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National Women’s Small Business Month: Celebrating our community of women leaders

By Andrea Van Essen | October 11, 2021

Women play a critical role in our startup ecosystem, making it more vibrant and dynamic, and providing diverse perspectives that drive progress and change.

In Sioux Falls, we’re fortunate to have women at the forefront of many entrepreneurial ventures and resource organizations.

Though celebrating women and ensuring they have the resources necessary for success is a year-round engagement, the month of October gives us a distinct opportunity to highlight women in our ecosystem.

October is recognized as National Women’s Small Business Month, and October 18-22 is National Business Women’s Week. Throughout the month, we encourage you to recognize the women in your entrepreneurial community who are making an impact.

Below, we’re sharing Q&As with some of the women who are leading our ecosystem, as well as highlighting valuable resources and opportunities that are available here in Sioux Falls. At Startup Sioux Falls alone, we have an incredible lineup of staff, board members, volunteers and community builders who give so much of their time and talent to our organization and city.

Nikkee Rhody

Tell us about your evolving role in the startup ecosystem. I’m a Sioux Falls native through and through. I spent a couple decades in banking, and when I felt like I had done what I needed to do in that field, I went into the nonprofit space for three years. That gave me a taste for a different industry, and I had the privilege of meeting with more people over coffee and getting more embedded into the Sioux Falls community in general.

I decided to get back into banking, and I was looking for an organization that would challenge the status quo. That’s when I connected with Trent Sorbe, the president of Central Payments. They’re very mission-focused as a for-profit business, and I felt like that was a good next step for me to merge the mission-minded nonprofit sector with my experience in banking.

When I had been with Central Payments for about a year, we decided to launch Falls Fintech. We knew it had to be in the heart of Sioux Falls, and as part of that, we had to learn more about the startup community. Something I've learned in the last couple years is that entrepreneurs work harder than anybody else because there's so much at stake. Entrepreneurs are going to change the world.

Why do you think it’s important for women to have leadership roles in the startup community? We've come a long way as a society in bridging the gap between men’s and women’s rights, pay scales, and opportunities, but we still have a ways to go. Women tend to think just a smidge differently than men, and I think that’s a natural wiring and a gift that we have. Men are generally more one-track-minded, where women are a bit more comprehensive in the way that we look at things, and I think both sides need to be represented. I’d say it's more about leveling the playing field and demonstrating that women can play in this space just as equally, if not better, than men.

As far as Sioux Falls is concerned, in general, I feel like our community is very inclusive. I think it's more about continuing to put our money where our mouth is and letting women showcase their leadership abilities.

Exploring other resources for women At Startup Sioux Falls, one of our core values as an organization is ‘inclusivity,’ and we stand behind that 100 percent.

“No matter who you are, we’re here to help you make starting a business easier and will make whatever connection necessary to get you to the next step in your entrepreneurial journey,” said Maner. “We encourage diverse representation in our programs, such as our CO.STARTERS accelerator program and our mentor network. It’s still not perfect, but we’re improving upon our efforts every day.”

Maner emphasizes that diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is an area of growth not just for Startup Sioux Falls but the city as a whole.

“I think Sioux Falls is a place that still has a lot of work to do in the area of DE&I, but what’s heartening is that I’m seeing more self-awareness about our shortcomings and much more action being taken,” she said.

We’re proud to witness the efforts of our friends and partners throughout the ecosystem in support of women entrepreneurs.

In August, we celebrated the opening of the state’s second women’s business center, South Dakota CEO East, led by Ashley Biggar.

  • At Startup Sioux Falls and across the city through the Sioux 52 Mentoring Initiative, our mentorship networks continue to grow.

  • Coffee n’ Connections, a community networking group for women hosted by Kim Vander Poel, continues to meet bi-weekly at Josiah’s Coffeehouse.

  • Startup Sioux Falls offers multiple resources for all entrepreneurs, including:

  • Wayfinding meetings

  • Mentorship

  • Networking and educational events

  • CO.STARTERS accelerator program

South Dakota’s SBA district director, Jaime Wood, is committed to providing small businesses and entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need to be successful.

It goes without saying that there are countless more women playing a role in our dynamic startup ecosystem than we can feature in a single article. We’ll be highlighting more of them on our social media channels throughout the rest of the month, so be sure to follow along for that.

Additionally, we always want to hear about opportunities and resources for women in the Sioux Falls startup community. If you know of a person or organization with an important mission or a story to share, send us an email, or set up a coffee meeting with someone from our team.

Let’s get to know one another and continue lifting up incredible women entrepreneurs.


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