A recent needs assessment has determined the time is right for a business incubator on the Black Hills State University campus.

Business Cluster Development (BCD) of Menlo Park, Calif., which conducted the needs assessment, concluded in their report that “the opportunity for business incubation in the Spearfish area is clear and the community is committed and supportive of an incubation program.”

BCD examined existing programs for entrepreneurs in the region, identified partners and collaborations, reviewed the proposed sites, explored a potential focus for the program, and determined how the incubator would leverage university resources. BCD, which has assisted in the development of approximately 60 incubation projects for universities, corporations and communities across the United States and internationally, conducted interviews with 20 stakeholders, including community business leaders, economic development and government officials, entrepreneurs, and university administration and faculty to gain insight into the local economy, economic development goals, and opportunities for the incubation of new business.

BHSU President Kay Schallenkamp says, “A business incubator on the BHSU campus that is accessible to the Northern Hills Community will engage the community, faculty and students in a tangible way, providing experiential learning opportunities and creating jobs that help to diversify our economy. It is additionally one way in which we can position our region to capture business opportunities that may arise in support of the development of the DUSEL”

As a follow up to the needs assessment, a business plan for the incubator has been generated. The Northern Black Hills Business Incubator (NBHBI) would be “right sized” for the rural community--8,000-10,000 square feet--and would assist approximately 5 to 10 non-technology and technology businesses at any given time. The program would serve both businesses located in the incubation facility and in the community. Businesses would participate in the program for about two years and then graduate into commercial space in the community.

The Center for Business, Entrepreneurship & Tourism (CBET) at BHSU was awarded planning funds from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for the formal needs assessment last summer. Preliminary planning for a business incubator and preparation of a supportive environment for entrepreneurs in the region has been the major thrust of the CBET under the direction of Barbara Zwetzig.

CBET has hosted a series of evening business training courses at BHSU and helped to make application to the U.S. Small Business Administration for the $750,000 five-year grant awarded in 2009. That award brought the SBA Women’s Business Center for South Dakota to the BHSU campus. This Center, known as the SD Center for Enterprise Opportunity (SD CEO), is directed by Helen Merriman. The SD CEO works cooperatively with other SBA organizations in the state, and provides business assistance and training to current and prospective entrepreneurs, from start up to expansion, to foster economic development in South Dakota.

“The pieces of our entrepreneurial ecosystem are coming together,” says Zwetzig, who completed her training certification from the National Business Incubation Association. “The idea is to create an environment where people who are intentional about creating a business feel encouraged to come forward for help with their business plan, to pitch their idea to lenders and investors, and are willing to take the risk to get something new going. It helps that we have some successful entrepreneurs and business people in our midst already.”

Zwetzig credits the Rural Enterprise Institute’s Dakota Rising program with “putting the spurs” to the entrepreneurship activity in Spearfish. As a Dakota Rising certified site, Spearfish Economic Development and BHSU host an entrepreneurship fair each fall, largely to encourage startups to apply for the $10,000 fellowship, but also to bring the entrepreneurs of the area together for networking. Spearfish has had six winners of the Dakota Rising fellowship to date, and six more entrepreneurs made application this year.

An incubator is a next logical addition to that entrepreneurial ecosystem, according to Zwetzig. Funding for the proposed Northern Black Hills Business Incubator will come from multiple sources, including the U.S. Economic Development Administration which funded this planning project, federal funds, and contributions from the community. For details about the proposed incubator, contact Barbara Zwetzig at 642-6276 or Barbara.Zwetzig@BHSU.edu.

What is a Business Incubator?
A business incubator is an environment that grows and nurtures small businesses through their early years of existence by providing an array of business assistance services, shared resources, and networking opportunities. Incubator facilities are run by managers and staff who provide business advice and referral services to tenants in addition to managing the operations of the building. South Dakota has four business incubators currently:

  • Black Hills Business Development Center, Rapid City
  • Heartland Technology Center, Madison
  • South Dakota Technology Business Center, Sioux Falls
  • South Dakota State University Innovation Campus, Brookings