Investing In Female Entrepreneurs

By Francie Williamson The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Iowa Women Lead Change" (IWLC) is bringing together public and private entities to advance female corporate leadership and development. One of those events is the "Invest in She" Contest where female entrepreneurs pitch their business plans to a group of investors. This year's winner is Frond Design Studios. The company paints and designs artwork and converts the artwork into fabric. CONGRATULATIONS!

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Michelle Owens was in the audience three years ago at the first ever Invest in She competition.

"I was so inspired by the courage and tenacity of the women presenting that I vowed to be on that platform one day," Owens said Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, Owens did make it up to the platform with Stephanie Brandenburg, her partner in Frond Design Studios. The pair won $15,000 out of the $40,000 available at Invest In She, an Iowa Women Lead Change (IWLC) event at the Kirkwood Hotel's event center in Cedar Rapids.

During Invest in She, Owens, Brandenburg, and five other female entrepreneurs pitched their business plans to a group of investors. Owens said sharing Brandenburg's story and the history of Frond Design Studios was her favorite part of the competition.

"I'm so proud of her innovations and creation of this company," Owens said. "Being an artist and a business owner is no small task, and she has set the stage with grace. I am inspired by Stephanie and excited to be a part of this journey."

Owens and Brandenburg's pitch was impressive, according to Gilda Boyer, who with her husband, Barry, served as investors. "I really thought their business plan was solid, and I could see them becoming a successful business and providing many jobs to the Corridor," Boyer said.

Frond Design Studios paints and designs artwork and converts the artwork into fabric. The business opened in Cedar Rapids' Cherry Building in 2012, and in 2015 expanded into a wholesale showroom and art studio called DelveMIY. There, customers can purchase Frond fabrics, vintage items and other upcycled and home accents.

"We expanded our brick and mortar this May with a second showroom in St. Louis, Mo.," Owens said.

Owens said the pair will use the $15,000 to execute their marketing strategy.

Other female entrepreneurs who won investments at the competition were Lesley Triplett of Dumpling Darling, who received $12,000; Emily Roberts of Western Wise LLC, who received $7,000; Melissa Sheehy of Balanced Fitness & Health, who received $2,500; Katriece Ray of PartWhere, who received $2,000 and Dr. Allison Poss of Girls With Ideas, who received a $1,500 investment.

The Invest In She event kicked off Tuesday night with remarks by Debi Durham, the director of the Iowa Economic Development Association (IEDA), who noted that Iowa has not fared well in past in the "growth and clout" of female entrepreneurs.

But, she noted, several initiatives are working to change that, including IWLC's EPIC Corporate Challenge, which is bringing together public and private entities to advance female corporate leadership and development.

Former Invest in She winner Elizabeth Caven, founder of UpCraft Club, also spoke at the event about her experiences winning the Small Business Administration's InnovateHER national competition and being selected for the startup accelerator 500 Start-ups in San Francisco.

IWLC and investors have awarded more than $110,000 to 18 female entrepreneurs across the state.

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