Accelerator partner: First National Bank builds on entrepreneurial legacy

This piece is presented by the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship.

The Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship is proud to partner with The First National Bank in Sioux Falls in a strategic relationship to support entrepreneurship initiatives and foster innovation.

The bank’s lead grant is key in providing Zeal’s annual accelerator, which launches June 29.

President Chris Ekstrum shared with us, in his own words, why his firm supports the program:

Chris Ekstrum

First National Bank has an 80-year relationships with businesses that began as startups. And we’ve never forgotten it.

When we were founded – more than 130 years ago – our leaders were like any other entrepreneurs. They started small, built relationships with other small businesses and were fortunate to grow with their clients.

That’s what built this bank. It’s also what will help sustain us into another century and why we give back to our community.

A couple of years ago, we started thinking about how we could connect and engage with startups and entrepreneurs in Sioux Falls.

We decided to start with education because we bring such deep experience working with businesses at all levels of longevity. Initially, we thought we would develop content and host a few forums.

Our content research led us to Zeal. And, to be honest, we really realized for the first time all the resources that existed there. So why would we develop a program that might be duplicative, especially when we’re already a strong Zeal supporter through our commitment to Forward Sioux Falls?

Instead, I reached out to a Zeal board member and discussed what we wanted to offer. I asked if we could become active donors and partners at Zeal. It just so happens Zeal was hosting a social that night. So I went, talked to Zeal president Rich Naser and a week later we were putting ideas together that eventually would lead to our strategic partnership.

We consider this a 20-year investment. To be perfectly frank, I don’t know what ROI we will see from it. But that’s not the overriding goal.

We are stepping up to support Zeal’s programming to send a message to our community, as well as to our own organization, that fostering entrepreneurship is critical. It’s critical to our success as a community and as a community bank. And we want to do our part to bring resources together and give our aspiring entrepreneurs the best chance at success.

Our team is excited to work with this year’s accelerator participants, providing education and evaluating their concepts. You truly never know where these relationships will lead. But our founders were believers in homegrown businesses, and we are today, too.

I can tell, even in the early stages of the relationship, that it has shifted our mindset as a company. We were proud to become the No. 1 community bank in South Dakota for SBA 7(a) lending in fiscal year 2016 and are seeing even stronger results so far this year. That’s a terrific accomplishment. But it’s just as rewarding for me to hear our bankers tell stories of their entrepreneur clients’ growth. It gets all of us excited. And we know, thanks in part to our partnership with Zeal, there are many more of those stories to come.

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Accelerator partner: First National Bank builds on entrepreneurial legacy

“First National Bank has an 80-year relationships with businesses that began as startups. And we’ve never forgotten it.” Here’s why the bank supports Zeal’s accelerator program.

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