What is a Dakota Rising Fellow?

A Dakota Rising Fellow is a person who has taken a startup business to a viable, profit-earning stage and is poised for the next level of growth. After successfully completing the application process, and being chosen, Fellows are connected to a community of statewide resources, mentors and financial experts. Personal and business growth strategies are developed while working in a small cohort where Fellows help one another despite vastly different industries and experiences. After one year in the program, each Fellow is awarded a $10,000 grant to support professional growth and business expansion.


Do you have what it takes?

Are you the owner or primary decision maker of a business that is no longer concerned about survival? Are you primed for significant growth? Do you have at least one employee or contract for labor? Are you a job/wealth creator with a vision to bring outside dollars into your community? Are you ready to face the challenges known and unknown that have kept you from igniting significant growth in your company? If so, you are just the kind entrepreneur we are looking for. All it takes is an open mind and the willingness to grow. The cohort process is a deeply personal, highly confidential method of pushing you to do what you know you probably should, but don’t. The very fact that you commit to the program provides the accountability for you to follow through with what you say you’ll do, without excuses. Nowhere else can you get this sort of mentoring. You will work to prove yourself to your cohort. That’s how the Dakota Rising program works.


What is the Fellowship application process?

Past Dakota Rising applicants contend that the application process alone is enough to get them thinking more strategically about growing their business. The application includes an executive summary, a business plan, action plan, financial statements, letters of reference, and a résumé. Assistance with the application is available statewide from a Small Business Development Center near you. The application has several steps to help ensure you’re committed to the process.

  • The first step is to request additional information from the Dakota Resources by clicking here.
  • Once you’ve decided that you’re going to apply, complete a brief online “Intent to Apply” form.
  • You will then be contacted by Dakota Resources staff and a member of the Dakota Rising community to help you understand the selection criteria, commitment to the program, timeline for selection, and other details.
  • Complete and submit your application.
  • Applicants receive feedback from Dakota Resources staff, the Dakota Rising Community, two business leaders and the Finalist Selection Team.
  • If you are selected as a Fellowship Finalist, you will be paired with a mentor who will help you update and refine your application.
  • You then resubmit the final application along with financial forecasts.
  • All Finalists will spend a day with the Fellows Selection Team.


Click here to request additional information about the Dakota Rising program.


Dakota Rising Fellows

Cristin Stewart

The Hot Springs Vault
Southern Hills On The Rise

Cristin grew up in Bailey, Colorado where she spent her childhood. After graduation she moved to Fort Collins, Colorado to attend college. While attending college, Cristin worked at DEA Construction Company where she was promoted to office manager. Since moving back to South Dakota, she has spent the last 11 years enjoying marriage, raising kids and working. Cristin worked in the medical field for the first part of those years; first as a receptionist in a doctor’s office and then from home as a medical transcriptionist for a national company. She also owned her own business as a medical transcription subcontractor. Four years ago, Cristin and her husband, Shane, bought an old rundown building that had been an old bar for over … Read More »

Sarina Jensen

Black Hills Equestrian Center
Dakota Rising Lawrence County

Sarina Jensen grew up in Nebraska where she developed a deep love for riding, training and showing horses. Her passion led her to success at the highest levels of equestrian competition and eventually to pursue degrees in Equine Science and Equine Business. She has successfully operated Black Hills Equestrian Center, LTD since 2009, offering horse boarding for 50 horses, horse training, riding lessons, kids’ camps, women’s retreats and, with the addition of sister company Equine Excursions, LLC, leads customized trail rides on the BHEC property and surrounding areas. She is often accompanied by two “Jr. Wranglers;” her children, Preston and Bella, who share her love of horses. Sarina enjoys an active life outside of the equestrian center and can be found riding dirt … Read More »

JB Breeding

JB’s Country Store
Faulkton Area Economic Development Initiative

After graduating from Lake Area Technical Institute, Jordan began working for Kelly Melius with Common Sense Manufacturing as well as on his ranch with horses and cattle. This being a full time job in itself kept Jordan busy. In 2012, a friend entered him in a craft show which gave him the wild ideal to start his own business. The business has since grown into a central location with many different services offered. Jordan feels very fortunate that the Faulkton community has supported his business.


Mark Bower

Aberdeen Parts Store
Dakota Rising Aberdeen

Mark was born and raised on a ranch south of Pierre. He received a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Business at Dakota State University and his life goal was to own his own business. Mark’s first job after college was in a retail management training program for Woolworth. The training was priceless but the advancements were tough so he left in pursuit of his dream to own a business. After other business ventures, Mark started a mobile home repair company. He also wrote a book on mobile home repair and built a website to promote it and later added mobile home parts sales. Increased website sales meant needing more space. After renting a couple of locations, he bought a 4,500 square foot building including a … Read More »

Donovan Schulze

Black Hills CO2
Dakota Rising Lawrence County

Donovan works with his father, Jefferson, and brother, Orin, at Black Hills CO2–and the dynamic amongst them is unbelievable.  The “boys” have brought a great work ethic, computer and sales skills, and a positive, motivated attitude to the company.  The three work very well together and the future of Black Hills CO2 will rest in their hands.  The significant growth and stability of the BHCO2 is the common goal which they all agree upon and work towards daily.  They are particularly good at problem solving and determining when they need to go outside of their personal expertise.  They are honest, loyal and hard-working and expect the same of their employees.

Sandra Wahlert

Barnyard Veterinary Service & Supply
Dakota Rising Lawrence County

Dr. Wahlert grew up in Colorado and has been infatuated with animals since she was a little girl.  She graduated from Colorado State University in 2002 and established Barnyard Veterinary Service & Supply in 2003.  In 2012 she completed her certification for large and small animal veterinary acupuncture and in 2013 she became certified in animal chiropractic manipulation. Before she went to school to become a veterinarian, Dr. Wahlert worked on various cattle and horse ranches in Colorado, Nevada and Montana.  Additionally, she worked as a veterinary assistant in Colorado and Montana where she developed her love of medicine.  She has raised cattle, horses, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, rodents, and a variety of birds.  Dr. Wahlert enjoys spending time with her … Read More »

Jamie Gilcrease-Heupel

Lotus Up Espresso
Dakota Rising Lawrence County

Jamie was born and raised in Washington state.  After overcoming childhood downfalls she was adopted at age 10.  A natural born leader, Jamie moved her family to Lead to follow her dream of owning her own coffee shop.  Jamie began Lotus Up Espresso and Deli in 2010.  Under her leadership, the coffee house has experience 200% increase in gross income, lowered the cost of goods by 3% and now employs between 4 and 7 people.  Since purchasing the coffee shop, she has added a drive thru, banquet room and large outside deck.  Her next large leap of faith will be moving the coffee shop to a new location, which she will not only be a business owner, but also the building owner.

Monte Amende

TDG Communications
Dakota Rising Lawrence County

Born and raised in the Northern Black Hills, Monte Amende received a degree in mass communications from the University of South Dakota in 1993. He has been designing and administering web sites since the mid 1990’s. In 2002, Monte joined TDG as Creative Director. He is responsible for much of the agency’s success in the digital arena, and oversees and directs the agency’s growing team of creatives.

Dustin Floyd

TDG Communications
Dakota Rising Lawrence County

He penned travel books for some of the nation’s biggest publishers by his 25th birthday. He helped launch an online multiplayer video game. And then there’s that whole Oxford University-educated thing. But being part of the first generation to start kindergarten with computers (starting somewhere in ancient antiquity with the Apple IIe), Dustin has unique insight into the way online trends are shaping the buying habits and attitudes of today’s consumers. As TDG Communications’ Benevolent Overlord, that kind of experience comes in handy as he advises clients marketing to a new generation of consumers. In between blogging and social networking, he’s addicted to episodes of Futurama – and, in a true testament to his geekiness, he understands most of the jokes.

Ron Waldner

Snowflake Metalworks
Dakota Rising Lawrence County

Ron’s childhood was spent on the rural prairies near Carpenter, South Dakota.  He attended school in Willow Lake while his passion for design grew.  Farm and shop class experiences with welding and fabrication provided creative outlets and problem-solving opportunities.  After graduating high school in 1987 and a brief stint in a packing plant, he enrolled at Lake Area Votech in Watertown, SD in June of 1988.  He received a degree in Advanced Building Trades, which gave him tools to take on design and construction problems.

He next moved to DeSmet, SD where he went to work for Gordon Holland Construction.  This was a position that brought valuable experience which enhanced his education in this trade.

In the spring of 1991 he started a small manufacturing business in his garage; Yankee Manufacturing.  Through Yankee, he produced a small group … Read More »

Lisa Mueller

Mueller Therapeutic Massage
Faulkton Area Economic Development Initiative

After graduating from Faulkton High School in 2000, Lisa Mueller attended Concordia College, Moorhead, MN where she earned her BA in Exercise Science.  With her passion in the health and wellness field, she knew that she wanted to pursue a career in massage therapy, therefore continued her education at Northwestern Health Sciences University, Bloomington, MN, while also employed as a personal trainer.  Lisa had always had the dream and lifelong goal of being a successful entrepreneur.

After her marriage to husband Kyle, they moved to Algona, IA where she opened her own massage business, Mueller Therapeutic Massage in 2005.  The background and expertise that Lisa brought to her business of overall wellness and fitness made her business an immediate success.  With the opportunity to move to South Dakota in … Read More »

Cheryl Schaefers

Cheryl’s Catering
Faulkton Area Economic Development Initiative

I have always loved to cook. Before my Mom corralled me to start helping her in the house, I spent the summers making mud pies with my sisters. We even set up our store and sold them to our brothers!

My husband Fred and I got married in the drought year of 1976, and began our dairy business just weeks later. We were blessed with seven wonderful children in fourteen years. We worked together as a family in our dairy and farm until the barn burned to the ground in 1992. I began working at the Legion Café in Orient in 1993, and that was where my catering career began to blossom. Once again, we were working together as a family, as we prepared and fed up to 900 people … Read More »

Melanie Hoke

The Burger Shack
Faulkton Area Economic Development Initiative

Melanie was born and raised in Bend, Oregon.  After high school she attended Central Oregon Community College and then Western Oregon State University majoring in Early Childhood Education.  Discovering she had a passion for business, she went into partnership and ran her first restaurant in Oregon for ten years.  She then decided to move to Faulkton in 2010 to be closer to her family and take over her parent’s business.  The Burger Shack was established in 2003 by her parents, then they decided to retire and sell the business to Melanie.

Melanie has been in the food and beverage industry for twenty years, owning a restaurant in Oregon and general Managing a restaurant and Lodge in Kula, Hawaii.  After a lease option on the Burger Shack for two years, … Read More »

Lorri Riley

Rylo, Inc.

Lorri was born and raised on a ranch west of Belle Fourche, SD. While playing basketball at the University of South Dakota, she developed foot problems. She had to have surgical reconstruction of both of her flat feet, which led her into podiatry. Lorri graduated from Des Moines University with the degree of Doctor of podiatric Medicine. She opened her first solo practice – Black Hills Foot Clinic – in Spearfish in 1992. Dr. Riley started the Spearfish Surgery Center in 1995.

In 2005, Lorri received a patent for ThinNail®, a topical treatment for thinning thick nails. In 2006, she formed a company called Rylo, Inc. to market ThinNail®. Her most recent product is called J1 Insoles®. J1 Insoles® is patent pending for its unique design in providing a generic arch support for people with flat … Read More »

Jeff Prior

Dakota Greens of Custer
Southern Hills On The Rise

Jeff & Robin prior have been the driving force behind this family owned business since its start in 1999. Dakota Greens of Custer was a roadside flower stand on the family property until 2004. The prior’s were married in Custer in 2000 and made it their permanent residence in 2004. Jeff retired from the US Army in 2006. The greenhouse and nursery business has steadily grown, retails a full line of garden plants, and is proud to supply and care for the City of Custer’s beautiful hanging gardens every Spring. These baskets are displayed by Custer’s main street business district from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Jeff is a Certified Nurseryman, holds an A.S. degree in Ornamental Horticulture, and a grower of Annuals & … Read More »

Kelly Melius

Common Sense Manufacturing
Faulkton Area Economic Development Initiative

Kelly grew up on a family farm in rural Faulk County, SD. After high school he attended Mitchell Vo-Tech receiving a degree as an electrician. Kelly worked in the Minneapolis area as an electrician, but had a strong desire to return to his family’s farm. He moved back to the Faulkton area where he ran Kelly’s Electric and farmed and ranched with his father. He formed a partnership with his father called M&M Farms. While farming, he saw a need for a heavy duty bale feeder that would be durable and eliminate waste caused by the feeders that were available. Kelly and a friend worked together to design a unique cradle-style bale feeder, which Kelly later patented. Common Sense Balefeeder became its registered trademark … Read More »

Troy McQuillen

Elmwood Studios
Dakota Rising Aberdeen

After a typical childhood in Aberdeen, Troy packed his things and headed for Los Angeles to attend film school at the University of Southern California. He graduated in 1987 and worked in the film business for about thirteen months. He didn’t like the direction he was headed. Troy went back to the University and convinced them he was a graphic designer and was hired by the School of Business.

Troy moved back home to Aberdeen, got married, bought a house and began working as a graphic designer. Ten years later he would have a staff of 13 and dozens of name-brand Aberdeen accounts. Troy and wife Suzette purchased a historic building in downtown Aberdeen and continue to restore it. McQuillen Creative Group offices out of this building.

Troy has grown his business from a one-man shop that … Read More »

Margaret Lindskov

The Bunkhouse Inn of Isabel

Margaret was born and raised in Isabel, SD. After graduating from Isabel High School, she attended Stewart’s School of Hairstyling and received herCosmetology License. Margaret started her own business out of her home in Isabel and as her business grew, moved it to a larger location on Main Street, Isabel. In 1989, she and her husband, Dennis, purchased Hel-Mar Candles and renamed it Dakota Country Candles, merging it and her hair salon into one building. Margaret operated these businesses full-time until choosing to pursue a degree in Education. After graduating with an Education Degree, Suma Cum Laude from Northern State University and SiTanka University, she taught at Eagle Butte Upper Elementary until she and Dennis took 100% ownership of the implement and car dealership they’d been in partnership with for over 25 years. They also purchased the local motel … Read More »

Cindy Kopecky

The Potting Shed
Faulkton Area Economic Development Initiative

Cindy and Jerry Kopecky opened The potting Shed Greenhouse the spring of 2010. A long time passion for gardening and the desire to own their own business has led them to a successful businessventure in Faulkton, SD. The business and finance experience that Cindy gained as the Business Official of the Faulkton Area Schools for the past 27 years has been a valuable asset tothe Kopecky’s. The potting Shed is the only greenhouse in the county and the Kopecky’s have enjoyed building the business into a destination spot for surrounding community residents. One of their goals was to enhance the gardening experience for residents by offering classes, project Days, and new and innovative products.

Cindy and Jerry have been lifelong residents of the Faulkton area; raised three sons; have … Read More »

Emily Heintzman

Double Duty Portable Storage

From an early age, Emily has known that one day she would operate a large company. She has used every job and experience as a learning opportunity to gain the skills needed to be successful. Working as a distributor, owning her own salons, being a landlord, and managing her family of six and foster children on a budget has prepared her for this next stage. Over the past two years, she and her husband have researched and started Double Duty portable Storage and Movers in Aberdeen. The company provides services to both residents and commercial businesses that need moving, portable storage, and transfer services. Currently operating in the Aberdeen area, the company plans to expand to the Midwest region and eventually become the leading portable storage and moving company in the nation. Double Duty’s … Read More »

Chris and Richard Brill

RABCO Products,

The father and son team of Richard and Chris Brill started RABCO products in 2002 and moved it to Spearfish in 2009 to fill a niche of selling and manufacturing custom vinyl envelopes, sheet protectors, badge ID holders, restaurant menu covers, and more. RABCO is able to foil stamp logos and other information on their products as well. With Richard’s 40+ years in the plastics manufacturing industry and Chris’ business and IT background with MCI Communications and other telecom companies, they are determined to grow RABCO products into a competitive plastics manufacturing company. RABCO has leased a facility in Spearfish, SD, and has purchased several machines in order to manufacture in the Black Hills. Chris and Richard are off to a great start and look forward to many years here in SD.