An entrepreneur with decades of experience marketing technology companies and startups has been named the new executive director of the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship.

Michelle Gjerde, a Vienna native and Augustana University graduate, was one of the first employees at Gateway, serving as the company’s first internal public relations manager. She then worked for Minnesota-based software pioneer Firepond and on to Silicon Valley where she joined high-tech PR firm Copithorne & Bellows, representing Hewlett Packard and Iomega.

She moved to the Twin Cities to work for global PR agency Fleishman Hillard before joining Digital River, a fast-growing e-commerce infrastructure company.  In 2000, Gjerde founded Propel, a sales and marketing consulting firm that focused on launch plans and growth strategies for entrepreneurs.

An entrepreneur herself, Gjerde founded Propel, a sales and marketing consulting firm she ran out of Minneapolis for 14 years. With a team of subcontractors with various areas of expertise, Gjerde designed and implemented launch plans and growth strategies for entrepreneurs.

“Start-ups are my passion,” Gjerde said in a news release. “I especially enjoy helping entrepreneurs align their vision with real market opportunity.  I am fascinated with the entire product innovation process – from conception to launch to profitability and I see a growing need for entrepreneurial resources and support.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to position Zeal as the ‘go to’ hub for innovation here in my home state of South Dakota.”

Gjerde has been following Zeal and its growth for a few years and thought the opportunity to lead it came at just the right time, she said. Gjerde replaces Rich Naser, who will move into a strategic advisory role at Zeal while leading the development of the USD Discovery District.

“We’ve been very intentional with this executive director search for Zeal as we believe Sioux Falls is on the cusp of big things in our entrepreneurial community,” said Paul TenHaken, Zeal board chairman, in the news release. “We could not be happier to have found someone of Michelle’s caliber and passion for entrepreneurship to lead us into this next chapter.”

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