New business incubator designed to spawn ideas

New business incubator designed to spawn ideas U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson and Vermillion Mayor Dan Christopherson take part in the ribbon cutting of the new Vermillion Entrepreneurship Center and business incubator located in the former Olympia Fitness building. Watching are advisory board members Gene Lunn, Mike Keller, Tom Heinz, Mel Ustad and, at right, Farron Pratt and Lisa Ketcham. Not pictured are John Hemmingstad, Mike Carlson and Craig Thompson. by David Lias The sudden closing of one of Vermillion�s major employers several years ago served as a wake-up call.

It lead to the creation of a new business incubator in the city.

It only seems proper that the Vermillion Entrepreneurship Center is located in the newly named Market Street Professional Building � which once housed a fitness center.

The center is designed to pump up the local economy by taking advantage of the economic impact of USD, with its faculty and 8,000 students, and Vermillion�s unique mix of retail, tourism, manufacturing and services.

U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, who grew up with Vermillion Mayor Dan Christopherson, presided over the Dec. 2 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new center. Johnson helped secure $400,000 in federal funds for the incubator building.

As the term incubator suggests, the center is designed to help people with an entrepreneurial spirit launch their ideas.

Once the tenants get on their feet and experience growth, they can eventually move into their own locations.

There are no tenants for the newly christened incubator � yet. Mike Keller, dean of the USD School of Business, said all that is needed is someone who has a dream that can be turned to reality.

�You are out in the community and hear ideas,� he told the crowd who had gathered to tour the newly-remodeled building. �Don�t just hear it. Tell us, or you will sit with an empty building.�

Similar centers have been successful in Brookings, Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

�It is doubly satisfying to do so in my hometown,� Johnson said. �We have received federal dollars, but it has taken real vision and energy at the local level.�

The incubator is a joint effort of the city, the University of South Dakota and the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company (VCDC). The incubator � and a determination to grow local businesses � emerged following a bleak time in the city.

Roger Kozak, former mayor, remembers how, in 2001, Gateway, based in North Sioux City, closed its Vermillion call center as part of a world-wide cost-cutting measure.

Suddenly, there were 350 USD students and local residents out of work.

�There was a dark, ominous cloud over us,� he said.

Vermillion dodged more than just a bullet, he said, when Phase 2, an Arizona-based call center, located operations and 250 jobs in the former Gateway plant.

�If you can�t be good, then just be lucky. With Phase 2, we were just lucky,� he said. �We dodged not just a bullet, but a bomb. That dark cloud had a silver lining with two or three rainbows.�

The incubator, which had been under discussion, took shape when a realtor offered property for the relocation of city hall, Kozak said.

The building doesn�t meet the criteria being sought for Vermillion�s city hall, but officials saw the potential for an incubator center.

�This is the cornerstone of the future for economic development not only in Vermillion but for the entire region,� Kozak said.

The Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company has been working with the University of South Dakota and other business incubators in an effort to develop an effective entrepreneurship assistance program involving the entire community.

It is also making contacts with professionals, who will serve as sponsors or partners, to assist the center in achieving its goals.

The areas of expertise sought include legal, accounting, mentoring, and networking/event sponsors.

Law firm sponsors would define efforts that they would be willing to provide as they work with USD law school volunteers to provide legal services to tenants.

The process for accounting firms would be the same as for law firms. For example, an entrepreneur desiring to incorporate might choose that service and would work with a law school volunteer who would draft the incorporation documents and the law firm sponsor would review and send the final incorporation documents to the tenant.

Experienced entrepreneurs and business people are also needed to serve as mentors for all the clients. Efforts will be made to partner mentors and entrepreneurs based on industry sectors, experience, interests and needs.

The center will be conducting monthly events, most likely breakfast or evening sessions, and is seeking sponsors to provide refreshments for the participants.

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