Fellow Alumni

Meet the 2017-2018 Fellows

Annie Deckert

ELK RIVER: Economic Development

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.

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.

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

ST. CLOUD: Bridging Cultures

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


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 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.


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

PINE CITY: Attention Deficit Disorder Support

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.

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.

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

BAXTER: Diabetes Awareness

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.

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.

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.