What makes the Siouxland business community strong and what can make it stronger? Collaboration is the one-word answer provided by Dave Bernstein, founder of Siouxland Venture Initiative (SVI). He goes on to explain, “People are generally proud to be from here. They want to help other people here succeed and continue to fuel that cycle: help people, get help from others when you need it. Some of it is paying it forward; some of it is receiving help when you need it.”
Siouxland Venture Initiative is a fairly new entity established when Springboard Coworking Space was looking for a new owner. The co-working space was established in 2013 and is now on its third owner, indicating the viability and need for such a space in Siouxland. Located at 700 4th street, Springboard provides individual offices and collaborative working spaces for entrepreneurs, freelancers, side-hustlers, and others who don’t want to rent a full office space or work from their home. “There’s great wi-fi, common worktables, and private offices. Although the private offices are all booked right now, you can rent a desk or a meeting room. It’s a great place if you have a side-business and don’t want to meet your clients in your living room,” said Bernstein.
In addition to the physical amenities, Springboard also provides the ambiance of creativity and collaboration. It’s not the small business incubator of the past. Bernstein notes that doesn’t exist in Sioux City anymore. It is a communal, sharing atmosphere that provides support for people just starting out, or those who don’t want to be isolated in their homes.
“Springboard is just one component of a bigger umbrella for me of wanting to nurture entrepreneurial activity in the area. There are a lot of different resources scattered around, and Siouxland Venture Initiative (SVI) is built on the desire to bring some of it together in one place. There has been a group of us discussing the ecosystem for entrepreneurship here for quite a while. We know there is a need to connect people with angel investors, venture capital, but also mentoring and advice. We have all that here in Siouxland – we have forever,” said Bernstein.
As he served on the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board (IDEA), Bernstein saw a lot of early-stage development happening across the state. He came to understand the support and resources Iowa has to help new businesses. He saw most of the resources for start-ups going to Des Moines and university cities, not Western Iowa. One of his goals with SVI and Springboard is to bring more of that to Siouxland. His vision means an intentional focus on what is already here and helping to nurture it.
“We are a bit asleep in some ways in this community when it comes to economic development in my opinion. We are primarily stuck in the old mindset of economic development focusing on bringing an established business from outside of town, often through a site selector. What I saw a lot of when on IEDA, is lots of business growth and development in Iowa comes from businesses already here and startups. Existing businesses wanting to grow and entrepreneurs spinning off of existing businesses or starting something new. We need to convey the opportunities and programs available to help them keep growing,” said Bernstein.
An advantage in Siouxland is the tri-state area. There are different structural advantages in each of those states depending on what you are doing. Some focused collaborations like The Siouxland Initiative, Iowa West Coast, and contests like Swimming with the Sharks and Entrepreneur-Fest are evidence that growing our own new business is valuable to our community, but they are somewhat siloed and not holistic.
In discussing contests for entrepreneurs, Bernstein explained a key difference in perspective.
“We should not be looking for the best ideas, we should be looking for all viable ideas. There can be 1,000 ideas that could produce something great. Instead of making it a contest only rewarding the top few, I want to see us help all of the viable ones move forward. The programs are there, we need to harness the resources in this community to nurture this activity. There’s nothing wrong with the contests, but let’s not limit ourselves,” suggested Bernstein.
SVI will tap into existing resources including the Iowa Technology Commercialization Committee (TCC), Sioux City Economic Development personnel, the Iowa West Coast Initiative, and the Career Academy to help advance the ecosystem. Bernstein joined the TCC board in January.
“We need to be catalytic here. I don’t want credit and I don’t want SVI to get credit, it’s a collaborative effort. We just want to create the space that provides an opportunity to learn from others in the community, bring in speakers, networking events, mentoring, etc., etc. I don’t care where these activities are held but want to offer spaces that are inspiring if needed. I just want to encourage and support those starting up. We have good things going on in this community, we need to be sure we are doing what we can to nurture them as well. When you are starting out with an idea and don’t know what resources (financial and other) are around in the community, it can be daunting. There are a lot of resources. People here are friendly and willing to help,” said Bernstein.
“It’s really one of our greatest strengths. Helping others is enjoyable . . . or maybe rewarding. Actually, yes, enjoyable and rewarding,” concluded Bernstein.
Springboard Coworking space has day passes, monthly rentals of open or dedicated desk spaces. Learn more at www.springboardcoworking.com