SheTALKS highlights women entrepreneurs and their community impact

By Melanie Van Horn, senior studying public relations at Iowa State University

Combine seven women with stories, 20-slides per person, and just 20 seconds to present each slide, and you get SheTalks: Women Who Create, a Pappajohn Center event which wrapped up Women Entrepreneurship Week at Iowa State on Thursday, October 24.

Inspired by the Japanese presentation platform PechaKucha, the event featured seven local women who create and impact their communities. The seven featured entrepreneurs used their six-minute presentations to highlight STEM education, food insecurity, entrepreneurship, the arts, and their own personal journeys of creation.

The evening kicked off with Michelle Book, director of Food Bank of Iowa, emphasizing the impact hunger and food security has on people across America, as well as the connections between economic stability and having enough food to eat.

“To end hunger, we must end poverty,” Book said.

Up next was a high-energy presentation from Lyndsey Fennelly, co-owner of Campus Cycle, who engaged the audience to keep her on track while highlighting tips, advice and what inspires her to make a difference in her community.

“Every time the slide changes, you guys clap, okay?” Fennelly commended.

A former stand-out women’s basketball player at Iowa State, Fennelly shared her top three ingredients for a successful business: care, consistency, and community.  According to Fennelly, the most important thing she discovered to create her business was her “why” – her family.

“Once you know your ‘why’, you don’t need anything else,” Fennelly said.

Dr. Seda McKilligan followed up Fennelly’s high energy presentation. Like Fennelly, McKilligan sought to understand a different why.

“When I teach students in my classes, I push and ask why. The question always goes back to why – why do I create?” McKilligan said.

McKilligan, the Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Design and Professor of Industrial Design, shared her journey of building bridges between disciplines at Iowa State. After coming to the United States from Turkey 17 years ago, McKilligan sought to understand how designers think. Her research allowed her to collaborate with many different kinds of thinkers, from engineers and designers to psychologists and marketing professionals.

“Working with the right people at the right time makes a difference,” McKilligan said.

During a short break, Alexis Holmes, a local community member, said she enjoyed how the presentation style provided a fun take on the conventional lecture.

“I like how it keeps the speakers on topic and engaged with the audience,” Holmes said.

Dr. Charissa Menefee, associate professor in the Iowa State Theater Department, said she was drawn in by all the speakers’ connections to their local communities. As an artist who has worked with Iowa State University students, Menefee noted how important it is for artists to establish a sense of place and to find their own metrics of success within the things that they create.

“I was really curious to investigate the connection of entrepreneurship to place and community,” Menefee said.

After the break, the SheTalks resumed with the first duo of the night. Natalie Dayton and Kati Colby co-founded The Drop, a community-based fitness platform that connects its users to boutique fitness clubs in Des Moines. They shared how networking and connecting within the Des Moines community helped get their business off the ground.

“Always phone a friend,” Dayton said. “There are tons of people willing to support you, they just need to know about your idea.”

Nancy Mwirotsi shared the connections she made through her Pi515 program, which teaches STEM skills to refugees and low-income students in the Des Moines metro. Mwirotsi shared how her journey began with dance class for young girls, but soon her vision expanded.

“It was great and beautiful, but they needed more,” Mwirotsi said.

Mwirotsi shared the story of a young man from a refugee camp in Tanzania who learned to build websites and passed whatever he learned on to his sisters. The student now attends Iowa State University and said that had it not been for Mwirotsi’s program, he would have become a farmer.

“I had no intention of starting anything at all. I just started,” Mwirotsi said.

The last speaker of the night was Debra Marquart, a distinguished professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Iowa’s Poet Laureate. Marquart’s SheTalk was titled “How Fish Learned to Sing,” and combined ecological history with Marquart’s own family history and her past as a musician.

“Where does music reside?” Marquart posed to the audience.

She closed the presentation on a haunting note, sharing how climate change and human interference have pushed a critically endangered whale species to evolve and use its songs for mourning rather than communication.

“They never forget their mellifluous song which makes humans forever kin to the whale,” Marquart said. “The Eastern North-Pacific Right Whale, so critically endangered with only 30 of this sub-group left in the world, previously screamed and warbled has now begun to sing.”