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ACTIVATE U: A Place to Hear Real Life Stories From Real Life Small Business Owners

Everyone has a story. At Dakota Business Lending, we’ve had the opportunity to hear and be a part of hundreds of stories from small businesses throughout the state. Whether their stories are long, short, challenging, easy, inspiring, filled with ups and downs, or anything in between, we believe these stories have the power to help others in a way that nobody else can. Today, we sat down with Preston Braathen, one of our business development officers, and talked about what he does to get these stories heard throughout the state of North Dakota and beyond: by hosting the ACTIVATE U podcast.


Why start a podcast? 

At Dakota Business Lending, our mission is to find financing solutions for small businesses, join them along their journey, and be a resource for them. A big part of starting a business is dealing with people and facing different situations, so we wanted to give people a platform where they can share that journey and help others along the way. By doing this, we’re providing a free resource for small business owners so they can take the next step towards starting or growing their business. 

Why “ACTIVATE U”?

ACTIVATE is an acronym for eight critical aspects of owning a business – Allow, Collaborate, Technology, Innovate, Value, Assist, Thrive, and Execute – and is a sub-brand of Dakota Business Lending. When the idea for the podcast came about, we had already been hosting our “ACTIVATE Women” learning workshops, so it made sense to continue along that path. We added the “U” to make it sound like a school or “university”, but it can also stand for “you” as an individual who is trying to learn something. The podcast is another way to help people “activate” their lives or their businesses and take it to the next level.  

What do you hope people take away from listening to ACTIVATE U? 

In each episode, our hope is that listeners can take away at least one thing they can do in their lives or to start or grow their business. As for the entire podcast, our mission is to show people that starting a business is not a formula or straight line. It is a journey filled with ups and downs. However, there are hundreds of people that have pivoted, pushed through, and figured out a solution. Our hope is that listeners walk away feeling like they can do the same.

What is “Pastries with Preston?”

“Pastries with Preston” is a segment we do at the end of each podcast episode to get to know the business owner on a more personal level. A lot of the conversation in the first half of the podcast tends to be more about their business, so we take some time to ask them something fun and more personal while we enjoy our featured guest’s favorite donut and/or pastry from a local bakery, coffee shop, or grocery store. It helps break down barriers, relate to listeners, and show them that these business owners are people just like them. Plus, who doesn’t like having a conversation over donuts?

How have you grown? What is your vision for ACTIVATE U moving forward? 

We’ve grown a lot in the sheer number of podcast episodes we’ve produced. When we first started the ACTIVATE U podcast in 2019, new episodes were released biweekly. In 2020, we decided to transition to weekly podcasts for 12 weeks straight, 3 times a year. Our goal moving forward is to average between 30-40 episodes per year so we can share as many stories as we can from a variety of industries but, just like many businesses, we’ve had to pivot our goals with the ever-changing world.

We also want to continue to expand who we feature on the podcast. At the beginning, we started by highlighting borrowers who have done loans with us, mostly in the F/M areas since that’s where our headquarters is located. Now, we’ve expanded by featuring some of our partners, co-sponsors, and others that we’ve worked with. We’ve even traveled to Minot and spent the entire day recording podcasts with small businesses there. One day, we hope to do an in-person event where we have a live podcast recorded. 

What has been the most challenging part about planning, managing, and producing the podcast? 

This whole thing has been a learning process. When we first started planning the podcast, we had to figure out all the background stuff – audio, hosting sites, equipment, editing, positioning, etc. Then, we had to learn how to talk with people on the podcast and how to position questions, so it sounds like a story. Learning as you go like that is always challenging, 

As far as production goes, creating any type of content takes a lot of time so the most challenging part is to keep producing content and continue to improve it in any way we can.  It is all learning process.

What have you learned throughout the process of ACTIVATE U? 

Overall, hosting this podcast has taught me that, if you have an idea, you have the ability to do it. Whether it’s by asking questions, researching, or trial by fire, hundreds of small business owners have overcome the unknown, and you and I are no different. There are also a lot of people and resources out there that are willing to help you along the way.

Preston Braathen

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Written by Steve Dusek

Steve Dusek is the president and CEO of Dakota Business Lending. He has over twenty-eight years of experience in managing and delivering non-traditional lending solutions for small business in rural America and in maintaining successful business cultures.

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