Making the leap: Company thrives after incubation phase at Zeal

May 9, 2018

This piece is presented by the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship.

If a business could be like a bird needing to leave the nest, Sidewalk Technologies was there.

After five years incubating at the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship — the longest a business is allowed to lease space at 2329 N. Career Ave. —  it was time to leave.

“We had a very good setup at Zeal,” said Amos Kittelson, who founded the business in 2012 before briefly taking a break and coming back to it again last year.

“When you look at the market, the lease prices are steep compared to what we paid at Zeal. After making the leap, however, we realize that we’ve grown our wings, and we’re prepared for the next phase of growth.”

It was a big leap. The business, which specializes in video conferencing and has expanded to offer livestreaming, phone systems and digital signage, went from 300 square feet at Zeal to more than 2,000 square feet in a new office at 5200 S. Cliff Ave.

“And we’re already full,” Kittelson said. “We’ve been really blessed. Business is rolling in. We’ve got repeat customers, and we bit off some big projects, so it’s been really good.”

Sidewalk Technologies has built its business around helping other businesses hold more effective meetings through videoconferencing.

“Really, our business model is like no other,” Kittelson said. “We really focus on the human interaction with technology.”

That helps cure the “post-traumatic videoconference syndrome” many business people have, he said. Like the meeting that got derailed – or never even started – because of issues operating the technology.

“We’re here to show people videoconferencing does work and it can be very effective. The goal is to replicate the in-person experience. We want to people to consider a videoconferencing first, and a phone call or travel as a last resort.”

The turnkey systems he sells and manages are designed to do that. A demo product in his new office shows what he means. Gone is the grainy video and delayed audio sometimes associated with videoconferencing. Instead, a clear display and wide camera angle make it feel like the meeting is happening in the same room.

But the “secret sauce” of Sidewalk is that clients aren’t in the room alone.

“We’re available to be in the meeting during the videoconference to help things go smoothly,” he said. “Typically, IT is reactive to videoconferencing. And if you’re 10 minutes into a meeting and something is going wrong and you have to call IT, it’s too late. You won’t use that system again. We make videoconferencing easy and reliable.”

Livestreaming also have been a growth area for the business. Sidewalk Technologies streams the 1 Million Cups entrepreneurial speaker event from the Orpheum Theater and offers the service from a studio in its office or remotely.

It’s more professional looking than livestreaming from a phone, he noted.

“You can come here, sit down at a table and do a livestream. We can mix in PowerPoints, graphics, make it look very professional, record it and even bring in remote hosts,” he said.

During one recent spring snowstorm, the technology worked for a client who had training scheduled.

“They didn’t want people driving in last-minute, so we did a six-hour livestream, and 35 people joined online and didn’t have to drive,” Kittelson said. “They loved that service.”

Newer clients include Gage Brothers Concrete Products, Keller Williams Realty Sioux Falls and LifeScape, he added.

Sidewalk also has started to install videoconferencing and collaboration systems in conference rooms and training rooms.

To support the business, he added full-time technical engineer Mitch Shaw and part-time purchasing manager and bookkeeper Melissa Van De Burg. His wife, Heather, continues to help lead sales.

“We want to grow our footprint out of the Midwest and take it more national,” he said.

His experience beginning at Zeal played a key part in helping the company get this far, Kittelson said.

“When you’re starting a business, there are a lot of dry spells,” he said. “Having an inexpensive place to office was key as well as being able to rub elbows with fellow entrepreneurs and bounce ideas off each other.”

Seeing the success of a former Zeal tenant such as Sidewalk Technologies is rewarding for Zeal executive director Michelle Gjerde.

“We’re so happy Amos and his team are experiencing this level of growth,” she said. “He’s a good example of how hard work and commitment pay off.  As all entrepreneurs know, it’s all about the journey and in being flexible enough to make adjustments along the way while remaining focused on the end goal or vision.  The Sidewalk story is a good example of applying lessons learned to create a product or service that appeals to the needs of the marketplace.”

Kittelson hopes to stay connected to Zeal and evolve into mentoring other entrepreneurs.

“I’ve made a lot of valuable connections at Zeal,” he said.  “By building solid relationships in a growing community like Sioux Falls, it really feels like one big family. This has been a key part of our growth story, and we’re thankful for our time at Zeal so that we were able to build our network and prepare for our next phase.”

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Making the leap: Company thrives after incubation phase at Zeal

After five years of incubation, this business moved out of Zeal and on to bigger things.

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