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

It had a tremendous impact on Decklan Group. We were able to expose our work to clients in the Initiative Foundation region, and the Fellowship enhanced the credibility of our organization.

Decklan Group is thriving, and my partner, Tim, has taken the lead on our projects. In May 2019, I accepted the chief executive officer position at Greater Fergus Falls, a nonprofit economic development organization. Through this position I’m able to provide economic development services—just like the services I provided through the Decklan Group—free of charge to businesses in the greater Fergus Falls area.

The Fellowship strengthened my leadership and confidence. It provided me with experiences that allowed me to increase my public speaking skills, economic development knowledge, and the affirmation necessary to give me increased confidence that what I’m doing makes a difference and matters.

To believe in myself; I know economic development, from both a public and private perspective. I learned it’s OK to be vulnerable and to ask for help. It’s also OK if your path changes and it’s OK to take risks; it’s part of being an entrepreneur. Don’t give up, and if people give you the stink eye about one of your ideas, but you think it’s a good one, run with it! I’ve spent the last eight years running a business that a lot of folks didn’t think would work.

We have been working on some large projects in Ostego and Monticello. We’ve been doing economic development training events, and the real estate side of things is extremely successful.

I would highly recommend this program. The experience was invaluable, and I will be forever grateful for the relationships I’ve formed with the other Fellows, staff and people in the region.

Hudda Ibrahim

2017-2018 Fellow

It gave me greater exposure and access to potential clients. It also helped me expand my offerings and grow my business.


There is more work to be done than I can manage on my own, so I hired two part-time staff who help with various projects. I still meet with my Fellowship mentor monthly and am supported by Granite Equity Partners. I’ve secured my first two-year contracted client, Microbiologics, where I provide advice and recommendations to position the company as a “workplace of choice” for a diverse workforce; act as a cultural ambassador in Central Minnesota and beyond; and provide recruiting and onboarding assistance for professional employees. We also provide diversity, equity and inclusion training. I get regular requests for speaking engagements, including the Association of Minnesota Counties in St. Paul. I have expanded to a new satellite office in St. Joseph. We will conduct research on the needs of new St. Joseph Somali residents regarding employment and transportation.

It gave me greater confidence and broadened my connections, and that has raised my profile and knowledge of my work. I continue to be engaged in many initiatives in my community and recently participated in the Young America Leaders program through the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation. My cohort is now working on a shared prosperity project to help those in underserved communities find meaningful employment.

I’ve learned that authenticity is critical. It’s OK for people to have different opinions and insights. I’ve got to show up as I am and share my story and perspective. I used some of my training funds to earn a Diversity and Inclusion Certificate from Cornell University, which helped me develop my presentations and training curriculum.


Dine and Dialogues are growing in attendance. I’ve written a children’s book called “What Color is My Hijab?” I also am working on the development of a nonprofit called Greater Minnesota Mentoring Academy to support immigrant and refugee youth to develop their potential. I am enrolled in a Cornell University workshop on Inclusive Diversity and Inclusion Talent Management. I have been accepted to Saint Mary’s University for its executive director in leadership program. This will further develop my leadership and education capacity.

I grew so much in my leadership and gained so many new connections. Mentorship has been so great in helping me develop my business. I’ve also learned that you have to be vulnerable and ask for what you need. Being an Initiators Fellow gave people trust in me and gave me credibility that I’m sure helped me get selected for a Bush Foundation Fellowship.

Rod Greder

2017-2018 Fellow

Awear Technologies benefited from the diverse advice provided by the successful business professionals that constitute the network of the Initiative Foundation and the Initiators Fellowship program. The mentoring and education provided us with new ideas and helped us be accountable in achieving our goals. Awear was able to use the financial support to create a working prototype of our ConfiBoost smart eyewear and to begin testing.

We are still in search of funding to move to in-school testing. We are also pursuing partnerships to help us move to the next stage.

I’ve made new connections within the education community and I’ve become more engaged with other EdTech entrepreneurs.

I learned the importance of storytelling to explain your value proposition. As a techie, I tend to rely on data, evidence and tangible facts. Stories get people emotionally engaged. We continue to learn how to create stories that demonstrate the need and value of our smart eyewear.

We are exploring partnerships to enable us to get additional confirmation data.

The Fellowship and the financial support allowed me to focus more on the business and address issues that I had put off because of time and financial constraints.

Quinn Nystrom

2017-2018 Fellow

It allowed me to quit my part-time job to go full-time with my business venture. Doing that, I was able to give all my focus to the venture, which in turn started to make things happen.

I consider myself a full-time small business owner who depends 100 percent on the income I generate to pay my bills as a single female. I am in my fourth year with a national company to be their national spokesperson, which has helped me scale my business.

My participation strengthened in my community. I wanted to be an active contributor to things that were happening, even after my term was completed on the Baxter City Council. To be a leader I believe you need to be continually learning from others, and so I continue to immerse myself in continuing education opportunities and community forums.

I learned a greater appreciation about accounting and finance and that I must focus on the numbers in order to allow myself to continue the work of speaking, writing and advocating for diabetes patients. If the numbers don’t work, I don’t have a business.

My involvement on the national level with the insulin affordability crisis led to my decision to run for Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District seat. My passion for affordable and accessible health care and seeing how it impacts people daily made me realize I had to run for public office to try to enact change by creating new laws to protect Americans. Not one more life should be lost because they can’t afford insulin, or any other lifesaving medication.

When I first applied for the Fellowship back in 2016, I had some ideas of where I wanted my social enterprise to go. Some were successful, and some not so much. What I learned from people at the Initiative Foundation and from my mentor, Tom Anderson, was that I learn from it, adjust quickly, and move on. That’s what I attribute my success to over the last three years. Not that I got everything right on the first go of it. But that if something wasn’t working, I listened to Tom and things I learned from the Fellowship and made a quick course correction. I’m so grateful now for where my business is at today, and the impact that it has had in the health care industry, as well as with people with living with diabetes and/or eating disorders.