Mrs. North Dakota co-launches nonprofit aimed at creating community, bridging gap for women-owned businesses
FARGO — It was just two sentences in an article by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that inspired Melanie Iverson to launch a nonprofit.
Nationally, women-owned businesses are increasing. But it’s not the same in North Dakota. When Iverson read in the story that the state has 1.5% fewer women-owned businesses than it did in 2014, while nationally women-owned businesses grew by 21%, she knew what she had to do.
Iverson, who is currently Mrs. North Dakota International 2020, co-founded her nonprofit, She Overcomes, that same month. The organization is part of her three-prong platform.
Fueled by the decline, Iverson immediately began researching. She found the three biggest roadblocks female business owners cite in running and growing their companies is a lack of funding, mentorship and community. She Overcomes was established to bridge that gap.
“If we want to see that statistic change in the state of North Dakota, from when the whole country is rising to 21% and North Dakota is on a decline, we need to make changes right now so that our little girls have someone to look up to and say, ‘OK, she did it. I can too,’” Iverson said.
She Overcomes aims to facilitate personal development, in addition to business development, through peer mentorship, individualized education and programming.
“I want to see this change because I have a daughter. My daughter is 12 years old right now, and I want her to see that the women in her life were able to have the tenacity and resilience to build a business and follow their passion and create something,” Iverson said. “The reality is our kids need role models.”
Iverson and co-founder Jennifer Schillinger — the CEO and founder of Strengths Advantage, which helps business leaders identify where they can grow through a strengths-based approach — want to create a community of women that aren’t competing against one another, who aren’t fearful there’s not enough resources for them.
“Instead, we're looking at creating a community that can lift each other up and celebrate the wins of our sisters, celebrate the wins of fellow women,” Iverson said. “We want to be another safe space where business owners can come and say, ‘Here are my real life struggles and here are the areas where I need some help.' It’s a safe, confidential place where women can join together and really help each other.”
Iverson, who co-owns general contracting firm Mosaic Design + Build, has started three businesses herself. She had no idea what she was doing when her first one came to fruition a few years ago.
“I made a lot of mistakes. I failed forward, but I’ve had people invest in me personally, financially, and I’ve had really amazing female mentors and women that were successful business owners that I could go to and ask questions and learn how they faced the same challenges that I was facing,” she said.
She Overcomes plans to meet monthly over lunch, where the nonprofit will bring in various industry experts from the fields the women in the cohort are interested in. Schillinger and Iverson would also like to see it women-run.
“There are plenty of strong females in our communities that have gone before us who don’t even know the value of their experience and what that would mean to a younger woman who is just getting started,” she said.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the nonprofit has had to reschedule some of its events. As of now, the cohort’s first meeting is slated for September.
Those interested in being a part of the organization can apply on the nonprofit’s website, sheovercomes.co . Applications are open until Sept. 1.
She Overcomes is continuing to look for founding partners who want to join the cause and invest in women, Iverson said.
“If there are community leaders, private investors, foundations who want to be a part of shifting the culture for female founders and changing that statistic in North Dakota, we are always looking for investors to really build this program, but ultimately, to change this generational gap that we're seeing,” Iverson said.