Prairie Portrait: Ben Hanten of Ben’s Brewing Co.
Name: Ben Hanten
Bio: I'm a lifelong South Dakotan (outside of 10 months in Colorado) with a passion for business. Over the years I've started five companies and spend most of my time running my bars — Ben's and the Copper Room in Yankton. My current projects center on angel investing and building our entrepreneurial community in South Dakota.
Title: President of Hanten, Inc.
Residence: Yankton, S.D.
Intro music: "Love Blood", by Sleeper Agent
Silicon Prairie News: You spent several years in magazine publishing before opening Ben's Brewing Co. What led to your decision to make such a significant career shift?
Ben Hanten: I don't see publishing as being a lot different than running a bar. Both types of businesses need to be run like a campaign in order to be successful. Both require you to work long, erratic hours. Both involve creative marketing campaigns. I think publishing prepared me well to run bars.
SPN: Looking back at year one of the Wire Me Awake conference, what stands out as one thing you might do differently in the future and one smashing success?
BH: We really have been overwhelmed by the awesome response for year one. Next year I want to find a better date so that it doesn't fall within weeks of other entrepreneurial conferences like Thinc Iowa and the Innovation Expo in Sioux Falls. The greatest thing to me about Wire Me Awake is that something like 80 percent of the attendees had never attended a conference like it. I'm glad we were able to reach them!
SPN: To what would you attribute your interest in building the entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Dakota? Are there any people or experiences that were particularly influential in that regard?
BH: I have started about eight businesses (dating back to middle school) and I am really passionate about the freedom of entrepreneurship. I'm spending as much of my free time as possible to help build a startup community in the Sioux City and Sioux Falls area because I feel it's an area of our economy that has been ignored for way too long. It's time to highlight successes and connect people who should be connected. There is no question that the hard work of Silicon Prairie News and their marquee events have had a tremendous effect on me in these efforts.
SPN: In the deals you've seen in your time with Two Bridges Capital, what stand out as the the biggest strengths and the most glaring needs for tech startups in South Dakota?
BH: Two Bridges Capital has been blessed with a tremendous amount of deal flow in a short amount of time. Our fund is made up of some of the most experienced, successful business leaders in our region, and that helps a lot because "angel" implies more than just money. A lot of times the expertise and connections are more important than the money. I'm the youngest of the group and I really appreciate the level of knowledge that surrounds me.
There are two big challenges to tech startups in South Dakota. One is that I feel that part of my responsibility as an angel is to get entrepreneurs to their next round of financing, and I don't know too many Series A venture capitalists that invest in tech startups in our region. That's one thing I'm looking for. Second, we need more programmers — as consultants, technical co-founders, etc. We have schools turning out great programmers — we just need to create the environment where they will want to stay here to build locally.
SPN: Time for a question that tests your expertise in startups and brewing. For each state in the Silicon Prairie (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota), what's one beer from an upstart brewery that you'd recommend to readers, and why?
BH: I love beer and this is more like it! When in Iowa, I'm drinking a Peacetree Hop Wrangler. In Kansas, it's the Tallgrass Oasis. I love Schlafly's Oatmeal Stout when in Missouri, although if Boulevard still counts as an upstart brewery I'm going with The Sixth Glass from the Smokestack Series. I love Lucky Bucket's IPA in Nebraska, and Crow Peak Brewery in Spearfish, South Dakota makes fantastic beers. If I have to choose one, I'll take their 11th Hour IPA.
Credits: Photo by 605 Magazine.
Prairie Portraits: To learn more about this series, see our introduction post, or visit our archives for past Prairie Portraits. To suggest an individual for a future Prairie Portrait, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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