Zeal board chair shares what’s next for entrepreneur-focused organization
Article from SiouxFalls.Business November 5th edition
When your board chair is elected mayor, it creates an immediate vacancy.
Filling that space at the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship through the end of the year is entrepreneur Mike Vetter, who took over as board chair when Paul TenHaken was elected mayor in May.
Vetter founded DataSync in 2008 and now is launching an app called Flywheel that he’s incubating at Zeal.
We caught up with him for a progress report on Zeal and a preview of what’s ahead.
What has been keeping you most busy as board chair?
A number of different things. I was fortunate that while we had a vacancy at our executive director position, a team of my fellow board members stepped up to lead the Zeal team. That interim executive committee is now transitioning to an interim executive director. We are conducting a search process for that person at the present time. Following this, we will hire a permanent executive director to lead Zeal going forward.
In addition, we’ve been focused on a strategic planning process for Zeal. As a board, we are focused on being clear and deliberate about our mission and impact we can make in the community through entrepreneurship.
Where are you at in your strategic planning, and how is it going so far?
It’s going well and has been very helpful already. It’s centered on making sure we’re helping entrepreneurs at key steps in their journey of starting and growing their business. We’re very focused on understanding that, from what the components of the journey are to how we can add value regardless of industry. As startup activity in Sioux Falls grows and the needs of entrepreneurs change, we know Zeal needs to change. Our plan will reflect that. The desire for connections and programming has grown significantly. Zeal will increasingly look to focus our efforts there and likely need to give less focus to space and shared services. We don’t have illusions that we’re the “be all, end all” for entrepreneurs, but we want to serve them by connecting and equipping them along their journey. We’re excited about communicating what that looks like going forward in more detail.
How would you describe the entrepreneurial climate in Sioux Falls right now?
Overall, it’s a very passionate community with entrepreneurs building very interesting businesses. However, we’re still in need of more entrepreneurs with experience to help the young budding entrepreneurs. That’s why we’re looking forward to advocating mentoring through our entrepreneurs-in-residence program.
We need more ideas from entrepreneurs, but we also need mentors. So there’s an opportunity next year for more entrepreneurs who have experience to step up and help those that are growing. Zeal as an organization can’t help every entrepreneur through that journey, so making mentors available is a great need. We want to engage with them.
What has the response been like from entrepreneurs to the programs and services offered at Zeal?
We’ve welcomed some new tenants lately, so our office space sees strong utilization. We have also added a co-working facility as a key way for new entrepreneurs to engage at Zeal. We provide a furnished work area, access to our commons space and, most importantly, access to other entrepreneurs and the Zeal team. In addition, we have a couple premier lab spaces available for biotech use.
Our programming has also increased in popularity this year with our accelerator program, our Ignite education series and professional partnerships. And we’ve enjoyed becoming a part of 1 Million Cups and hosting that speaker series once a month at Zeal.
You’re board chair until the end of the year. What are the key priorities until then?
We have a couple key objectives we will be working on for the remainder of this year. First, we’ll be ramping up our interim executive director to build momentum going into next year. Second, we’ll be working on our strategic plan, which will define our priorities for the next few years. Look for exciting announcements coming from that effort in the future. And I’ll continue to serve on the board next year along with the rest of the Zeal team.
With the right plan and leadership in place, we see a lot of potential for accelerating what’s going on in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. I believe Sioux Falls can grow in big ways by encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship in our community.