Meet the Speakers

Meet The Speakers

Mikaela Kate Schaefer

Finding Your Why: Discovering Your Motivation for Your Ultimate Purpose

A speaker, writer, and coach, Mikaela Kate has invested 15+ years in developing leaders from college-age men and women and older.  Her past experience in ministry, leading multiple teams, and engaging in one on one development makes her highly qualified to coach teams and individuals to achieve their goals.  More recently she has worked in the manufacturing industry, the retail and clothing industry, with start-up businesses, independent sales teams, and entrepreneurs.

A graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in marketing, she discovered her love for strategic thinking, big picture ideas, and meeting people where they are at.  Mikaela currently lives in South Carolina.


Mo Collins

Women in Technology in the New Economy

Mo Collins is a New Economy specialist with more than 20 years of academic, non-profit and entrepreneurial experience. She speaks throughout the United States and Canada.

Collins served in progressive, senior-level roles at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) between 1997 and 2014. She raised more than $1M annually to support a wide array of entrepreneur support programs and launched multiple tech-based economic development initiatives. Many of these innovations have been scaled and licensed outside of Iowa, earning personal and programmatic awards from the International Economic Development Council (2014), the University Economic Development Association (2010, 2014), the Technology Association of Iowa, the Midwest Economic Development Council and Association of Small Business Development Centers.

Since 2010, Collins has trained and published for the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the Economic Development institute (EDI) and a number of universities through the United States and Canada.  Mo resides in Des Moines, Iowa.


Julie Wright

Why They Buy: For High Achievers – Cracking the Code to Achieve Record Sales, Real Wealth, and Build Better Relationships

Julie Wright is a successful entrepreneur, writer, professional keynote and workshop speaker on money, marketing, and high performance mindsets, as well as a business coach and consultant.  She is Founder and CEO of Executive Financial Architects, with clients worldwide.

Julie has spoken to and worked with entrepreneurs, small business owners and professionals globally.  As creator of The 10X Profit Coach Program, she motivates, inspires and helps her clients increase their wealth by growing businesses, so that more communities grow and thrive.

CEO’s, Marketing & Sales Teams, Medical Residency programs, as well as Leadership and Entrepreneurial programs have experienced quick turn-around growth and results from working with Julie and her proven 10X Profit Methods.  She lives in Clear Lake, Iowa.


Sarah Grant

Featured Lunch Keynote | Founder of STICKS, Inc

Sarah Grant is a native of Ames whose art education was at Iowa State, Colorado State and the University of Iowa, where she earned bachelor and master’s degrees in printmaking and another master’s in painting. Her colorful, fun Sticks art comes not only in individual pieces, but has been designed into renovations of business offices and even whole hospitals, like Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines. The Sticks company has employed as many as 200 over the past 25 years, many of them professional artists.

Sticks origins date back to 1985 when Sarah Grant, an abstract painter and college art instructor, was commissioned to design a wooden nativity set for Better Homes & Gardens Decorative Woodcrafts magazine. At the time, Sarah’s artistic background was solely focused on drawing and painting linear surfaces, and this project challenged Sarah to incorporate her artistry onto a 3-D surface.

The Sticks style is very distinctive; at once painterly and playful, resonating with a quirky exuberance. A small imperfection here and there is all part of the work’s beauty and charm. To be a Sticks artists is to learn the art of being wholeheartedly and unapologetically yourself without ever taking yourself too seriously. And to understand that each piece is a collaborative labor of love for all those involved, with equal respect for everyone’s contribution at every stage of design & development. To this day, every Sticks piece is created with the same lighthearted, life-affirming flavor & philosophy as Sarah’s very first piece. After all, it’s all about storytelling: Your story.

Sticks is located in Des Moines, Iowa.  Today Sarah’s daughter, Rachel Eubank is Sticks president.

Meet the Investor Panel

Heidi Wessels

Featured Facilitator for Pitch for The Purse | Investor Panel

Heidi Wessels is a graduate of Drake University. Her career spans several industries including commercial construction, pre-architectural planning and non-profit management. She most recently spent 18 months cultivating membership and developing FIN Capital, Iowa’s first women’s angel investing network. Her passion is assisting small business owners and start-ups with development and growth planning.


Adrienne Greenwald

VentureNet Iowa

Adrienne is the Director of Communications and Public Relations at VentureNet Iowa where she shepherds entrepreneurs applying for state funding. She holds a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from ISU and an MA in Strategic Communication from UNI. Her checkered past includes a variety of political campaigns, women’s health non-profits and teaching English abroad. She’s also an amateur yogi, cyclist, and dog lover.


John LaMarche

VentureNet Iowa

John LaMarche is Principal at VentureNet Iowa, an organization that works with companies commercializing innovative technologies. VentureNet, through its expert network, conducts focus groups that evaluate and assist businesses seeking funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. John serves on the boards of several technology companies and actively participates in Iowa ecosystem’s supporting early-stage companies.

Megan Milligan

Iowa Center for Economic Success

Megan is the current President & CEO at the Iowa Center for Economic Success, an organization which helps people grow, strenthen, and stablize their wealth.  Through education & resources, credit & lending programs, and advocacy & networking, the Center aims to help start and grow small businesses.  Work for Megan revolves around one singular mission: empowering people and teams to get and remain relevant in our changing world.


Susan Austin

FIN Capital

Susan has an educational background in Economics and Quantitative Methods, with an MBA in finance. She has worn many hats with experience in Corporate America, starting businesses and a non-profit, volunteering, and stay-at-home parent. Currently she’s an angel investor for Fin Capital, with an additional role as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. Susan’s exploring different avenues and life pivots as she joyfully strives for balanced living with an entrepreneurial lifestyle.

Ryan Gerhardy

Next Level Ventures

Ryan is a Senior Associate at Next Level Ventures, a $40M Iowa-focused venture capital fund. Prior to joining Next Level Ventures in 2014, Ryan worked over five years of in investment banking, equities research and project finance. Ryan is a member of Plains Angels and is actively involved in the startup community in Iowa. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Notre Dame Australia and a Masters of Finance from Curtin University.


Cayla Weisberg


As partner at InvestHER Ventures, Cayla focuses on investing in emerging technology companies founded and led by women. With a track record for scaling early-stage start up’s, Cayla analyzes deals with a sales lens: offering hands on partnership to each of InvestHER’s portfolio companies. Her expertise includes: software enabled business services, data driven products, and enterprise solutions for untapped markets.

Cayla’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurship began young, having launched a concierge shopping business at 17 years old. At 19, she joined forces with a fashion wholesaler, winning the business of national retail conglomerates throughout undergrad. Post grad, Cayla worked for one of Fortune’s “100 Fastest-Growing Companies” as assistant director, achieving record breaking sales performance for three consecutive years. Following this success, she transitioned into the startup ecosystem, leading business development initiatives for two fast-growing tech companies at a venture capital incubator.

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