Startup Sioux Falls unveils new $1.3 million downtown digs

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 9:38 AM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Brienne Maner was beaming on Monday — almost as bright as the sunlight bursting through the bountiful windows at her new downtown office digs.

“Looking around this beautiful space has just been overwhelming,” said the president of Startup Sioux Falls, an nonprofit organization which helps local entrepreneurs launch their own businesses, and other owners take their companies to the next level.

“There’s just a huge sense of pride right now.”

Maner was standing in the vaulted-ceiling main room at SUSF’s new cherry rock quartzite building at the northeast corner of 6th St. and Phillips Ave. — a 4,500 square foot facility that was formerly the Milwaukee Freight Depot. It will open to all members on Wednesday, just over a year after the organization announced the relocation from SUSF’s former home on the Southeast Technical College campus.

To further the excitement, SUSF on Monday announced it had reached its goal of raising $1.3 million to fund the building, thanks to 22 local donors. POET, Lloyd Companies, First PREMIER Bank/PREMIER Bankcard — all titans of regional business whose leaders serve as “business mentors” to SUSF entrepreneurs — were lead donors.

“This has been an emotional journey for the team, the board, the investors, all of the entrepreneurs that have been waiting for this moment for a while,” Maner said. “This is a chance for this organization to reset and reinvent itself in some ways. We’ve rebranded. We’ve moved. Now, how do we best serve these pockets of individuals that need support?”

A few SUSF members got a sneak peak of the facility on Monday, along with Dakota News Now.

John Meyer is a Startup Sioux Falls board member who owns a business leadership coaching company that he founded. This morning, he was one of the first-ever people to use the new SUSF facility.

“It’s like a little bird jumping out of the nest,” is how Meyer described the area on Day One. “There’s probably some kinks to work out, but they’ll figure it out.”

He found that to be an apt analogy to entrepreneurs when they begin the process of starting a business.

At Startup Sioux Falls, with one of three levels of subscription fees, members receive access to the “co-working” space — ripe with plenty of modern tables, cubicles, offices, and meeting rooms to operate. There are comfortable chairs and couches. And, of course, there’s a kitchen.

It was all designed to create a specific vibe for those who don’t have their own office space. Working remotely became a far more common activity once the pandemic moved people out of offices — and, in some cases, forced them out of their jobs.

“We’re competing with coffee shops, essentially, in some ways,” said Maner. “So, we needed to make sure the look and feel of this space felt similar to you jumping over to Josiah’s or Queen City Bakery, where some of those people are working now, but they don’t want to work there all day.

“That said, we’re a part of the downtown community now, and we are all about supporting our downtown businesses. So, how awesome is it that we have this opportunity to have a home base where people can work, get things done, network, but then, when they want to, they can leave and patronize all of the great businesses that we have down here.”

The facility provides a place to plop down your laptop — or use one of SUSF’s computers — access high-speed internet, and print, copy, and scan documents.

But it’s the human resources that Meyer, who occasionally works from home, finds to be the not-so-secret weapon of SUSF. That’s something someone can’t get by working alone.

“I’m a big believer in, your environment shapes the way you think, and the way you feel, and the way you work,” Meyer said. “So, I’m looking for that spark of energy.”

He says one of the benefits of co-working space like Startup Sioux Falls is interacting with others in Sioux Falls who have owned businesses and can help owners with the hurdles to come.

People like him. Meyer started an infographic design company called “Lemonly” in 2011. He sold it 10 years later to Click Rain, the digital marketing platform founded by Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken, who Maner said heavily recommended to SUSF’s leaders the very site out of which the organization now operates.

Meyer remembers how both Startup Sioux Falls and other past co-working operations helped him grow Lemonly. He could ask things about things like which attorneys, or other specialists, to call about specific questions.

“It’s just gets you there more quickly,” Meyer said. “It help speeds up the process.”

After selling Lemonly, Meyer founded and owns “January,” a business in which he coaches potential leaders in the business world. He was also recently named the new executive director of Leadership South Dakota, another leadership development program.

This makes Meyer the ideal “business mentor” to the startup entrepreneurs who come to Startup Sioux Falls. Many of the mentors are executives or employees of some of the companies that donated to the capital campaign fund for the new building.

SUSF provides “programming” for entrepreneurs, like “The Accelerator,” a 10-week business course, taught by Sioux Falls business leaders, that meets in person once a week in the new building. It helps new owners navigate the next phase of their business — be it the beginning, middle, or end.

“It’s been a really wonderful thing to watch all these individuals come together,” Maner said. “And, then, the greater business community has come in and helped support them through mentorships, taking what skillset they do have — whether its marketing, law, accounting — all of these things that make up a corporation.

“When you’re one individual, that’s overwhelming. So, we’re trying to make that a simpler process, and for it to be easier to understand what your next step should be.”

For 20 years, Startup Sioux Falls was housed in the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship on the Southeast Technical College campus in northwest Sioux Falls in a space more than 12 times the size of the new facility.

But in recent years, it became obvious that a new location made sense, and so did downsizing to cut maintenance costs.

“We’re seeing a lot of individuals that want to work, live, and play in downtown Sioux Falls, and that’s really where the energy took us,” Maner said.

The proximity to the “resource rich” downtown business community makes it easier for entrepreneurs and their business mentors alike to collaborate on ideas in person.

Maner said that while Startup Sioux Falls partly relies on subscribers who utilize the space and programs, the ultimate goal for all members should be to leave the nest, and perhaps come back someday as a mentor, like Meyer.

“It’s a huge testament to the interest and the faith that the community has in a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Maner said. “There are business leaders in this community that recognize that without vibrant ecosystem, our city can’t move further ahead.”