Startup Sioux Falls is driving a movement in South Dakota.
Initially a coworking space and incubator on the edge of town, Startup Sioux Falls rebranded two years ago to position itself as the city’s front door to entrepreneurship. Building on their previous success with CO.STARTERS programs, the entrepreneurship hub secured a highly competitive grant to expand their activity to reach more people in even more areas of South Dakota.
Prior to their rebrand, Startup Sioux Falls President Brienne Maner had noticed that the city’s entrepreneurs were traveling hours away to participate in CO.STARTERS programs being run in other states. Coworking revenue had fallen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Brienne realized that Startup Sioux Falls could benefit its entrepreneurial community by offering CO.STARTERS programs itself.
Startup Sioux Falls started running CO.STARTERS Core, a facilitated, cohort-based program that guides entrepreneurs through business fundamentals over the course of ten weeks.
“CO.STARTERS was a plug-and-play solution for us,” explained Brienne. “In fact, it solved problems we didn’t even know we had. It’s created a much tighter-knit startup community here in Sioux Falls.”
Since 2020, CO.STARTERS programs have been a fundamental component of Startup Sioux Falls’ local model, during which CO.STARTERS has almost become a household name. Startup Sioux Falls was working with a diverse group of entrepreneurs in the city—including women, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs—but they had also identified a need beyond the city’s limits in the outlying rural communities.
They were facing a problem common to many entrepreneurship hubs: they did not have the organizational capacity to expand both their demographic and their geographic reach. They wanted to be able to serve a broader audience of entrepreneurs across the state of South Dakota.
South Dakota is a vast and sprawling state, with a population of more than 900,000 people. It’s also very diverse, with a large population of immigrant and Native American communities. The diversity in South Dakota, both in Sioux Falls and outside of the city, meant that there were lots of gaps in entrepreneurial support across the state–gaps that Startup Sioux Falls wanted to fill.
As a small entrepreneurship hub with only five employees, Startup Sioux Falls needed to find a solution that would allow them to expand regionally without overburdening their staff.
At the end of 2021, Startup Sioux Falls applied for and received a competitive $1 million grant from the SBA Community Navigators Program. The grant money allowed Startup Sioux Falls to expand their scope from local to regional, partnering with local organizations in the surrounding communities to offer entrepreneurial support.
“The grant was the perfect opportunity to leverage the incredible CO.STARTERS program that we had already been seeing success with. It enabled us to provide support to a broader audience across the state of South Dakota."
President, Startup Sioux Falls
While developing the grant proposal, Startup Sioux Falls decided that CO.STARTERS programs that they’d been using in the city were the perfect tool to expand entrepreneurial support into the wider region and throughout the state. Since CO.STARTERS operates with a “train the trainer” model, Startup Sioux Falls could fund CO.STARTERS national training for community members, who, once they were trained, could in turn lead CO.STARTERS cohorts for their entrepreneurial communities.
“The grant was the perfect opportunity to leverage the incredible CO.STARTERS program that we had already been seeing success with,” Startup Sioux Falls president Brienne Maner explained. “It enabled us to provide support to a broader audience across the state of South Dakota.”
The SBA Community Navigators Program grant allowed Startup Sioux Falls to bring CO.STARTERS to communities that needed it–particularly groups of female, immigrant, and Native American entrepreneurs. Local partnerships have helped Startup Sioux Falls to expand their reach while ensuring that the small organization doesn’t overburden itself.
Startup Sioux Falls has partnered with organizations like EmBe, which focuses on female empowerment, and Thunder Valley, which works for the liberation of the Lakota people. Other partners have included the LSS Center for New Americans, which helps refugees become more self-sufficient through a variety of tools and services, and Dakota Resources, which aids local rural populations.
“Our local partners are the real subject matter experts,” Brienne explained. These organizations have relationships with local entrepreneurs and understand the nuances of regional cultures. Most importantly, the local partners understand how to leverage CO.STARTERS programs to benefit their communities.
In the first year of the grant, Startup Sioux Falls has partnered with five local organizations, launched eight CO.STARTERS cohorts through grant partners, and seen twenty-eight individuals graduate Startup Sioux Falls cohorts. Entrepreneurs across the state have a better idea of how to navigate their local ecosystems, Brienne said, because they’ve been introduced to new people and ideas. As they look to the future, Startup Sioux Falls is excited about expanding programming, both locally and regionally. “Success for us would be having a CO.STARTERS cohort every night of the week,” Jeff Hayward, the Program Manager at Startup Sioux Falls, explained.
As Startup Sioux Falls looks to the future of entrepreneurship in South Dakota, they’ve been encouraged by the growth they’re already seeing around them. With the help of CO.STARTERS programs and local partnerships, Startup Sioux Falls is changing the state’s entrepreneurial landscape for the better.
“We’re on to something, definitely,” Brienne said. “I don’t know where this is going to take us as a community, but I think what we’ve learned is that it’s possible to serve a broader audience here in South Dakota.”
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