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Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs

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It’s Time to Celebrate Women Entrepreneurs

By Diana Wright, ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship

We had an idea (what a novelty for an entrepreneurship center, right)…

What if we celebrate women entrepreneurs and help amplify the message that women can start something and take the lead, right now? Why is this important, you ask…

We believe that it’s important to not only grow the community of women entrepreneurs or those that to aspire to be — but to show successful pathways as blueprints for women entrepreneurs. It’s time for women to take credit for the roles they play in successful businesses, and start even more businesses that solve problems or add to the quality of life.

The stories start here. We have started to collect stories from women entrepreneurs living in Iowa and women from Iowa who have successfully launched in other parts of the country.

The end result? We hope for inspired action — the act of following your heart or listening to your internal nudge to do something, to start something now. It’s our hope as we build the blueprint to better support women entrepreneurs in Iowa and beyond, that we can be the catalyst for those that aspire to start a business or start a business again.

Iowa is a hotbed for entrepreneurs. It’s time for women to take credit for the roles they play in successful businesses, and generate even more that solve problems or improve our quality of life.


Ann Oleson, CEO of Converge Consulting

Ann Oleson, CEO & founder of Converge Consulting, located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ann received her bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University in business marketing.

Converge Consulting is an Inbound/Digital Marketing Company for Higher Education. We help colleges and universities across the world to recruit students by attracting the right audience, and using the right message at the right time.

When I face a challenge I…

Look at all sides of the equation. Open up the lens that I see things through and put myself into others shoes. Design thinking is a big concept and idea right now. Balancing design and business thinking is where innovation comes.

The most courageous thing I’ve ever done as an entrepreneur is…

Five years ago I left my current very solid position to start a company. I leveraged all of my assets including my children’s college funds to start Converge. This year we were named #378 on the Inc 5000 list of highest growth companies in the US.

If I could go back in time to when I started my business I would…

Stop worrying about what other people think. Every one of us is capable of more than even we believe. Surround yourself with people who help you to make good choices and that can help you to realize your dreams.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is…

Tony Robbins, “Do more for others than anyone else. If you add more value than your competition you will always experience growth.”

My favorite business tool/resource/book/podcast is…

The Little Red Book of Sales; Good to Great– Jim Collins

What I would tell other women entrepreneurs starting out…

Believe in what you want so much that it has no choice but to materialize.


Jennifer Chang, co-founder of Complex Computation

Complex Computation helps data scientists analyze and visualize complex data sets so they can solve real world problems. Mango is our flagship software we have developed with a massive range of capabilities from medical R&D, cybersecurity, and even potential military uses. Our goal as a business with Mango is to be the ultimate solution for big data analysis.

Jennifer Chang, pictured second to the left, was recently awarded the 2016 Collegian Innovation and Leadership at the Women of Innovation Awards. Jennifer is pursuing her Ph.D. at Iowa State University in bioinformatics and computational biology. The Complex Computation team is currently in the ISU Startup Factory, a 52-week intensive program housed at the ISU Research Park.

When I face a challenge, I….

Break it down into small steps…and use Google search.

The most courageous thing I’ve ever done as an entrepreneur is…

Contacting old friends on LinkedIn in order to do customer discovery. Most of the time, I was asking them about a business I knew nothing about.

If I could go back to when I started my business I would tell myself…

Create or find templates for yourself. All those class assignments are practice for creating business reports. Save everything you did in Statistics and hire a graphic designer to make things look professional. Also, do not do everything yourself, delegate! Focus on your talent and start building a team that works together.

My favorite business tool/resource/book/podcast is…

Startup from Gimlet Media and Cortex with CGP Grey. Business tools — Google Drive, Google Calendar, and a minimalistic bullet journal to identify productive-work from busy-work.

My favorite quote is…

“Forward Momentum” by Miles Vorkosigan

What I would tell other women entrepreneurs starting out…

Take it one step at a time. List things as small actionable steps. Be ok with an uncertain future but do the work to reduce the odds. Seek out mentors for encouragement and advice.


Jessica Balsley, founder of Art of Education

Jessica Balsley is the founder and president of The Art of Education, based out of Osage, Iowa. Jessica proudly celebrates 5 years in business.

The Art of Education is an innovative higher learning institution committed to delivering amazing professional development to art educators everywhere.

When I face a challenge, I…

Get organized. Lay out all of the moving parts, organize them into meaningful chunks and start to chip away, one task at a time. I have a quote on my wall that says, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

The most courageous thing I’ve ever done as an entrepreneur is…

Besides quitting my job to work for myself, it would be having the courage to say no to the status quo, and dare to live the life I envisioned for myself and my family — not one someone else crafted for me, or expects for me.

The best piece of advice I’ve been given is…

Fake it until you make it. Don’t wait until you are an expert or perfect at something to try it and own it. Go ahead and get your feet wet. You might surprise yourself.

My favorite business tool/resource/book/podcast is…

Miracle Morning and the Slow Hustle Podcast

What I would tell other women entrepreneurs starting out…

Craft out your ideal day, your ideal job, your ideal life, and start chipping away at chasing it. If you don’t know what you want, how will anyone else? Don’t be afraid to delegate and focus on only the tasks you can do according to your unique strengths.


Shannon Latham, Vice President of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds/Owner & Founder of Enchanted Acres

Latham Hi-Tech Seeds (formed in 2009 when Latham Hi-Tech Hybrids merged with Latham Seed Company) has been serving farmers for 70 years with the latest seed genetics and the highest quality of products. My husband (John) and I founded Latham Hi-Tech Hybrids in 2004 — Latham Seed Co. was founded in 1947 by John’s grandfather.

Enchanted Acres is the place where dreams take root. It’s a place where all families can escape reality for a few hours and simply enjoy spending time together in the great outdoors. Located in Sheffield, Iowa, family and children giddily pet our goats, march through the enchanted forest, pick out their favorite pumpkins, and can browse our selection of locally made products in The Market. Enchanted Acres has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, wild with imagination, and I’m excited to share life’s simple pleasures with my children and yours.

Shannon Latham is a wife, mother, and serial entrepreneur. Shannon received her bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University in ag journalism and public & administration in ag.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is…

Value yourself.

When my husband and I were starting our business, one of my former employers encouraged me to obtain equal shares in the business as my husband. He said that would help establish me as a true business partner, rather than “the wife” with 50:50 ownership.

My favorite business tool/resource/book/podcast is…

My favorite business author is Peter Lencioni. I appreciate how he puts life lessons and sage business advice into a novel format, so I obtain valuable advice while being entertained. Death by Meeting changed our meeting structure. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team helped me understand some of the challenges we had while trying to meld two companies into one new culture.

My favorite quote is…

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill

What I would tell other women entrepreneurs starting out…

Remember, it takes time to build a business. Don’t expect success — or even payment — overnight. Your network is your key to success.

Take the time to write a business plan, and then implement it. Be sure to update and revise your plan along the way. Market conditions change… The business environment changes… You adapt. And you lead if you can.

Be careful whom you trust. After all, the devil was once an angel. Not all of your friends will remain trustworthy. Sometimes women are more critical of women and oftentimes they’re more jealous of other women. With that said, I’ve been told that some men find me threatening because I’m confident and am not afraid of making a decision or standing up for my convictions. I’ve learned that not everyone has my best interest at heart. Although my first reaction is to trust people and expect the best in them, I’ve learned that trust and respect are earned.

Remember, you can’t please everyone all the time. Make the best decision you can based on the information you have. Don’t dwell on the negatives and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go according to plan. Live and learn.

Know there will be up and downs. During those dark times, call on mentors and cheerleaders to help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. There will be plenty of people who will shatter your confidence if you let them, so it’s important to build a support network. Find people who can empathize with your situation and whom can be a sounding board.