Startup Sioux Falls gains national attention for reaching new groups of founders

In just over two years, Startup Sioux Falls has used a $1 million grant to reach nearly 400 accelerator participants and counsel nearly 2,000 founders and prospective founders.

They’ve come from across South Dakota, especially in areas and communities where entrepreneurs traditionally don’t flourish.

And the organization isn’t done.

“The Community Navigator Pilot Program grant has strengthened our partner relationships through shared resources across the state, and the opportunity has provided incredible impact,” Startup Sioux Falls president Brienne Maner said.

“People within our community are looking at Sioux Falls in a different light because we’ve had the good fortune to share dollars and resources to support small businesses across the state.”

National leaders in business-ecosystem building also are taking notice. Maner recently was invited to speak at a summit for the Association for Enterprise Opportunity’s  Leveraging Regionalism To Empower Small Businesses Summit in Washington, D.C.

Alongside federal officials and community development financial institutions serving the startup community, Maner represented rural states, with fellow panelists from Washington, New York City and Maryland who brought an urban perspective.

AEO 2024 Regional Summit – photo courtesy of Association for Enterprise Opportunity

“Everyone was very intrigued by our story of evolution and change, and our impact as a tier three recipient of the SBA’s Community Navigator grant,” Maner said. “We’ve not quite utilized the full $1 million award, and I think we are really standing apart from the pack of 51 grantees regarding leveraging of dollars and impact.”

We sat down with Maner to learn more about how Startup Sioux Falls is evolving to meet the needs of area entrepreneurs and beyond.

You participated in a panel with the theme “building local economies.” What kind of insight did you share?

I provided background on how Startup Sioux Falls has been serving our community for over 20 years and had the foresight to invest in entrepreneurship at a crucial time. I also discussed how the entrepreneurial landscape has changed dramatically over the years and emphasized our responsibility to adapt to meet the needs of the startup ecosystem.

I highlighted Sioux Falls’ growth, noting that we are expanding by 5,000 people a year and that our school district is now 40 percent nonwhite — a significant shift from when I grew up here in the 1990s. I spoke about the relationship between our economic development organizations, explaining that we are part of a “three-legged stool” along with the Sioux Falls Development Foundation and Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce. I mentioned how Startup Sioux Falls sometimes feels like the “punk rock kids” of economic development, which got a big laugh. However, my primary focus was on how we have relocated and reinvented ourselves, and what we are doing to reach many underserved communities of founders and potential founders.

Let’s talk about what you’re doing in that regard. How has Startup Sioux Falls been able to leverage its $1 million in grant funding to reach those populations?

It all starts with partnerships. The grant uses a hub-and-spoke model, with Startup Sioux Falls as the hub and our partners, the “spokes,” including Dakota Resources, EmBe, LSS Center for New Americans, Thunder Valley Community Development Corp. in Pine Ridge and the South Dakota Small Business Development Center, which supported Coyote Business Consulting’s USD students in assisting our founders. This model has fostered strong engagement and positive outcomes locally. By reaching rural and Native communities, it has also built goodwill for Startup Sioux Falls as the conduit for this free programming statewide.

Did you leave the conference with other ideas and best practices?

Yes, and it also validates that, regardless of a community’s size, we all face similar challenges and must embrace the industries and innovations unique to our geography. Building our entrepreneurial ecosystem isn’t about becoming Silicon Valley but about creating an identity that is uniquely Sioux Falls. Additionally, there are many nationwide resources we can leverage thanks to relationships built through this event. It’s a very tight-knit network, providing opportunities not only for underserved populations but also for specific types of entrepreneurs. Now, with our enhanced knowledge base and network, we can better navigate and utilize these available resources.

AEO 2024 Regional Summit – photo courtesy of Association for Enterprise Opportunity

What about Startup Sioux Falls itself? How is 2024 going so far?

I’m incredibly proud of the growth we’re experiencing. A little over a year into operating a brand-new facility with a new business model, our team has incorporated insights from the entrepreneurs we serve to rebuild our own approach. We examined the problems we aim to solve as an ecosystem builder and focused on achieving our goals effectively and efficiently. We now have a strong membership base and healthy activity in our booking system as people discover us as a venue for meetings and events. Our dedicated offices are fully rented, and our dedicated desks are attracting a diverse group, including remote workers who live or visit downtown. We have about five desks left to rent, which we’re content to keep available for those needing a desk for just a day or a week. Our facility is bustling with a variety of industries and backgrounds, which is exactly what we envisioned to create a vibrant ecosystem.

We have started to witness significant growth and maturity in several of the founders we serve. They are now inquiring about dedicated office space outside of our facility, which validates the suite of programs we’ve developed to support the entire founder’s journey.

As you look to the next few months, what are some things to watch at Startup Sioux Falls?

There’s a lot happening. Alongside many communities across the state, we’re tackling the child care crisis by leveraging Governor’s Office of Economic Development grant funds. In Sioux Falls, we’re partnering with area organizations to support child care entrepreneurs with business resources and programming. This initiative has received a positive response, and we plan to start offering programming in June.

We’re also building a community of founders through monthly meetups for working moms, AI enthusiasts, small-business owners and area software developers, to name a few. Our team, supported by our new Entrepreneur in Residence program, is exploring how to best connect these individuals with resources and to support their growth and maturity.

With the nicer weather, you’ll see more activity on our deck, which we aim to activate further, including partnerships with the Levitt and the All My Relatives festival in July.

On the programming side, we’re halfway through the first cohort of our GrowCo program, which supports founders who are growing exponentially or need infrastructure to take the next step. This cohort is producing some incredible success stories that we’re excited to share.

Finally, registration is open for our first Founders Retreat in the Black Hills this fall. We’re also looking at future funding opportunities and actively exploring ways to build on the success we’ve achieved with our grant funding.

Want to learn more about partnering with Startup Sioux Falls? Email [email protected], or click here to get started.