Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Sioux Falls Part 1: Creating Community

A picture from the first Open Startup Coffee event in Sioux Falls

A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted four things that I believe Sioux Falls will need if it wants to follow the footsteps of Austin, Boulder and other startup communities and become a city that regularly spawns startups that create new jobs, attract investment capital and foster economic growth. We will need opportunities for collaboration and connection, better storytelling to inspire future entrepreneurs, better educational opportunities for people that want to build businesses and more capital to fund startups.

No single person or organization can meet all of Sioux Falls’ startup needs, but we can start to chip away at each of these issues and start to build a true startup ecosystem in Sioux Falls. I believe I can personally make the most impact in building a startup ecosystem by creating entrepreneurial community that will foster the creation of business relationships and future startups.

Why Community Matters

Every city with a thriving startup ecosystem has an active community of entrepreneurs working to promote entrepreneurship in their city through meetups and other events. There are meetup groups, educational lectures, networking opportunities and other events that gather entrepreneurially-minded people in the same room on a regular basis.

These events serve a variety of purposes.

  • Events allow newer entrepreneurs to learn from and be inspired by entrepreneurs with a track record of success.
  • Events allow founders the opportunity to meet potential team members and co-founders for their businesses.
  • Events allow entrepreneurs to make connections that can result in partnerships and valuable business deals.
  • Events also allow entrepreneurs to get immediate feedback on their ideas from other entrepreneurs.

In short, good things happen when entrepreneurs get together. People get inspired, teams get created, businesses get founded, people get hired for jobs and partnerships form.

I can personally attribute many business “wins” to entrepreneurial community groups and events. For example, I never thought it was possible that I could write a book until I met a local author (Andy Traub) at an entrepreneurial networking event. I now have eight books out. I met one of my employees, Rebecca McKeever, through an entrepreneurial community group. I’ve also implemented many strategies and tactics in my business that I learned through entrepreneurial community groups.

Where Entrepreneurial Community Happens Now

Fortunately, we are not starting at ground zero. Entrepreneurial community is already happening at hubs for entrepreneurship, such as the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship and Queen City Bakery. There are a variety of tech, art and startup meetup groups in Sioux Falls that are organized through Meetup.com. We have weekly and monthly events that promote entrepreneurship, such as 1 Million Cups and Zeal’s Entrepreneurial Insights. We also an annual event, Innovation Expo, that celebrates entrepreneurship.

Challenges in The Status Quo

The biggest challenge that the startup community faces is awareness. We have a handful of high-quality entrepreneurship events and meetups, but they are attended by a relatively small subset of people. Many people that would love to participate in entrepreneurship community events simply do not know about them. They are focused on their business and their industry and simply are not aware that these events exist.

I believe the primary cause of the lack of awareness for these events is the siloed nature of Sioux Falls’ largest industries (banking, healthcare, retail, agriculture, technology and education). My sense is that because there is not a lot of cross-industry collaboration, business people just don’t often network or talk business with people outside of their industries. This lack of cross industry pollination has lead to many of Sioux Falls’ largest industries being underrepresented in the entrepreneurial community.

People that think of themselves as entrepreneurs attend entrepreneurship events, but business leaders in the healthcare industry do not because they see themselves as doctors and administrations (and not as entrepreneurs). The same thing could be said about business leaders in most other of the city’s major industries, with the notable exception of banking. Many bankers do attend entrepreneurship events, but they are specifically motivated to attend these events because potential clients for their business also attend these events.

Next Steps to Create Entrepreneurial Community

There are four initiatives that I am currently working on to promote entrepreneurial community in Sioux Falls:

  • 1 Million Cups – This is a weekly networking event created by the Kauffman Foundation. You may already be familiar with it if you are involved in the enterpreneruial community in Sioux Falls in any way. This event has been going on for more than three years and I started helping organize it last fall along with several others. You’ll see me on stage emcee regularly. I also take care of the groups finances, recruit sponsors and recruit speakers.
  • The Sioux Falls Area Entrepreneurs Facebook Group – This is an online community group that has assembled nearly 1,000 entrepreneurially-minded individuals in Sioux Falls. This group serves as a community discussion forum for people to discuss what they are working on, what problems they face and organize interest-driven events. This group has become very active and dozens of people are posting and commenting every day.
  • Open Startup Coffee – This is a “beta” event that I started based on the recommendation of Brian Ardinger out of Lincoln (who admittedly stole the idea from Boulder, CO). The idea is to get a bunch of entrepreneurially-minded people in a room together on a regular basis and just let them talk about startups. There’s no formal agenda or topic ahead of time, just a place for people interested in startups to talk about startups. We had the first one of these on June 5th and will be having the second event on June 15th (details here).
  • Startup Sioux Falls – This is an informational website that I am building in cooperation with Michael MacFadden that helps people get connected to the enterpreneruial community in Sioux Falls. Our first effort will be an events calendar that lists every community event that may be interesting to entrepreneurially-minded individuals. We hope to launch the first iteration of this website in the next two weeks. Over time, we hope to create a one-stop resource for entrepreneurship in Sioux Falls. Visit Startup Sioux Falls at http://www.siouxfalls.eco.

The Future of Entrepreneurial Community in Sioux Falls

I don’t have a grand vision for what a complete startup ecosystem with a thriving startup community looks like in the city of Sioux Falls, but I do know that we have a lot of work to do if we want to get there. The four efforts mentioned in this article are my first major attempt to move our community in that direction. I hope you will join me on this journey.

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