SD CEO offers support, education to businesspeople in South Dakota

Author: BHSU Communications/Tuesday, September 16, 2014/Categories: 2014


           Women network at the 2013 SD CEO Women's Business Conference. The Women's Business Conference is one of several networking opportunities the SD CEO, housed at BHSU, offers women business owners.

Sharing business knowledge, creating support among women in business and bringing dreams to life are the goals of the South Dakota Center for Enterprise Opportunity (SD CEO) housed on the Black Hills State University campus.

The SD CEO, in its fifth year of operation, provides business education and training for women who want to start or already own and operate a business. Counseling services are available for new and veteran business owners as well. SD CEO does not discriminate as our services are available to all however the primary focus is for women.

"I have a lot of people say, &lsquoI have a great idea.&rsquo It&rsquos my responsibility to help them understand all the facets of starting, maintaining, growing and possibly selling a successful business," said Helen Merriman, director of the SD CEO.

Merriman brings to the table 24 years of experience as a business owner. She understands the process of business ownership from start-up to selling and everything in between.

"I love being able to listen to ideas and helping women be successful," Merriman said. "I want to open doors for women business owners."

BHSU received the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Women&rsquos Business Owners grant to start the Women&rsquos Business Center five years ago, making it the only Women&rsquos Business Center in South Dakota. There are 110 Women&rsquos Business Centers nationwide.

Since the SD CEO&rsquos implementation, the Center has grown significantly. Merriman said approximately 400 participated with the SD CEO its first year and now nearly 1,400 participate in events and services provided by the Center.

The SD CEO education and counseling services are tailored to meet the need of each individual or business, however, common topics include start-up assistance, business plan development, marketing and financing. The Center focuses on women and small businesses, but Merriman said all businesses can use its services. The SD CEO located on the BHSU campus, provides services statewide.

With partial funding coming from the SBA, much focus is given to small business owners. South Dakota has about 77,000 small businesses, but only 20 percent are women-owned, Merriman said. She hopes to encourage more women to step forward and bring their business plans to life.

"I love to help women be successful, regardless of their position," Merriman said. "We need to offer more leadership opportunities for women and women should be more engaged in those leadership opportunities."

To supplement the SD CEO&rsquos services, several events throughout the year offer additional educational and networking opportunities. Because of the increased interest and participation, the SD CEO has been able to expand its reach with the addition of new conferences and educational seminars. Events include the Women&rsquos Business Conference, Celebrating Women in Business luncheon, Women in Leadership, National Women&rsquos History Month and the Yankton Women&rsquos Business Conference.

The SD CEO added the Yankton conference just this year to expand its reach to the eastern side of South Dakota. A special National Women&rsquos History Month event in Rapid City offers networking opportunities to women in the military, education, medical and professional communities. The event is planned in partnership with Ellsworth Air Force Base 28th Force Support Squadron, Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, S.D. Army National Guard, and Army ROTC.

"There are a lot of women who are firsts in their position," Merriman said. "It amazes me that we&rsquore still identifying so many firsts. Women bring so much to the table."

The SD CEO also developed a Quickbook series, offering online and face-to-face training with the finance management program. The SD CEO coordinates the BHSU School of Business undergraduate internships and MBA capstone internships as well.

"We really just want to connect women in the business community with other women in the business community," said Merriman of the vast events and educational opportunities provided by the SD CEO. "It&rsquos the sharing of business knowledge. What is your business or industry doing that might support someone else?

Letitia Lister, publisher of the Black Hills Pioneer in Spearfish, said she and her staff have attended SD CEO events over the years.

"It&rsquos been a great way for the women on our staff to be inspired," Lister said. "We&rsquove also learned more about effective communication and how to build networking skills with other professionals in our industry."

The Black Hills Pioneer also serves as a sponsor for many SD CEO events, and Lister encourages women to get involved with the Center.

"The SD CEO sets the foundation for stronger business ties and provides an amazing support system from other women wanting to see you succeed in whatever your endeavor may be," she added.

Merriman credits her team for the Center&rsquos growth and success. Merriman, along with Brittni Skipper, Program Assistant I, and Megan Lipp, secretary, make up the SD CEO office.

"We work hard, and we&rsquore very strategic," Merriman said. "We look for business partners. We look for professionals that can provide the business education. We do a lot of evaluation. Our goal is to identify what is the business community looking for and how do we respond to that?"
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