Startup Sunrise – Biotech Q&A Recap

On May 1, 40+ individuals attended the Biotech edition of Startup Sunrise – a monthly gathering of entrepreneurs and the community that supports them.

The event began with an introduction of the guest, comedian Nathan Hults, and then the focus shifted to a discussion on biotech, facilitated by Joni Ekstrem from SD Biotech, with speakers Tung Nguyen and Craig Arnold sharing their experiences and insights.

Read on for the Q&A Recap!



Local Comedian: Nathan Hults

  • Nathan has been doing comedy for several years, featured on Amazon Prime, Gilda’s Laughfest, also opening for greats like Kyle Kinane, Bob Zany, WWE’s Mick Foley, Chad Daniels and Lachlan Patterson. He is the winner of Club David’s 2013 Comedy Battle, The Foreman award, and named “Sioux Falls Funniest” in 2016. A Co-producer of Sno Jam Comedy Fest that raises money for the South Dakota Special Olympics.

About Tung Nguyen, Thel & Worksleeve

  • Tung is a Partner and VP of Engineering at BlueSky, where he leads the development of a revolutionary rib fixation technology aimed at accelerating recovery from chest wall injuries. With a background in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA, Tung brings a unique blend of technical expertise and business savvy to the table. Since 2022, he has been driving the company’s mission forward by spearheading design efforts, evaluating manufacturing partners, securing grants, and building vital relationships within the healthcare industry. Together with Dr. Steven Briggs, BlueSky’s founder, Tung is committed to transforming orthopedic care by introducing a minimally invasive rib fixation device that promises shorter hospitalizations, increased patient comfort, and superior outcomes, particularly for those with traumatic chest injuries.

About Craig Arnold, Dakota BioWorx

  • Craig is a seasoned technology and innovation leader with a keen eye for identifying promising new research and driving business growth. With a proven background in pilot scale-up biotechnology, he specializes in partnering with innovators and visionaries to bring their new ideas to market. His expertise spans diverse sectors, from nanotechnology, biotechnology and commercialization of university technology, where he has demonstrated ability in navigating partnerships, investment channels, and processes. At Dakota BioWorx, Craig leverages his experience to harness groundbreaking concepts and propel them towards commercial viability, always keeping a sharp focus on delivering value to both clients, consumers, and investors.


Q: Can you tell us about your backgrounds and experiences in the biotech industry?
Tung Nguyen:
I was born and raised in Sioux Falls and attended the School of Mines. COVID prompted my return home, where I’ve been actively involved in various aspects of marketing, science, and technology.
Craig Arnold:
My journey spans diverse sectors, from being a pilot for a bank to becoming the CEO of an ethanol company. After retiring, I ventured into launching BioWorx at SDSU, collaborating with universities and startups on innovative projects. Q: How do startups decide on funding sources, and what factors influence these decisions?
Startups should align funding decisions with their vision and goals. It’s crucial to prove the concept works with a minimum viable product before scaling up. Understanding the type of business and being vision-driven helps in choosing the right funding path.
Identifying non-diluted funding sources is essential. While grant funding and SPIRs remain options, startups may need to explore options outside the state. Crafting a relatable story is vital to captivate investors’ attention. Q: Could you share your experiences with university collaborations and startup incubation programs?
Collaborating with universities like SDSU has been instrumental in launching BioWorx and fostering innovation in the bio-economy. Internship programs and partnerships with tech schools contribute to workforce development.
Engagement with programs like USD Discovery District and incubators like USD Gear provides valuable resources for startups. These initiatives transform research centers into vibrant hubs for innovation. Q: How do you see AI and automation impacting the biotech industry, and what considerations should be made?
AI presents exciting opportunities but also raises concerns about data security and accuracy. It’s crucial to evaluate models carefully and prioritize cybersecurity measures to mitigate risks.
While automation offers growth opportunities, understanding processes and investing in skilled graduates are essential. The focus should be on growing the capabilities of South Dakota’s workforce to drive innovation. Q: How do you stay motivated in the biotech industry despite challenges?
Maintaining a clear vision and addressing challenges keep me motivated. I believe in a borderless approach to foster sustainable opportunities in the state.
Having a strong support system and tackling hardware challenges inspire me to pursue innovation in the industry. Q: What support do smaller startups need in South Dakota’s biotech ecosystem?
Audience member:
South Dakota should build a responsive ecosystem tailored to smaller startups’ needs to foster growth and innovation.
Audience member:
Belief in the product and a clear goal are crucial. Startups need to envision their product’s impact and aim for success.


Join us for one of the best monthly entrepreneurial gatherings in Sioux Falls and reserve your free seat at our next Startup Sunrise – Childcare, June 5 (8-9:15 am)