The program’s inaugural EIRs are Ben Hanten and Sue Lancaster. Hanten has owned several media ventures and is the former editor-in-chief of Tempest Magazine and marketing director of South Dakota Magazine in Yankton. In 2005 he founded Ben's, the first smoke-free bar in South Dakota. In 2007, he co-founded Rockin’ Ribfest drawing more than 15,000 people to the annual one-day event. In 2014, he founded Think 29, a media and events company promoting entrepreneurship through the I-29 corridor between Sioux City and Fargo. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council and is a frequent speaker on college campuses and conferences in the upper Midwest. Lancaster, meanwhile, is director of business development at South Dakota Innovation Partners and has depth of experience in launching research-derived innovations, particularly in the life sciences and agriculture markets. She earned her B.S. in biology (2010) and M.S. in Biomedical Engineering (2012) from USD and is Lean Six Sigma Certified.

These top entrepreneurs, and future EIRs, will be available for one-on-one mentoring and/or speaking engagements to classes and student organizations. They are available to provide insight and guidance to USD students and faculty as they develop products and services with an economic impact for Vermillion, the region, and South Dakota.

“Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a strategic focus area for both the Beacom School of Business and the USD,” stated Venky Venkatachalam, dean of the Beacom School of Business. “The EIR program’s goal is to connect the USD community of students and faculty across various disciplines with industry executives, serial entrepreneurs, and the investing community to provide experiential learning opportunities for students while enhancing the Vermillion and South Dakota economies.”

Venkatachalam added that the primary expected outcome is development of South Dakota’s “Next Generation Entrepreneurs.”

In the fall of 2014 the Beacom School of Business established a new strategic vision, which includes an emphasis on economic development with a focus towards innovation and entrepreneurship. The School is aggressively working towards realizing this vision through innovative academic programs, student and faculty engagement including experiential learning opportunities, and strong relationship with industry/business leaders including entrepreneur and investor communities in the state and the region. The EIR program will support this vision through the delivery of real-world experiences and combining external entrepreneurial expertise with USD student and faculty talent. The EIR experts provide students with the opportunity to learn best practices for starting a business and giving them insight into specific markets and industries.

A collaborative effort between the Beacom School of Business and the USD Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and with assistance from the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company, the EIR program is open to students and faculty in all disciplines across USD, including business. For more information about the EIR program or the Beacom School of Business, contact Venkatachalam at (605) 677-5455 or email

Download a photo of Venkatachalam.

Download a photo of Hanten.

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