On Monday, Zeal welcomed its newest employee, Kate Flemming, in the role of Community Manager. Kate has a Master of Arts Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University, and she recently moved to Sioux Falls from Decatur, IL with her husband and young son.
Previously, she served as the program coordinator for Millikin University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, where she also taught several adjunct courses in arts and social entrepreneurship.
Keep reading for our Q&A with Kate about her experiences and vision for Zeal.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us more about your career path and how it has evolved.
I was born and raised in Decatur, IL, and my husband was as well. I went to Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, IL for undergrad, and during that time I had the opportunity to study abroad in Italy. My family’s Italian and we still have relatives there. I studied international business, and while I was in Italy, I had an eye-opening internship in an art gallery, and that’s where I realized there’s a business to art as well. I came back to the States with a renewed sense of purpose.
When I graduated in 2009, the economy crashed, and I thought, if I can’t get a job, why don’t I go to grad school? I went to Carnegie Mellon for my master’s degree, and I completed an apprenticeship in development at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I met my husband when I was home on break, and eventually we got engaged, so I knew I’d be coming back to Illinois at some point. As I was completing my Masters, a new position in marketing and fundraising at the Children’s Museum of Illinois in Decatur became available, and I moved back in March of 2012 to work there.
A few months into that role, the executive director left and I took over in the interim. Even though I didn’t start the museum, the role was very entrepreneurial because I was managing everything. I did a lot of learning and growing there, and during my time we renovated about half of the museum’s exhibits.
The bridge between that role and my most recent position at Millikin University was my involvement in an organization called the Micro Business Network. It was meant for anyone involved in business, whether nonprofit or for-profit, and Millikin’s Center for Entrepreneurship was the home for the group. I loved working with their staff, and they have such a strong arts entrepreneurship program that I saw an opportunity to shift back toward that side of things. I have a passion for art, so it was a nice change and I got to work with some amazing people and grow a lot professionally. It was great to experience a new season in my career.
How did you end up in Sioux Falls?
My husband had the opportunity to take a job in South Dakota and we were open to new experiences for our family. We visited over Labor Day weekend, and it just felt right.
I’m a networker and a connector type, so I cold-emailed Brienne and let her know I’d been working in entrepreneurship and that I wanted to make some connections here, in case she knew of any openings. As it turned out, Zeal had an opening. I’m happy to be here–I think Sioux Falls has a good energy, and I’m excited to help out and work to enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
What got you excited about this role?
I love helping people harness their passions and talents, and with the community manager role, I see myself as that resource and connection through engagement and programming. Entrepreneurship is a vehicle for so many things. How do we better engage and bring more dynamic programming that meets the needs of entrepreneurs? It comes down to being curious about what this community needs to grow and thrive.
Starting out, I’m definitely trying to be active and meet people and listen to their needs – essentially, conduct customer discovery. I’m curious to see what our blind spots are, and I think that coming from outside of Sioux Falls my perspective will be helpful. Brienne and Valerie are doing a great job, and the board is amazing. I’ve been impressed by everything I’ve seen so far, and I look forward to increasing the value and impact of Zeal to the community.
As a newcomer, what are you most excited to try in Sioux Falls? Has anything surprised you?
We’re hoping to do more hiking and outdoor activities and experience nature. We have noticed that everyone walks and gets outside even when it’s cold, and it’s inspired us to embrace the cold and stay active throughout the winter.
Of course, we also want to get out to Mount Rushmore at some point, and my son wants to try ice fishing!
In our short amount of time here, I’ve visited several established and well-run retail businesses. I’ve found something unique in every store, and everyone has been so welcoming.