SBA Grant Kickoff - CO.STARTERS Community Training

It has now been six months since Startup Sioux Falls announced that it was the recipient of a $1 million grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Community Navigator Pilot Program. The team at Startup Sioux Falls has been hard at work since then to get the program up and running, and the fruits of that labor are beginning to bloom. 

The grant funding supports two years of programming, and Startup Sioux Falls is using it to bring its accelerator program, CO.STARTERS, to underserved communities, locally and throughout other parts of South Dakota. This is being accomplished through a hub and spoke model, where the hub organization—in this case, Startup Sioux Falls—partners with selected spokes, or trusted community organizations who have cultural knowledge to connect with specific sectors of the entrepreneurial community.

Startup Sioux Falls announced its spoke organizations in December 2021. They are: EmBe, Lutheran Social Services (LSS) Center for New Americans, Dakota Resources, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation and the South Dakota Small Business Development Center. 

In January, Jeff Hayward was hired as program manager to oversee the project, which Startup Sioux Falls hopes will produce at least 300 graduates and facilitate over 750 hours of training. During his first few months on the job, Hayward was focused on organizing the CO.STARTERS community training event that occurred in March and building processes and tools for the coalition. 

That event brought together the spoke organizations and their facilitators to get the necessary training needed to launch their initial cohorts. Hayward says they were able to train 20 new facilitators at the event.

“It was an excellent event, and there was a lot of excitement in the room,” he said.

“We were also lucky to have Jose Alfaro, the CEO of CO.STARTERS, in attendance, so it was special getting to see him interact with our founder community and the facilitators who were being trained and witnessing their enthusiasm.”

Megan Bartel, Executive Director of Women's Programming at EmBe, and Rana DeBoeer, Chief Impact Officer at Keystone Group International
Megan Bartel, Executive Director of Women's Programming at EmBe, and Rana DeBoeer, Chief Impact Officer at Keystone Group International

Initial CO.STARTERS cohorts set to launch soon with unique, adapted programming

With all of that excitement brewing, it’s now time for the spoke organizations to start diving into the curriculum. In fact, Dakota Resources recently kicked off its first iteration in partnership with the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce. 

The other spokes plan to follow suit soon. Each organization serves a unique population and is adapting the CO.STARTERS curriculum to best serve their audience. 

EmBe, for example, will focus specifically on women entrepreneurs, as part of their mission to support women and families. 

“This felt like such a natural alignment because we work with women all day, every day. We really try to look at the full spectrum of a woman's life and what support services she needs, and then we try to fill in the gaps. The entrepreneur area was definitely a gap we were seeing,” said Megan Bartel, EmBe’s executive director of women’s programming. 

With years of experience planning and executing successful women’s programming, the team at EmBe brings knowledge and expertise to the table that will help make their CO.STARTERS cohorts as accessible as possible to women. 

For instance, Bartel says that EmBe will provide free childcare for its CO.STARTERS participants, as time and availability are some of the most common barriers that women entrepreneurs face. 

“It's tough, especially if you're a single mom, trying to pursue your dream, but not having that support system in town. We want to be that for them,” she said. 

Additionally, she says that EmBe is focused on creating a safe, supportive environment among the women in its cohorts. 

“Being an entrepreneur is a scary thing, so being surrounded by women that are like minded and have the same goals and dreams as you is just so important,” Bartel said.

Jose Alfaro, CEO of CO.STARTERS and Brienne Maner, Executive Director of Startup Sioux Falls
Jose Alfaro, CEO of CO.STARTERS and Brienne Maner, Executive Director of Startup Sioux Falls

Laura Smith-Hill is the education program coordinator for the LSS Center for New Americans, which serves refugee and immigrant communities here in South Dakota. She says that the opportunity to share CO.STARTERS with these communities will provide significant value. 

“Entrepreneurship is common among people from immigrant and refugee backgrounds; however formalized training is much less common,” she said.

“Living in a new country, needing to learn the systems of a new culture, the support available to an entrepreneur, getting connected to mentors and the larger network of founders are all barriers to the success and growth of multilingual entrepreneurs. The CO.STARTERS program provides a proven platform to alleviate those challenges.”

The platform has been praised by many of the facilitators who have been through the training for its simplicity and the way in which it moves entrepreneurs forward. 

“The CO.STARTERS training design and content integrates participatory learning, peer support, experienced guest speakers and a mentorship model that will catalyze the confidence, information and resources needed to start and grow the “American Dreams” of many creative and talented multi-lingual, multi-cultural founders in our community,” she said. 

Smith-Hill adds that the staff at LSS Center for New Americans will adapt the program as needed to be accessible for all of their communities.

“We look forward to working with this outstanding resource. LSS Center for New Americans staff are skilled in scaffolding, vocabulary instruction, cross-cultural competency and language translation to adapt the course content as needed for the participants.”

Here at Startup Sioux Falls, we’re humbled and grateful for the resources and expertise that our different spokes are bringing to the table through this project, and we’re excited to witness the impact this will have across our communities. 

Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest updates on the Community Navigator program along with other opportunities for founders!

Fill out a CO.STARTERS interest form through Startup Sioux Falls’ website to participate in the program through any of the spoke organizations here: CO.STARTERS ACCELERATOR PROGRAM