Fellow Alumni

about our Fellows

The Initiators Fellowship is a big, bold strategy that provides the next generation of Greater Minnesota change agents the opportunity to use their entrepreneurial spirit to address society’s needs while building the business and leadership foundation of our region. 

Meet our first cohort of Initiators Fellowship alums:

Annie Deckert

2017-2018 Fellow

Being an Initiators Fellow has provided me with countless new connections across Central Minnesota that I may not have made otherwise. Decklan Group has experienced the unique opportunity of being the business liaison with more than 40 communities across the state, bringing a total of nearly one million square feet of development/redevelopment to fruition. These experiences have provided us with an invaluable perspective on how economic development projects are handled and, more importantly, have allowed us to identify themes in which economic development training could benefit decision-makers. With that knowledge, we can aid their understanding and streamline the processes that often present challenges to business owners.

I have learned the more I engage with others outside my industry, the more valuable insight I receive as it pertains to my business. From this, I have seen an increase in my leadership skills and success of my company. Too often, firms stay in their comfort zones and get caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities of running a business. They forget to simply set aside time to develop their business from the perspective of outsiders. Decklan Group offers a variety of services for businesses—services that businesses don’t realize they need until it may be too late.

Being a Fellow has helped me make connections with people in industries (banking, construction, real estate, etc.) who often engage with the “perfect” Decklan Group client. We have obtained additional connections and partnerships across Central Minnesota that have resulted in additional clients, the creation of a new service (economic development speaking/training) and knowledge of additional resources to support our clients.

Lastly, the Fellowship has taught me the importance of making time for yourself, outside of your business. Developing skills and fostering relationships outside your profession often result in positive personal development and self-care. Taking care of yourself is the first step in being a successful entrepreneur.

We are licensed real estate agents, specializing in commercial, industrial and land transactions. We’ve seen a substantial increase in working with our clients to prioritize company training needs and successfully obtain training dollars to pay for these needs.

Lastly, we solidified a partnership with Sourcewell, an Initiators Fellowship funding partner, to offer a series of economic development training presentations to government officials, community stakeholders and business leaders in Minnesota’s Region 5. The goals of the training sessions are to provide a deeper understanding of economic development, its core fundamentals, what’s necessary in today’s economy and how they can work to make it easier for businesses to grow and expand within their community.

I am incredibly grateful to the Initiative Foundation and my mentor David Monroy for providing me with an invaluable experience. The Initiative Foundation is continuously working to better the lives of Central Minnesotans, and I am confident that my experience as a Fellow will continue to benefit communities across our state.

I have strengthened and built new relationships with IF staff, partners and my fellow Fellows. The friendships I’ve formed, and knowledge gained from this experience will continue to benefit both myself personally, and Decklan Group, for years to come.

I have been reminded that economic development means something different to everyone. It’s constantly evolving, yet communities with a “How can we make this work?” attitude are the communities that continue to see success. Taking a proactive, flexible approach to economic development is crucial to meet the needs of the ever-evolving private sector.

Lastly, if you’re thinking about pursuing the Fellowship program, erase any doubts you may have in applying. This program has noticeably increased my confidence, both professionally and personally. It forced me to think outside the box and provided me with an array of experiences. I will always be appreciative for this opportunity and am looking forward to supporting and participating in this program and future Fellows for years to come!

Hudda Ibrahim

2017-2018 Fellow

Since receiving the fellowship stipend, I have opened a Filsan Talent Partners in St. Cloud and have managed to provide a series of customized training for area employers and employees. The stipend allowed me to concentrate on my enterprise, grow my network and my potential customer base. The Initiative Foundation connected me to a trusted and reliable mentor who helps me uncover new opportunities, overcome barriers, build meaningful relationships with business leaders and set achievable goals. On the top of that, this program impacts area employers and the larger business community.

As a Fellow, I’ve learned innovative ideas and have gained insights into making good decisions about opportunities and potential project plans. These skills help me identify and focus on a market niche, make realistic goals and prioritize the major responsibilities I want to get done first. While in the startup process, I’ve learned to be explicit about my personal and entrepreneurial goals, work under pressure and how to fulfill tasks relevant to my desired entrepreneurial path. I’ve also honed skills such as adaptability and resiliency.

While providing customized cultural competence, diversity and inclusion training for employers to better understand the culture of immigrant and refugee employees, we have identified a need for translation and interpretation services. We have seen a dramatic growth of new American populations in the region, and we therefore are in the process of setting up systems to manage interpretation requirements. Our company provides conflict resolution, recruitment and retention of diverse talent, performance management for success, prevention of workplace harassment and leadership development. We address workforce issues in the community while creating a healthy connection between area employers and employees. For employees, we offer on-the-job training on the expectations and cultural norms they need to apply in order to succeed and advance in the workforce. All of these trainings help to build thriving and vibrant communities crucial for our region’s future.

While working with companies, we’ve gained useful experience and exposure. We’ve met business leaders and decision-makers who have connected us to other industries. We’ve gained a greater understanding of the companies’ requirements and our customers’ needs. Now our services have expanded to Willmar and the Twin Cities, and we have trained more than 5,000 people since the inception of our company.

Rod Greder

2017-2018 Fellow

The fellowship has given me some breathing room so I can focus more time to develop a meaningful commercialization strategy for Awear Technologies and execute on our implementation plans. It also has provided me with a solid support system and has connected me to an experienced mentor who can provide advice and guidance. The Initiative Foundation has also connected me to subject matter experts on leadership, storytelling, entrepreneurship, and other influencers, funders and potential customers. I would add, too, that the fellowship has provided me with additional credibility and exposure through the Initiative Foundation that is priceless for a small business trying to become noticed and take the next step.

Lessons from skilled entrepreneurs and useful leadership practices have come my way as a result of Initiative Foundation training. I’ve learned that just when I think I’ve figured things out or, to the contrary, when I think I am stumped, I learn new perspectives and approaches to remove uncertainty, expose vulnerabilities and make additional progress. It is this specific and applied reasoning and trouble-shooting that I’ve picked up through conversations with advisors and others. 

We have completed a set of reading comprehension trials that show a 10 to 15 percent improvement from short-term use of our eyewear. We also will have our next commercial-ready prototype ready for pilot trials.

I appreciate the discipline and tough love shown by the leaders of the program. They are forcing me to be accountable and focused. An entrepreneur who’s full of ideas needs this type of over-the-shoulder observation and intervention to be successful. At least I do.

Quinn Nystrom

2017-2018 Fellow

During the first year of my fellowship, in 2017, my business gross profits increased by 911%! I don’t believe this could have happened without getting chosen for the fellowship. By getting the gift of the $30,000 annual stipend, I was able to cut my hours at my full-time job to really put my focus into growing this business. I also was given an absolutely outstanding mentor in Tom Anderson, who really helped me laser focus into money-making opportunities while delegating other tasks.

Since I’m more of a creative person, I lacked in the numbers side of my business. With the assistance of my mentor and Pam Thomsen at the North Central Region Small Business Development Center, I learned that I must focus on the numbers in order to allow myself to continue the work of speaking, writing and advocating for patients.

I’ve been able to make some great national partnerships with the College Diabetes Network as well as Center for Change. I’ve had numerous speaking opportunities, including a trip to Boston in which I led a training for Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard medical professionals on the high prevalence of type 1 diabetes and eating disorders. I’ve also been working with Central Lakes College to secure some state grant dollars to put on customized trainings for healthcare professionals right here in our region.

Getting chosen for the fellowship has helped me realize that I can turn this into a full-time career. I was able to leave my part-time job because my speaking career was getting so busy. With the support of the Initiative Foundation, my mentor Tom, and so many others, I’ve truly been able to live out my dream of raising awareness about people living with diabetes.