Behind the scenes: Zeal accelerator partner reflects on startups’ growth
Chris Lent is an attorney with Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith PC
I’ve always admired business accelerators in different parts of the country, so when I had the chance to be part of Zeal’s in Sioux Falls, I jumped at it.
I knew the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship had been making changes to its programs, so I didn’t really know what to expect from the Zeal Growth Accelerator. I did know a little about each of the four companies accepted into this year’s accelerator, which really piqued my interest. Plus, the people at Zeal made me want to be a part of it and to see what I could to do support the program.
I’ve been involved in advising startups at Woods Fuller for a while. In my experience, most startup companies have various levels of expertise and background but always seem to lack something in terms of further support: accounting/financial, marketing and legal, to name a few. The support system that Zeal’s accelerator provides helps a great deal in our role as legal advisers and, in the end, provides a better legal product.
Startup companies in different parts of the country that have completed similar programs have proven they work and, more importantly, provide short-term and long-term jobs in the communities in which they are located. I think Sioux Falls and South Dakota have the chance to create something equally beneficial, and the Zeal accelerator holds a lot of potential to help accomplish it.
From the beginning, I was impressed with the quality of the companies, the founders, the founders’ expertise and knowledge of their product or service, and their enthusiasm for creating and developing a business. They were eager to learn and make their company better.
I clearly saw positive changes in the participants over the weeks-long program. I think, first, was the increased confidence each participant gained in their business and operations. Next was how they applied what they had learned during the sessions and working groups, from how to operate, develop and pitch their business to potential customers or investors to dealing with potential issues and problems that might arise in the future.
Zeal clearly provides to new companies and business owners a broad level of expertise, from the excellent staff to the committed business partners. It’s a dedicated and smart team at Zeal that can help a company move on to the next level of development. The accelerator business partners provide yet another level of expertise, from accounting and financial analysis to marketing advice.
At Woods Fuller, we advise startup companies in the preparation of their organizational, governing and contractual-related documents. Sometimes, founders of startup companies overlook the importance of the legal side, only to find out after the fact that if you don’t have the legal side in order, it can adversely affect the company’s equity financing. We were happy to be able to help some of the accelerator participants with legal steps.
At graduation, the four companies presented before several potential angel and venture capital investors. It was a great event because they showed that they were ready to take the next step in their development, either in an equity capital raise or the pursuit of new customers. It clearly was a well-earned graduation.
I definitely see value in the program and in being a partner. Personally, I learned a tremendous amount myself from the other business partners that presented in several of the sessions. I also learned that Zeal and its staff have a tremendous amount of expertise, knowledge and resources to help these companies take the next step in their development. It made me feel good about Sioux Falls’ future because it shows a further commitment to creating businesses and jobs in Sioux Falls and helping our community grow.
There is still more we can do to support entrepreneurship. We have excellent companies and intelligent, hardworking people in Sioux Falls, but we still lack adequate equity funding sources to help founders and companies, particularly angel capital. The Falls Angel Fund has done a fantastic job, but it can do only so much. We need other angel funds and other types of funding at the startup level to support these companies. There’s clearly new momentum, though, which is because of Zeal.
I look forward to seeing how the programs at Zeal, particularly the accelerator, continue to develop. This is a tremendous resource for our community, and I’ve been glad to be a part of it.