Women share their ‘create’ stories as part of SheTalks

Michelle Book talks for SheTalks at the Women Who Create Conference at the ISU Economic Development Core Facility on Thursday.

Logan Metzger

Bringing an end to Women Entrepreneurship Week was one event full of presentations by women who create.

Following the Women Who Create Conference, a community cocktail reception took place, showcasing six SheTalks presentations.

A “SheTalk” is inspired by the Japanese PechaKucha, which is a presentation style where each presenter shows 20 slides, each for 20 seconds. All of the six stories were told by women.

“This is an event to end the day and celebrate women and recognize women who create in all our different communities and in different ways,” said Diana Wright, a program coordinator for the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. “I definitely believe we all have this innate calling to create and I think after tonight you going to find that all of us do.”

The first presentation was by Michelle Book, president and CEO of the Food Bank of Iowa, who’s presentation was titled “Food Insecurity.”

“Mesopotamia means ‘land between rivers’ and ancient Mesopotamians are credited with the early beginnings of agriculture,” Book said. “Iowa, also a land between rivers, is the modern-day Mesopotamia.”

Book said 85 percent of the land in Iowa is used farmland, making Iowa the first in the nation for corn production and leads in the production of many other agricultural commodities.

“Proud Iowa farmers like to say ‘we feed the world’ but here in Iowa some people are still hungry,” Book said.

Book said hunger is the direct result of poverty and went on to provide statistics. She said 28 percent of children live with parents who lack secure employment and these children test 60 percent below proficiency levels in reading and math. She said one in six senior citizens face hunger, and brought up how rural Americans and veterans are some of the most likely to face hunger.

Other statistics Book said included the fact that 37 million Americans face hunger every day while 18 million tons of food is wasted annually, one pound of food waste per person per day.

“With one in nine Americans hungry, I am going to guess you know someone who needs help,” Book said. “Be part of a solution, donate, volunteer at a food bank or your local food pantry. Talk to your legislator and advocate for poverty and hunger issues, tell the story on behalf of someone who can’t.”

The second presentation was by Lyndsey Fennelly, co-owner or CampusCycle and Iowa State alumna, whose presentation was titled “People Champion.”

CampusCycle is a high energy, beat-driven spin studio featuring boutique athletic wear with studios in Ames and Ankeny, Iowa.

“I am no one special,” Fennelly said. “I was born and the only change, that I don’t have yet, is my death certificate.”

Fennelly said she is not an expert but is only an experiencer and lives by the Mahatma Gandhi quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” She said the one world she lives by in her life is “impact.”

Fennelly went on to talk about her history up until this conference. She was a student-athlete, playing basketball at Iowa State from 2003 to 2007. She runs a basketball camp that started in 2005 and continues to teach at. In 2017, Fennelly and her business partner, Kelsey Carper, were awarded the 2017 Entrepreneurs of the Year awarded by the Ames Chamber of Commerce.

She had many different suggestions for running a successful business and life which included: care about everything that goes on from the smallest thing to the biggest, stay consistent, create a community in your life and business, spend time intentionally and stay very organized.

“This is my beautiful family, this is my ‘why,’ this is why I wake up every day despite having to take pills, despite having to see a therapist, despite battling the things I battle every single day,” Fennelly said. “When you know your ‘why’ everything else takes care of itself.”

The third presentation was by Seda McKilligan, the associate dean for academic programs in the College of Design and a professor of industrial design, whose presentation was titled “Innovative Design.”

“It was about 17 years ago when I came here from Turkey,” McKilligan said. “I was raised as a designer and I grew up as a designer, I lived everything to become a designer.”

McKilligan told the story of how when she was in graduate school, she met a professor she really wanted to work with but due to her not being an engineering student she was not allowed to be published in an engineering journal. This lead her to explain that finding the right people to work with is important. She said that she worked with people from many different areas outside the design realm and had to build many bridges, another important life skill.

McKilligan said designers speak differently than other people, they live outside the box because there is no box. She said a designer’s thought process is a lot of questions, questions about everything.

She said after all of her group’s hard work, their work was eventually published in an engineering journal, even after she was told it would never happen.

“It is not about the question, it truly about information, it’s about understanding issues they are truly getting into,” McKilligan said. “It is about the value of the design not the why.”

The fourth presentation was by Natalie Dayton and Kati Colby, co-founders of The Drop, whose presentation was titled “Fitness Entrepreneurs.”

The Drop is a community-based fitness platform that allows members to access to boutique fitness studios in the Des Moines area under one membership, as well as local offerings from health and wellness businesses.

“We are the founders of The Drop, an app that connects our city to the most quality health and wellness experiences that Des Moines has to offer,” Colby said. “We have created a master calendar housing 30 plus gyms and studios with exclusive drop in rates, with many ‘drop-portunities’ that highlight how to live out a healthy dropper lifestyle.”

The Drop was released on Oct. 1 and is available on Google Play store and the Apple app store for $4.95.

Dayton and Colby talked about how they grew their company. It all started when Dayton first reached out to Colby with the business idea. From there they went to a developer, but neither of them felt connected with the developer so they moved on the branding.

Dayton said she had a connection with a former business partner who is now creates branding, so the due reached out to her. Now they had a branding but no actual content. They eventually found another developer they liked and then found investors in a tech company.

Now a year into the business, the duo gave the audience some advice which included: show up, do your part, always phone a friend, use your values, give without expectations and never deny a coffee date.

“We came along way in a year to where we are today and it would not have happened without all the connections we spoke to,” Dayton said.

The fifth presentation was by Nancy Mwirotsi, founder of Pursuit of Innovation 515, who’s presentation was titled “Youth and STEM.”

Pursuit of Innovation 515 is a program that teaches STEM skills to refugee and low-income children in the Des Moines metro area.

“Find the good and celebrate the hell out of it,” Mwirotsi said.

Mwirotsi started her presentation by saying she quit her job in order to support the local refugee and low-income children.

She said she never had intentions to start anything, but she just went with it because she felt it was right. She started an after school program for girls and a dance class, but the kids needed more than that, so she created Pursuit of Innovation 515.

“My story is best going to be told through this young man,” Mwirotsi said. “His name is Bonito, he grew up in a refugee camp in Tanzania. We taught him how to build websites in the program and what I loved about him is that whatever he learned he passed on to his younger sisters. He said that if he had not been part of the program he would have been a farmer but now he attends this institution, so thank you Iowa State.”

Mwirotsi said everyone needs women but they also need men, so through her program she hired high schoolers, both men and women, to teach middle schoolers. She paid these high schoolers $15 an hour thanks to funding through Coca Cola.

“My advice to you, I never intended to start anything so go ahead and start it,” Mwirotsi said. “Listen to your voices, go for it, do not be afraid. You should go for it, believe in yourself, thank you.”

The final presentation was by Debra Marquart, a distinguished professor of English and the Iowa Poet Laureate, whose presentation was titled “Rock and Poetry.”

Marquart’s presentation was focused on the book she is working on called “How Fish Learn to Sing,” which is about her life.

The beginning of her presentation starts out with the sex that conceived her, and then her as a zygote. Marquart talked about how the January she was conceived a terrible cyclone pulled a frigid cold down toward the Mediteranian and caused devastation all while she was still in the womb. She was born thanks to the help of her cousin, who was a nurse in the hospital she was born at.

Her mother said she was always a quiet baby, which turned out to be interesting as she turned into a musician.

Marquart said her childhood room was her first sounding board, she said she started out quiet but got louder with age. She said ”my grandmother was a saint even for a lutheran” because when her grandmother went to clean the church she would bring Marquart along to play the organ.

From there, Marquart discussed how humans are compared to fish through evolution and certain circulatory system properties. She then talked about how and ancient ungulate went back to the sea and turned to cetaceans.

“They never forget their melophorus 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 subgroup left in the world, previously screamed and warbled has now begun to sing.”

The event was hosted by the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and sponsored by the Debbie & Jerry Ivy College of Business.