Meet Suzan Erem and Candi Karsjens
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Good morning and happy Monday!

Here’s what you’ll find in this week’s newsletter:

Lastly, don’t forget to purchase tickets for our Women of Influence event on Aug. 4. It’s going to be a great evening honoring the 10 women who make up this year’s class!

Have a great week!

Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

SUZAN EREM: 'I lost my voice before I ever had it.'
Photo by Emily Kestel. Illustration by Kate Meyer.
Suzan Erem is an organizer and writer. In 2015, she co-founded the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, which is a nonprofit dedicated to protecting land to grow healthy food. She continues to serve as its executive director. She lives in Cedar County.

The following story has been formatted to be entirely in her own words, and has been edited and condensed for clarity. This story mentions suicide and may be triggering to some.

I was the third illegal abortion that my Catholic mother could not endure. I found that out when I was 25. It was a huge relief. Most folks can’t believe that, they just cringe. But it gave me the answer to the way my family had treated me all my life. It wasn’t because I was fat or smart or short or obedient or honest or the opposite of all those. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was just resented for being born.

I grew up in northern New Jersey. My mom was an undiagnosed, self-medicated bipolar. My dad was an immigrant doctor from Turkey and worked 14 hours a day to support his family. They had a son and a daughter one year apart so they had their perfect family. They decided to have no more children, but she was incredibly fertile. She had two abortions after my siblings were born. And then I came along six years later.

My siblings did not like me. They did not want me there. For most of my childhood, I was tormented, humiliated and demeaned. I’d be left alone in the house with them after school and they would accuse me of lying and make me hold Tabasco sauce in my mouth for five minutes. I remember one time, I was singing to myself. My sister came up and said, "Shut up, you sound like crap. Don’t make anybody listen to that."

After a four-year custody battle – which my siblings told me was my fault – I ended up getting shipped up to my father’s sister’s house in upstate New York to be raised. She did a good job of protecting me from my siblings, but by then I had learned to not speak up and to be as invisible as possible.

When you’re constantly confronted with a sense that you don’t belong, that you don’t deserve a space on this earth, you want to be as quiet as a mouse. Because otherwise people will hurt or humiliate you. I tried really hard not to speak up. I was a loner in high school. I was on some sports teams because I was trying to avoid the house, but I didn’t have many friends. There were some suicide attempts in there. When you feel like you’re not supposed to be there, it doesn’t feel like a big deal to kill yourself. I lost my voice before I ever had it. I had it humiliated out of me or something.

I came to Iowa to escape a toxic situation. I fell in love with Iowa.
A Closer Look: Candi Karsjens
For Candi Karsjens, running lemonade stands and selling Girl Scout cookies while growing up in Mason City weren’t just fun childhood activities but also her earliest memories of being entrepreneurial.

She didn’t know then that it would lead to starting and selling two businesses and now serving as director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at North Iowa Area Community College, where Karsjens first went to college. She succeeded Tim Putnam after his departure in December 2021.

The NIACC JPEC is one of five entrepreneurial educational and resource centers that were imagined and first funded by John Pappajohn, founder of Equity Dynamics and venture capital firm Pappajohn Capital Resources. The center at NIACC serves nine counties in northern Iowa, bringing mentoring, programs and financial resources to Main Street businesses and startups in the region.

After selling her second business, a soy candle line called Uncorked that gained national and international wholesale clients, in 2017 Karsjens went back to pharmaceutical sales, the field where she started her career. She knew the work well but was working from home and felt "a disconnect" from the community after her first stint traveling for pharmaceutical sales and being a business consultant with clients outside of Iowa.

"I really wanted to be able to give back with the skills and abilities and knowledge that I had to people in my own area," she said.

She took the role of director of innovation and acceleration at the JPEC in 2019 and took the lead on the center’s mentorship programming including the NIACC cohort of the University of Iowa Venture School program and being the director of the Pappajohn Center Venture Mentoring Service program, which is based on the Venture Mentoring Service at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Business Record recently caught up with Karsjens to discuss her new role.

Left: Gymnast Simone Biles. Center: ABI Chair Kim Augspurger. Right: Hockey coach Jessica Campbell.
In the headlines
  • President Joe Biden presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 people last week, including gymnast Simone Biles, soccer player Megan Rapinoe and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The designation is the nation’s highest civilian honor.
  • Kim Augspurger, former owner of Saxton Inc. and current consultant to Pigott, has been elected chair of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry board of directors. Augspurger is responsible for leading the board in developing ABI’s strategic goals and objectives, implementing them and communicating ABI’s mission to Iowans.
  • The Coachella Valley Firebirds, the minor league affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, hired Jessica Campell as an assistant coach, making her the first woman behind the bench as a full-time coach in the American Hockey League. "For young athletes now, it's so important to have that visibility for them to understand they can literally be anything they want. Some of the guys I will be coaching, their daughters can now watch them have a female coach. And that opens up the conversation, which can inspire young girls for something they might not have seen as possible," she said.
Worth checking out
Lessons from 40 men in egalitarian relationships (The Atlantic). Black women will get no-strings-attached monthly checks in this new guaranteed income experiment (Fast Company). How Brittney Griner became a political pawn (New York Times "The Daily" podcast). Lack of affordable child care is hurting parents and the economy (Marketplace Morning Report). ‘This is the only secret I’ve carried’: 14 business leaders share their abortion stories (Fortune).
Fearless Focus
Hear Cyndi Nelson, owner of Hawks Coffee Shop and Gypsy Soul Boutique, talk about the societal norms and expectations placed on women and mothers and how to balance those with community involvement.
Lifting the Veil: Youth in Recovery
The Business Record’s sister publication, dsm magazine, hosted a virtual conversation last month as part of its Lifting the Veil series. This conversation featured a panel of mental health experts who shared information and resources for youths and families.
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