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Published September 02, 2011, 10:50 AM

SOUTH DAKOTA: SD CEO is the only SBA Women’s Business Center in South Dakota

South Dakota’s small business owners and entrepreneurs will find a wealth of services in the South Dakota Center for Enterprise Opportunity (SD CEO) housed at Black Hills State University in Spearfish.

By: Loretta Sorensen, Prairie Business Magazine

In addition to one-on-one counseling, comprehensive training, management and business assistance, SD CEO offers training seminars and annual events to provide educational and networking resources.

“We have a special focus on women, Native Americans, socially disadvantaged, youth entrepreneurs, and women veterans,” Helen Merriman, SD CEO Director, says. “However, we don’t discriminate or limit our services to just those groups. Any South Dakota resident can obtain services through our office.”

SD CEO was established in October 2009 after receiving a five-year grant under the auspices of the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) to fund the office. The Small Business Association has established 110 Women’s Business Centers offices across the U.S. Their main purpose is to strengthen existing small businesses and provide assistance for emerging entrepreneurs to develop new businesses. SD CEO is the only SBA Women’s Business Center in South Dakota.

“We initially worked with BHSU’s College of Education to devise a needs assessment for business training,” Merriman says. “At training seminars participants received a survey asking what areas they needed assistance with. Some areas identified included how to write a business plan, how to develop a marketing plan, and manage cash flow. That information helped us develop our future training programs.”

In individual counseling sessions, SD CEO clients receive assistance with a variety of topic areas, including reviewing their new business ideas, referrals to SBA’s Small Business Development Center for market research, and business plan development.

“Many printed and online resources are free,” Merriman says. “We help existing and startup businesses identify other organizations they might partner with. We’ve worked with the Chamber of Commerce in many South Dakota communities to identify specific training needs for those communities.”

Currently, just over 1,000 participants have participated in SD CEO programs. Nearly 50 strategic community partners such as Chambers, university colleagues, and SBA partners work cooperatively with SD CEO. Between October 2010 and June 2011, SD CEO provided a total of 32 training sessions, seminars, events, counseling sessions, and/or collaborative opportunities across the state.

“We’ve had business owners from 18 different communities attend our training sessions,” Merriman says. “One of our projects has involved BHSU’s marketing students. They’ve collaborated with businesses in four different communities to develop a marketing plan tailored to that business. Businesses in Spearfish, Lead, Deadwood, and Belle Fourche participated in the project.”

Through Red Cloud Indian School, SD CEO offered Personal Finance and Money Management training. SD CEO participated as judges in the Youth Business Adventure (YBA) sponsored by the SD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, aimed at helping high school students and teachers to better understand the American private enterprise system and how businesses operate within it. YBA is structured to help students learn through a variety of speakers and interactive activities.

Peg Austin of Vanilla Bean Bakery in Spearfish has found SD CEO’s networking services very helpful.

“It’s so important for small business owners to know what resources are available,” Austin says. “I found it mind boggling to realize the resources that are out there. Every aspect of your business can benefit from the services SD CEO offers. Just being known and getting to know other business owners in my community has been very valuable.”

More information about SD CEO is available at SDPB

Loretta Sorensen, Owner, Prairie Hearth Publishing, LLC.