioux Falls sponsors for their commitment toward making impactful programs like CO.STARTERS happen.