BROOKINGS – Conversations between key Brookings community leaders and South Dakota State University administration about a research park were initiated in the 1990s. The groundbreaking of the first building in the Research Park at SDSU occurred in spring 2007 with a ribbon cutting in fall 2008.
The park will hold its annual Innovation Celebration and 10-year anniversary from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Brookings Innovation Center. The event is open to the public. Sen. Mike Rounds will deliver a keynote address at 5:30 p.m.
Dhiraj Sharan with Query.AI will receive the Company of the Year Award, and Ellen Schlechter with The Calving Book App will receive the Student of the Year Award.
The Brookings Innovation Center was the Research Park’s first building, offering 26,000 square feet of incubator space. Construction continued during the next four years. An 18,000-square-foot addition was added, creating 44,000 square feet of incubator space. A 30,000-square-foot building was then added as a recruitment tool. At the end of 2012, approximately 57,000 square feet were available for lease to develop startups and to recruit new university-related businesses.
“The vast amount of space provided a great opportunity for growth to the community and university,” said Dwaine Chapel, the park’s CEO and executive director.
SDSU constructed the Young Brothers Seed Technology Laboratory in 2011. The facility added 36,000 square feet.
Currently, the park has roughly 18,000 square feet for lease.
The employee numbers have continued to grow from approximately 40 to more than 235. Today, the research park has an average payroll of $12.4 million. It is home to 43 client companies. Additionally, the number of visitors has increased from a few hundred per year to more than 3,000.
The Brookings Innovation Center itself is home to more than 90 of those employees. The BIC offers office space and resources to help startups and entrepreneurs turn their ideas into successful businesses.
Chapel became the park’s CEO and executive director in 2012. Melissa Werner joined the team as full-time director of operations in June 2016, and Ashlee Wright recently joined the team as its development director.
“I believe we have built a strong leadership team,” Chapel said. “The growth we’ve seen and will continue to incur is a direct result of its hard work.”
The team recently initiated a recruitment plan affiliated with SDSU’s Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering.
“We are excited to have built a strong and sustainable relationship with the College of Engineering,” Wright said. “Early success can be attributed to the commitment from Associate Dean of Research Dr. Dennis Helder.”
The team is transforming programming to more effectively assist startups. There is a strong focus on student and faculty entrepreneurs.
“The BIC has become a one-stop shop,” Werner said. “We have put in place a strong anchor team to assist in business development and recruitment.”
Business resources include a full-time CPA, attorneys with specific skillsets, the Enterprise Institute, the Small Business Development Center, Brookings Economic Development Corporation, angel fund opportunities and the Brookings Area Makerspace. The team continues to expand and develop new programming.
“The uniqueness of a research park is that if you’ve seen one research park, you’ve only seen one research park … they each are different. Each director is willing to share best practices. The parks really do not compete,” Chapel said. “As the first research park in South Dakota, we have experienced a few more valleys than peaks. The organization has really started hitting on all cylinders the past 18 months, and we are excited about the next 24 months.”
The Growth Partnership staff oversees operations of the Research Park and Brookings Innovation Center. The board of directors include: Jay Bender, Growth Partnership board chair and president of Falcon Plastics; Keith Corbett, mayor of Brookings; Barry Dunn, SDSU president; Ryan Krogman, Brookings County commissioner; Al Kurtenbach, co-founder of Daktronics; Jim Morgan, South Dakota Board of Regents and retired Daktronics CEO; Kevin Tetzlaff, president of First Bank and Trust; and S.D. Sen. Larry Tidemann.