Hannah Downs is no stranger to Ascent Innovation. While in college, she interned with B9Creations in the Center, so working at the building full-time now as a Business Development Representative for the South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) feels a little like coming full circle.
"It's a unique twist," she says. "I saw it from a business perspective, as well as a business resource provider perspective."
Business resources are GOED's specialty. The organization was created in 1987 by then-Governor George Mickelson. Originally part of the Industrial Planning division, Governor Mickelson turned it into a separate entity in order to help boost economics in the state of South Dakota. Its mission reflects that vision: GOED offers financial assistance and other resources to new and existing companies in order to help them grow and thrive.
Hannah works closely with Matt Brunner (Business Development Representative) and Terri LaBrie (Finance Officer) in their office space at Ascent. She and Matt frequently go out into the local community and visit with businesses to learn about challenges and obstacles they are facing—information they can then use to help these companies expand and grow. The business development team collaborates with other GOED divisions, including marketing, finance, and community development, to help businesses succeed. The community development team, for example, lays the groundwork by researching the role communities play in supporting economic development, and the financing team is responsible for processing loans, underwriting, and working with banks. "We're all working on the same project," Hannah explains. "Just from different angles."
GOED has been at Ascent Innovation since 2013. Their location in the incubator is a benefit to both GOED and the businesses they assist. They are a resource provider available to help with financial needs ranging from loan programs to working with partner agencies like the Small Business Development Center. Not all their clients are new; GOED also provides succession planning for existing companies looking to formulate strategies for when top executives retire. "It's a great opportunity for us to be in the center of all the happenings," Hannah says. "To be connected with local businesses that are looking to start, expand, or grow. It's a way to be more readily available to them." The business model was first developed in the Sioux Falls office, where GOED has a co-working space in the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, a similar incubator geared toward start-up companies. The experience has been just as positive at Ascent Innovation.
Being easily accessible to businesses in need is just one of the perks to working at Ascent. Hannah also gives Mitch (Client Manager of Ascent Innovation) and Terri (Executive Director of Ascent Innovation) credit for making an effort to develop a culture among the tenants. From lunch-and-learns to collaborating with neighbors, there's a real push to foster relationships among incubator clients. "That's something unique that nobody else offers," she says.
While GOED doesn't utilize the School of Mines talent pool directly, they do help students across the state through Dakota Seeds, a program that provides financial assistance to businesses in order to encourage them to work with interns. A lot of incubator tenants are taking advantage of the program, which is designed to entice students to stay in South Dakota after graduation by providing them with opportunities to impress potential future employers.
Despite the recent COVID-19 challenges, Hannah believes the future is bright for both Rapid City and South Dakota. With an emphasis on innovation, technology, and economic development—in addition to a pro-business climate—she feels that South Dakota is well-positioned for long-term success.
"The big thing we want companies to remember is that South Dakota truly is open for business," Hannah concludes.