Executive Director of the Enterprise Institute (EI), Tim Weelborg, says the conference aims to bring “founders and funders” together for an afternoon of speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities.
As the brainchild of the EI, the expo began sixteen years ago in Brookings.
Weelborg says the event used to operate more like a trade show, but the focus has since shifted to the entrepreneur experience.
“Back then there wasn’t much of this entrepreneurial activity,” Weelborg said. “This was pre-1 Million Cups and pre-TedX, and there really wasn’t anything going on. We wanted to start creating those collision points for entrepreneurs, raising awareness for early-stage finance, and celebrating this activity.”
Now, with myriad networking opportunities available for entrepreneurs not only in Sioux Falls, but across the state, Weelborg says the expo has become less of a cheerleader for startups and more a source for technical support.
“We’re looking for those folks that are starting companies and are really in the weeds,” Weelborg said. “Then we try to put everybody else that’s a part of that in the room with them, from service providers like attorneys and accountants, to what we consider our unique position which is the blending of the entrepreneurial community with the investor community.”
Additionally, Weelborg says the expo is built for entrepreneurs who are looking to make an impact on the community.
“There’s a big gap between coming up with a product and actually creating a business,” Weelborg said. “We wanted to focus, from an impact standpoint, on businesses that can scale, create wealth, and create jobs, and so we made a conscious decision to get away from hobby inventors and focus on growth businesses.”
What can you expect from the 2019 Innovation Expo?
The schedule of events was recently released for the Sioux Falls expo, and it includes an impressive lineup of speakers, most of whom are local or regional.
In the expo’s early days, Weelborg says he used to feel pressured to seek out speakers from across the country, but he soon realized the strength of local talent.
This year’s speakers include: Thomas Smale of FE International, Kodee Furst of Annie Capital, Peter Chamberlain of Walk Wise, Rob Walling of TinySeed, Eric Weisser of Weisser Distributing, Matt Paulson of MarketBeat, and more to be announced. Additionally, Nick Fickbohm, a business consultant for the Enterprise Institute, will serve as the event’s emcee.
“We like to get people at the conference who naturally become mentors for these individuals,” Weelborg said. “Throughout the year we hear from people who’ve made connections at this conference and that really fuels us.”
Beyond the speakers, the expo includes a student pitch competition, as well as the presentation of the Spirit of Enterprise award.
A mid-afternoon coffee break and closing happy hour offer entrepreneurs ample opportunity to network with one another, as well as with potential investors or service providers.
Tickets for the Innovation Expo are $25.00 for general admission and $10.00 for students, and can be purchased online or at the doors.
The event will take place at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Sioux Falls, and it runs from 12:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. Additionally, a similar event will be held in Rapid City on October 8, for those who live on the western side of the state. Click here for more information on that event.