SPEARFISH — Black Hills State University is proud to announce its partnership with the Spearfish Area Chamber of Commerce to operate the new Black Hills Virtual Business Incubation Program.
“Black Hills Virtual Business Incubation Program is a ‘start small’ approach to business incubation for our rural community,” said Barbara Zwetzig, director of the Center for Business, Entrepreneurship and Tourism at BHSU.
A membership to the program is by application and contract, just as for tenancy business incubator facilities, and is available month to month. The program will be operated out of the chamber office. The fees include a range of services such as business coaching, networking events, use of a conference room, and access to university faculty consultants and student interns for administrative work or special projects.
“Most businesses that join will have a goal to achieve or a particular problem they want help to solve, or seek an evaluation of their situation,” said Zwetzig.
She added that a virtual program allows them to serve more businesses regardless of their type because they continue to operate from their primary place of business, — whether they are a home-based startup or manufacturing.
“You don’t quite achieve the benefits of co-location, but we will bring the business owners together for meaningful networking and consulting on a monthly basis,” she said. “A virtual incubation program also helps to make mutually beneficial connections between businesses, something we found even with the five participants in our pilot program.”
And she would know.
Zwetzig has been working with entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses from the region since she came on board with the university in 2008. Black Hills Vision awarded seed money to her department in 2009 to investigate the feasibility of a business incubator to serve the Northern Black Hills region.
Because of that, the center hosted a series of entrepreneurial business topic seminars at the university to bolster the business acumen for local business people. Additionally the Small Business Association’s Women’s Business Center grant for the state was awarded to BHSU and the South Dakota Center for Enterprise Opportunity (SD CEO) was established in order for them to host ongoing business training seminars, helping to further create the supportive climate for entrepreneurship in our region. An Economic Development Administration grant in 2010 helped Center for Business, Entrepreneurship and Tourism to complete a needs assessment for business incubation in the Northern Hills.
Zwetzig said the recommendation of that assessment was positive, and called for a small, mixture of technical and non-technical business approach that will have a strong affiliation with BHSU.
Since then, five local businesses volunteered for a pilot virtual program operated by the center, to explore and determine the types of assistance that entrepreneurs and startups need.
“Business incubators as a rule do not generate sufficient revenue on their own to maintain operations. The return on investment is realized by the creation of jobs and increased payroll and taxes,” she said. “Continued progress in incubator services will require multiple income streams including grants and community support. We are now ready for a proof of concept phase, with space afforded graciously by the Spearfish Area Chamber of Commerce. Membership will determine if we have a real need for an incubator building at some date in the future.”