Start Dakota, Episode 4: Supporting New American Business Owners with Laura Smith-Hill

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In Episode 4 of the Start Dakota podcast, Startup Sioux Falls’ president, Brienne Maner, sits down with Laura Smith-Hill of Lutheran Social Services (LSS) and the Center for New Americans.

They kick the conversation off by discussing an anecdote Maner had run across which posited that immigrants and new Americans tend to be more entrepreneurial and more likely to start a small business than people born in the United States. 

Smith-Hill agrees, noting that entrepreneurship often comes up in her conversations with refugees and immigrants.

“They have this really organic entrepreneurial spirit, and when we have conversations about the type of work that they did before coming to the United States, it is not at all uncommon for people to say they had a shop — like a small shop that a family establishes in their community to solve problems and meet the needs of their neighborhood,” she said. 

She adds, however, that it becomes more challenging for those folks when they try to do the same thing in the United States and come up against different structures and regulations.

“There are not a lot of barriers for people to do that in their country of origin. It looks a little different than it does here in the United States.”

Smith-Hill has been working with LSS for 21 years, and in her time, 47 different nationalities have been through LSS’ adult education program alone. Meeting the needs of such a variety of communities is a challenge, but it’s one LSS is deeply committed to. 

“It is one of the delightful challenges of the work that we do in our little education program — and when I say little, it's between 400 and 700 students a year, typically. It's relative, but it feels small, because we're morning, afternoon and evening, and we are classroom-based, so we’ll have a group of five to 10 in this room, and five to 10 in that room,” she said. 

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Customization and adaptation are key when it comes to meeting varied needs and skill levels, and that’s a challenge Startup Sioux Falls has been tackling through the Community Navigator program as well, in part through its partnership with LSS’ Center for New Americans.

“When we were selecting which spoke organizations would be best to work with, it was a no-brainer to work with you guys, and the more you talk about your resources and your process, it's just so apparent to me that you're equipped to take on these challenges with grace and strength,” Maner said.

Smith-Hill says she thinks the Sioux Falls business community continues to become more supportive of diverse populations.

“I feel like it's more supportive and inclusive than ever, and I feel like businesses and community members that are native to this area are more inclusive than ever and intentional about that. We’re really intentional about being a welcoming community, so I feel a lot of hope about the place that we're in right now,” she said.

They also discuss the structure of the CO.STARTERS curriculum and ways that LSS may choose to modify the program for their cohorts. 

“I loved seeing things in the curriculum that resonate with research-based best practices in the area of adult learning theory,” she said.

“It takes something that can be really daunting and complex, and it breaks it down into digestible bites, and it's really well written and designed. So I felt really hopeful about that. Adaptation opportunities, I’m sure we’ll start to discover as we go … Typically an opportunity with any pre-designed curriculum, especially when it's getting into those complex areas of sector-specific business and industry training, we find ourselves needing to spend more time on vocabulary.” 

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Maner asks Smith-Hill about her “big picture dream” for the work she is doing in Sioux Falls.

“I think, in essence, the big picture dream for me is more of those natural, harmonious connecting points and relationships for communities that come from diverse backgrounds and communities where their immigrant heritage is a couple generations removed from the present day,” Smith-Hill said. 

There’s so much more where that came from! Tune into the episode to hear the full conversation between Maner and Smith-Hill.

Show Notes

  • Learn more about Lutheran Social Services at
  • Submit an interest form for CO.STARTERS: 
  • CO.STARTERS Challenge: Alternatives
  • Complete your “fieldwork” before the next episode: Take another pass on identifying your competition. Classify both direct and indirect competition sources.
  • 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.