Ron Reischl, Main Street Manning’s board president, wraps up the final session of the Rural Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Women held in Manning Saturday.
Ron Reischl, Main Street Manning’s board president, wraps up the final session of the Rural Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Women held in Manning Saturday.

February 2, 2016


Although age, residence and experience separated them, the women who crowded into a Manning shelterhouse this past weekend all had a dream in common.

They all visualized themselves as entrepreneurs.

Some who already owned a business and others with simply an image in mind met on two Saturdays in January for Drake University’s Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Women — the first held in a rural area out of Des Moines. The sessions were geared toward both women who already own a business and those who hope to start one down the road. More than 10 women from Crawford and Carroll counties attended the boot camp.

Those running the boot camp from Drake University included Deb Bishop, director of the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship Outreach; Tom Swartwood, professor of practice in entrepreneurship; Stephanie Cardwell, administrative assistant; and Jaime Grandstaff, assistant professor of practice in accounting.

Ron Reischl, Main Street Manning’s board president, also helped coordinate the event.

“I have wanted for three years to initiate a business incubator,” Reischl said in a news release. “In my mind, a business incubator is a process, a support system, not a building. I am proud to support area women in their efforts to start a business or improve on the businesses they are running.”

Other presenters and participants included Greg Sextro with the Franck and Sextro Law Firm in Denison; Luke Vaughn, brand manager with Bluespace Creative Inc. in Denison; Jayne Armstrong, Iowa district director for the Small Business Administration; and Stefanie Koenig, business counselor with the Small Business Development Center.

During the second session, women offered two-minute pitches for their businesses, some with feedback from participants and leaders after earlier presentations. Their business ideas involved crafts, art, pets, social offerings and more.

“I’m very impressed, and I don’t say that lightly — because usually, I don’t like most pitches,” Swartwood said.

The session leaders from Drake University offered suggestions, including that those with new ideas take them on a smaller scale to local farmers markets or band together with other class participants, and pulled out their phones to look up books or resources for participants as they developed their ideas.

One of the attendees, Kelsey Hipnar, owns an art business in Denison — KASK Painting, originally called “Kelsey’s Art Space for Kids” — and hopes to expand her business and move to a new location in the coming months.

She offers a summer art camp for kids — and with the potbelly pigs, ponies, goats and sheep at her country home, there’s a “petting zoo for city slickers” to go along with the art projects — as well as classes for adults that offer canvas painting, pottery painting, glass-blowing and glass fusion.

The transition to completely running her own business was an unexpected one for Hipnar, who has a background in art therapy. She hoped the boot camp would provide her with practical business advice — for instance, the chance to tweak her business plan.

She also appreciates the fact that the class put her in contact with other business-minded local women.

During the second session, Hipnar offered a revised business pitch to her classmates after receiving feedback on her first. The new presentation included a new business name, Free Spirit Studio.

Her business would offer an affordable option for date nights, birthday celebrations and more, she said.

“People are looking for that connection, that deeper connection, face to face, building lasting memories and creating artwork to hang on your wall,” she said.

Hipnar added that the information she learned during the boot camp and the people she met will be valuable for her business as it expands.

The connections the women built during the class were important, Swartwood said.

“If you get nothing else out of this — (know) that there are a dozen like-minded women in this county,” he said. “That is really cool.”

Main Street Manning plans to work with the attendees to form a support group for female entrepreneurs in the area. Cardwell encouraged the boot camp participants to set up that type of group, referencing similar groups in Des Moines called “Startup Sisters.”

Drake University plans to host other boot camps around the state, including one in Perry in the spring, and organizers said Manning successfully served as a guinea pig for rural-area boot camps.

Reischl encouraged the women in attendance to move forward with their ideas and what they’d learned in the boot camp.

“Two weeks ago, I kicked us off with ‘Give yourself permission to dream,’” he said. “(Swartwood) took that a step further — give yourself permission to do it.”

Compared to previous Drake entrepreneurship boot camps, many more participants in this event were still at the idea stage and didn’t have their own business yet — and that was OK, Swartwood said.

“Life is way too short,” he said. “Why not? I don’t think anybody can give me a reason why you shouldn’t do this. Maybe not tomorrow. But nobody has described a clunker. And I’ve never said that to a group before.”