Start Dakota, Episode 2: Building Communities of Rural Founders, featuring Paula Jensen

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In Episode 2 of the Start Dakota podcast, Startup Sioux Falls’ president, Brienne Maner, is joined by Paula Jensen, vice president of program development at Dakota Resources.

Jensen and Maner discuss the important work Dakota Resources is doing for entrepreneurs in rural areas, including being part of the Community Navigator program, which brings CO.STARTERS to rural communities.

Dakota Resources’ partnership with Startup Sioux Falls through the Community Navigator program allows the two organizations to pool their knowledge and make a greater impact.

“I think that’s what we're ultimately trying to do, as an organization, is give people the tools they need to succeed and let them run with it, and that's really the beauty behind this Community Navigators pilot program from my purview,” said Maner. 

“Our hesitation with trying to expand our reach is that we feel ill-equipped because we don't have the necessary relationships, and I know this isn't always the case, but the big city folks coming into the rural communities, that can cause a little bit of tension I would assume, where I don’t know your market, I can only give you what I have available. So, I love that we're partnering together.” 

Jensen talks about a former program for entrepreneurs, Dakota Rising, which was similar in nature to CO.STARTERS in that diverse participants were put into cohorts to learn from one another.

“I remember one of the entrepreneurs saying, ‘I run a manufacturing business, why are you putting me in a cohort with somebody who runs a photography studio? We have nothing in common,’ and it didn't take them long to discover they had everything in common. Business is business,” Jensen said.

“And that's what I love about CO.STARTERS is that cohort mentality where they can be together with their peers, they can learn from each other, they can connect, and it builds that ecosystem. They get excited about their businesses, they become successful, and they want to give back to their communities.”

From there, Maner asked Jensen about the pandemic and whether or not the surge in remote work has caused an increased interest in rural communities. 

“I think people are more apt to want to pick where they live before what they do … So, people who have not come from here are finding this place to live, and people who grew up here are coming back and discovering what they want to do,” Jensen said.

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She also touched on the impact of the tourism industry on rural communities. 

“Tourism in rural communities comes from a different aspect. A lot of times it's hunting, fishing, recreation, those types of things that are really tourism bound. You think of DeSmet as a real tourism community — “Little Town on the Prairie.” They've been attracting people from all over the world into their community for years, and it's part of that market economy that it is bringing people here, they discover it,” she said.

Once people begin to rediscover these communities, there can be tension surrounding how to build for the future. Dakota Resources aims to facilitate conversations that will help bring focus and strategy to the table.

“When we go into communities, it's really about bringing people to the table who have differing opinions on ‘What are we going to do about the future of our community?’ You know, CO.STARTERS talks about that roadmap, right? Creating a roadmap. Rebuilding a downtown or rebuilding a community around entrepreneurship needs a roadmap,” she said. 

“You don't get the chance to go back and do it over again, you're just constantly moving forward and you have to really be strategic about that as you move forward.”

Maner and Jensen also talked about working with Native communities, where Dakota Resources often partners on the financial side of things.

“A lot of times it's hard for us to break in from a capacity-building side, just because we need someone from their community to be alongside us if we're going to go in, but the partnerships are great,” she said.

Ultimately, Dakota Resources hopes to utilize CO.STARTERS to further their goal of supporting entrepreneurs in these communities.

“One of our focus areas is entrepreneurial support systems, and it's probably the least pursued. Entrepreneurial support systems are the least pursued because no one knows where to start. We're now creating a stopping point for them. Here's CO.STARTERS. Let's train somebody up in your community, and just try this. This is a chance for us to start. It's a chance for us to fail. It's a chance for us to succeed, whatever it is, we're going to learn, and we're going to start creating that ecosystem from communities where entrepreneurs can feel supported,” Jensen said.

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Tune in to the full conversation to hear these takeaways and many more.

Watch the video version on YouTube, or listen on your favorite podcast platform—Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music or Anchor. 

Show Notes

  • Learn more about Dakota Resources at
  • Dakota Resources is partnering with regional economic development organizations in five rural South Dakota communities including Watertown, Yankton, Vermillion, Mitchell, and Brookings. We are hosting CO.STARTERS cohorts in 2022-2023. Here’s what we’re offering:
  • CO.STARTERS Challenge: Know your customer.
    • Test, iterate and revise any assumptions you’ve made about your product or service to make sure your solution is what a customer wants. How do you do this? Through customer discovery—talking to people and getting their feedback.
    • Complete your “fieldwork” before the next episode: Conduct your own customer discovery. Talk to a future customer each week for the next month. 
  • Business Minute: Learn more about SD CEO at

This project is made possible through a partnership with Startup Sioux Falls and grant funding provided through the Community Navigator Pilot Program, powered by the SBA. More information can be found here.