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Thanks to a $1 million grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Startup Sioux Falls is planning to expand resources, including piloting an expanded version of its CO.STARTERS accelerator program, to better reach underserved communities. 

The SBA announced the grant opportunity—the Community Navigator Pilot Program—in May 2021 with the goal of bringing business support to underserved entrepreneurs, which they define as veterans, women, or those socially or economically disadvantaged in some capacity. The program is part of the American Rescue Plan initiative which aims to provide assistance during economic recovery. Startup Sioux Falls was selected from over 700 applicants as one of 51 grantees nationwide to receive the funding. The grant period is two years.

The program structure is a hub and spoke model, in which the grantee—a nonprofit, state or local government entity, university or tribal entity—serves as a hub. As a subject matter expert, the hub partners with selected spoke organizations—trusted local organizations who have the cultural knowledge and trust to connect people in their network to resources in the entrepreneurial community.

This type of model is a natural fit for Startup Sioux Falls, and it allows for the seamless expansion of CO.STARTERS, among other initiatives, to underserved populations, which has been a goal since the program’s inception. 

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“Since the beginning, we have talked about how to reach more people with this program because it's so impactful, but we don't have the capacity, the expertise, or all the relationships to do that internally,” said Sara Lum, Startup Sioux Falls’ program and marketing manager. “What better way to accomplish that than collaborating with other area nonprofits who have the expertise and are already serving those communities?” 

According to Lum and executive director, Brienne Maner, one of Startup Sioux Falls’ greatest frustrations when it came to running CO.STARTERS was finding ways to adapt the program for underserved communities by offering it in different languages or providing additional resources for more diverse populations. 

“We know that the accelerator program has traction, and we were looking down the road, maybe five years from now, thinking eventually we'd be able to modify the program to serve more people. Then this grant came along, and it was clear to us that this was our opportunity,” said Maner.

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Selecting spoke organizations as partners

Startup Sioux Falls spent a significant amount of time researching, communicating with and selecting partner organizations to act as spokes. Four of the five partners will act as program providers, facilitating CO.STARTERS within their communities and providing access to other resources provided by partners of Startup Sioux Falls. 

They are:

The fifth spoke is the Small Business Development Center, which will provide funding and support for the Coyote Business Consulting Group (CBCG), an internship program developed by the University of South Dakota Beacom School of Business that pairs a group of students and a faculty advisor with a South Dakota business to address a need. The student groups provide a broad range of support from financial studies to market research, and businesses can apply through the CBCG portal to be matched with the internship team that will be the best fit for their needs. 

All of the spokes will bring individuals from their organizations and communities to go through the CO.STARTERS facilitator training, but they will also be able to provide program adaptations as necessary.

“The spokes are the ones who are trusted in their communities, and they have the experience to know what’s going to work best,” said Lum. “For instance, CO.STARTERS offers a Spanish-speaking version, but they also have what’s called a ‘Generator’ version which was designed for younger entrepreneurs, but often works well in communities when English is a second language, or when education is a barrier.”

Startup Sioux Falls is grateful for the opportunity to reach additional populations through these spokes. Dakota Resources reaches a network of rural communities, LSS primarily serves new Americans, Embe reaches women, and TVCDC serves the Pine Ridge Reservation. 

Paula Jensen is the vice president for development with Dakota Resources, and she says the organization is looking forward to providing mentorship opportunities for entrepreneurs in rural communities. 

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“CO.STARTERS is a tool that can help raise awareness that developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem is part of every community and economic development blueprint. That ecosystem can help people see themselves as entrepreneurs and help the community to support those entrepreneurs. It can be a win-win for the entrepreneur and the community,” Jensen said.

There is so much potential in communities when they focus on entrepreneurship. We are excited to move the needle on this initiative in rural South Dakota both now and into the future,” said Jensen. 

At Pine Ridge, providing entrepreneurial training has a direct impact on the sustainability of the community’s economy.

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Lakota country is filled with passionate, talented teams and individuals that do everything from construction and cooking, to beading and painting. With CO.STARTERS, we are excited to provide the clerical and structural support to enhance business sustainability within our community,” said Ryan Hussman, regenerative economy development director for TVCDC.

“In the Pine Ridge Reservation, as in many other Indigenous communities, our economy sees a lot of leakage: money earned here is most often spent elsewhere. By investing in our communities and in their ideas, we aim to build a regenerative economy that supports the ambitions of our relatives.”

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As they prepare for and execute the accelerator program in 2022, each of these spokes will be seeking out entrepreneurial leaders in their communities to serve as partners and mentors. If you’re interested in connecting with any of the spoke organizations to serve in this way you can learn more and reach out to the Startup Sioux Falls team on the project website. Startup Sioux Falls is in the process of hiring a Program Manager to lead this initiative.