We have invested $50,000 into an accelerator fund last year for emerging entrepreneurs through the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship. Along with this monetary investment, Zeal and the Bank teamed up on a research initiative to gain a greater understanding of how to better foster business innovation and entrepreneurship in the community.
The research initiative, funded by us, involved conducting in-depth interviews with approximately 45 entrepreneurs, including former and current Zeal clients, at various stages of business growth. The interviews focused on what resources, tools, opportunities, events and investments would best support entrepreneurs.
We plan to launch resources and programs using curriculum based on findings from this research, combined with best-in-industry standards and national trends. We also provide support services, such as educational seminars and one-on-one coaching, to Zeal and its members.
With entrepreneurship at its core from the beginning, the Bank continues to look for new and innovative ways to connect and engage the small-business sector of the community in order to better understand the challenges small businesses face, how they make decisions and what they need to be successful. The strategic partnership between Zeal and First National Bank proved to be a logical evolution of the goals, vision and values both organizations share.
My strongest advice for anyone looking to start a business is to find a mentor, and then work to develop a positive and productive relationship with them.
When did First National Bank become involved with the entrepreneurial community?
Our history with entrepreneurs really dates back to 1885 — the year we were founded. We’ve always been a family-owned community bank and were actually founded by a group of local entrepreneurs, so our history runs deep in this community.
Privately owned businesses are the backbone of our local, regional and national economy. They provide jobs and economic growth that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Likewise, our community can’t and won’t prosper without businesses continuing to innovate and evolve.
What role does a bank play in the development of small businesses?
Many aspiring business owners have a misconception about banks in general. We are not just here to process a check or grant a loan; we are here to help in any way we can to position our customers to own and operate a longstanding and successful business. Sometimes, that can be as simple as lending money, but more importantly, we can also provide significant value through guidance and advice.
What are common mistakes you see new business owners make?
One of the skills all successful entrepreneurs possess is the ability to adapt. Mistakes are inevitable; each new business owner will undoubtedly wish they had made different choices throughout their career. The important point is obvious — learn from those mistakes. I really admire when a new business owner is able to identify alternatives for their business in the event things don’t initially go as they had planned.
What advice do you have for local entrepreneurs?
My strongest advice for anyone looking to start a business is to find a mentor and then work to develop a positive and productive relationship with them. I consider a beneficial mentor to be someone who will challenge you and your ideas, not someone who will just tell you what you want to hear.
I would also advise any entrepreneur to engage and support the business community. Join the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce or other organizations that are supportive of the business community. Nobody is very likely to succeed on their own; you will need the support of others.
It sounds like a mentor can play a huge role in the success of an individual.
Yes. One of the most valuable experiences in my career was developing a lasting relationship with one of my first managers at the bank — a person who has mentored me ever since. At the time, this individual had 30 years of experience, and I was barely out of college. He never told me exactly what I wanted to hear, but he always offered advice from his perspective and based on his experiences.
You should always have room to learn and grow, even well into your career, which is why having a trusted mentor is so valuable.