Plus, check out a University of Iowa neuroscientish
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View as webpage, click here.
Good morning, Fearless readers. This is Emily Barske, the Business Record's editor, taking over this newsletter while Emily Blobaum returns from vacation this week.

Last week we had the chance to celebrate our 2021 Women of Influence -- be sure to check out their stories and speeches when you have the chance!

In today's issue we'll tell you a little about how Flourish is meant to empower women business owners, hear from a guest opinion writer about promoting confidence among youths and promote one of the many inspiring stories about women from our 2021 innovationIOWA Magazine about a University of Iowa neuroscientist.

I'm a big Iowa State Fair fan, so I had to include at least one good read about it since it kicks off this week and the Des Moines Register just happened to have a story from the archives about Dolly Parton's 1977 performance. Enjoy!

Funding ‘ideas that matter,’ Flourish event back for third year
McKenna Haase presents her business, Compass Racing Development, at the inaugural Flourish event in 2018. Photo courtesy of Janet Eckles
Around the same time that Emily Steele left her job working for a community development nonprofit to get FemCity Des Moines off the ground, the state of Iowa found itself at the bottom of the list of women-owned businesses.

In fact, in 2015, Iowa was ranked dead last for "economic clout" – a metric that examines combined growth rates of women-owned businesses and growth in employment and revenue – according to an American Express report.

Steele wanted to change that. She saw how important small, local businesses were to a community and wanted to be a champion for women in business.

She stumbled across a community micro-granting event in Detroit called Soup. For $5, attendees would receive a soup dinner and an opportunity to vote on one of four presentations by community members looking to receive grants for projects in areas of art, urban agriculture, social entrepreneurship and justice. At the end of the night, the winner would go home with all of the money raised from ticket sales to help carry out the project.

Steele knew she wanted to replicate it in Des Moines, only this time with a focus on for-profit, women-owned businesses. More specifically, she wanted women to feel that "they have a space to be heard and express their dreams and not feel silly for it."

"Seeing what happens when women have confidence, money, support and community is so magical," Steele said.

The first Flourish event was held in 2018 at the Hall in West Des Moines. About 150 people showed up to watch three women – Cristina Rodriguez Zes, McKenna Haase and Tallis Strub – pitch their business ideas. Haase, a professional race car driver, won $2,000 to develop her business, Compass Racing Development.

In 2019, the Flourish finalists were Monika Owczarski, Shawnna Stiver and Jenny Quiner. Nearly 100 people raised $1,500 to help Owczarski buy equipment for her business, Sweet Tooth Farm.

Steele left FemCity Des Moines in early 2020, but continues to organize the Flourish event through her consulting firm, Love Local.

After taking a year hiatus due to the pandemic, Flourish will be held at Jasper Winery in Des Moines on Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $20.

Applications to pitch a business idea are open until Aug. 15. Finalists will be selected by an external review committee later in the month.

Steele hopes that the winner of this year’s event, which is sponsored by Love Local and the Greater Des Moines Partnership, will be able to walk away with $2,000 to $3,000.

"I love the idea that our community can fund ideas that matter. You don’t have to write a big check or be an angel investor; we can all invest $20 and show up for a night and know that that’s meaningfully impacting the present and the future of a specific business," Steele said.

Building confidence in our youths
Editor’s note: Gender-specific language is used in some instances as a reflection of statistics shared and the women-centered focus of the Fearless publication. When possible, "youth" is used to be more inclusive. The author recognizes that not all people who menstruate identify as girls or women.

In my role as a development and communications professional at the Young Women’s Resource Center (YWRC), I have the unique opportunity to work alongside and learn from program staff who have years of experience teaching youths about confidence, self-esteem and resilience. Their knowledge and facilitation make a tremendous difference in the lives of youths throughout the community, and I believe sharing their expertise will lead to an even greater difference.

First, it is important to understand why working to cultivate confidence in youths is necessary. Girls and boys report nearly the same levels in confidence until the time when most girls hit puberty – then their self-confidence starts to drastically decline compared to their boy peers. Studies show that girls between the ages of 8 and 14 report a 30% drop in confidence. More alarming is the fact that 80% of girls report feeling negative about their body image by the time they are 17.

Consequently, youths with lower confidence and self-esteem are more likely to engage in risky behavior and are less likely to pursue their goals.

The YWRC works to address this concerning pattern in the Greater Des Moines community by providing programming to girls centered around building confidence, self-esteem and body image. But we know this trend cannot be reversed without the action of many. I am calling on you today to recognize your potential to further develop confidence in the youths who are in your life.

A first step to begin with is changing the way we talk to and teach youths about puberty, menstruation and reproductive health so they are confident and aware of their bodies at a young age. We do this at the YWRC by hosting interactive period parties to empower youths with the knowledge to understand, take care of and celebrate their bodies. At period parties, youths learn about puberty and reproductive health through games, activities, a Q&A box, and red-themed snacks, decorations, and outfits.

This environment reduces fear and stigma often associated with menstruation and leads to a deeper level of understanding about their bodies. Youths feel more comfortable asking questions and engaging in conversations they would otherwise avoid.

While period parties are a highlight for many YWRC participants, hosting a party is not required for you to create a similar environment to talk with the youths in your life about these topics (although it would be awesome if you did!). You can create a supportive and approachable environment for youths by initiating conversations about puberty at a young age, inviting them to ask you questions, talking openly about menstruation, and encouraging them to respect and celebrate their bodies.

Helping the youths in your life understand their bodies is one of many ways you can empower confidence and positive body image. I spoke with a member of the YWRC empowerment program team who is a certified sexual health educator and has a teen outreach certification, to garner more insight about specific actions you can take.

Here are five ways you can help strengthen confidence in youths:

  • Validate their feelings. Youths are going through major physical, emotional and mental changes, and these emotional swings will come and go quickly.
  • Talk through WHY they feel certain emotions. Low confidence and self-esteem often stem from much bigger societal issues that include social media, racism, classism, sexism, etc. Helping them understand what is causing these feelings not only increases trust between adults and youths, but it also encourages problem-solving, self-reflection and a better understanding of the world.
  • Research issues and self-reflect on your own actions and choice of words used with youths so you can provide positive modeling. Youths often mirror what they see and hear in their daily lives.
  • Always speak affirmations (supportive and positive comments) to youths. Encourage them to identify what they like about themselves and verbalize their own affirmations. Hearing and speaking affirmations help youths overcome negative thoughts and can decrease stress.
  • Simply be aware of and celebrate the small victories youths have throughout the day and week. This validation reinforces positive decision-making and builds self-esteem.

We know youths with higher levels of confidence and self-esteem are more likely to develop resilience and the coping skills necessary to overcome challenges and obstacles in the future. We hope that you will see the power you have to develop youths' confidence and join us in making an immediate and long-term impact in our community.

The YWRC’s mission is to empower its participants to be strong, self-confident and resilient. The organization serves individuals ages 10-24 who have been socialized and/or identify as female. This includes cisgender girls, cisgender women, transgender persons and nonbinary individuals. To learn more about the YWRC and its programs, visit, email, or call 515-244-4901.

An Iowa neuroscientist steps up to advance progress on treatment for neurological disorders
Rainbo Hultman, a University of Iowa assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics. Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa
Editor’s note: This story was published in our 2021 innovationIOWA Magazine. Check out this and other stories on women innovators on our website.

In 1,000 milliseconds — one second — we may blink or feel our heart beat once. In that same second, our brains send one or more signals from each of about 100 billion neurons to make everything we do possible.

For accuracy’s sake, scientists usually observe the activity of neurons as it happens, millisecond by millisecond. Although the technology that keeps up with the brain’s speed and complexity is inspiring, it does not provide the full picture of how neurons work and connect. But an emerging method is producing more information about the brain than ever before and it stands to change the understanding of complex brain disorders.

Rainbo Hultman, a University of Iowa assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, has developed a research method identifying and investigating the role electrical networks play in features of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

As a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University, Hultman led the study of networks contributing to major depressive disorder in Dr. Kafui Dzirasa’s lab for psychiatric and neuroengineering.

She first earned a doctorate from Duke in biochemistry, but chose an interdisciplinary direction for her postdoctoral experience.

"I really wanted to learn a new technique where I could understand the brain more globally, how different connections will be made there and how that related to behavior. I got my Ph.D. in biochemistry doing more molecular neuroscience, and then I joined the psychiatry department working with Dr. Dzirasa on more systemwide brain questions," she said.

Her goal to study the brain as a whole system succeeded — she evaluated the connections between seven different brain regions, the most regions ever studied at once.

In the headlines
  • Women Lead Change will hold its 2021 Central Iowa Conference as a two-day hybrid event scheduled for Oct. 27-28 at the Iowa Events Center. Keynote speakers will include Luvvie Ajayi-Jones, Jennifer Pastiloff, Selena Rezvani, Judi Holler, David Smith, W. Brad Johnson, Laura Vanderkam, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and Mariana Atencio.
  • President Joe Biden, a longtime ally of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is among those calling for him to resign after it was found he sexually harassed 11 women, including current and former government workers, whose accounts of unwanted touching and inappropriate comments were corroborated in a damning report released last week by the New York state attorney general, Letitia James.
  • Texas could become the first state to actually implement a ban on abortions after six weeks on Sept. 1.
  • Data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on how Americans split their time last year shows moms of young kids spent about eight hours a day on child care while spending six hours on average working.
  • Aug. 3 was Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, marking the date that a Black woman in a full-time, year-round position must work into the new year to make what White men made at the end of the previous year.
  • The Olympics may have been the last setting for a game in a major international tournament for Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, and they made it one to remember by earning a bronze medal for the U.S. Soccer Women's National Team.
  • The Associated Press appointed Daisy Veerasingham, its executive vice president and chief operating officer, as the news cooperative’s president and CEO last week, setting her up to replace the retiring Gary Pruitt at the beginning of next year. She will become the first woman, first person of color and first person from outside the United States to lead the AP in its 175-year history.
Empowering Others to Succeed: Betty Lee
"I’m driven to do more to help underserved people understand how money works. If you give them a sense of financial security, the more they have to give back to their communities." – Betty Lee, managing director, Principal.

Having experienced past financial hardships of her own, Betty now makes a point to emphasize the "why" of money decisions, helping people—particularly those with limited access and means—understand the importance of budgeting, paying down debt, and saving.

And she’s an advocate outside of work, fighting for the underserved. She feels it’s her job to speak up and do more.
Worth checking out
The Cuomo report was led by New York’s first Black woman attorney general. It’s what "a meaningful investigation looks like," advocates say (The Lily). From the archives: Dolly Parton wows Iowa State Fair crowd during 1977 Grandstand concerts (Des Moines Register). Hou Yifan and the wait for chess’s first woman world champion (New Yorker).
VIDEO: Rewatch the 2021 Women of Influence celebration
The Business Record's Women of Influence awards celebrate the work of women who have made a difference. They've devoted their lives to doing things most wouldn't. They've spent countless hours on various boards and they've blazed a trail either personally or professionally for other women to follow.

This year’s Women of Influence celebration was the Business Record’s first hybrid event of 2021, which was held last week at the Des Moines Marriott. Rewatch the entire celebration on Facebook.

Produce prescription program helps at-risk residents get fresh produce

A new produce prescription program was launched last week to help people who are food insecure get access to fresh produce. The Polk County Produce Prescription Program is funded by a $50,000 Leadership Grant awarded by the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. According to a news release, it’s a first-of-its kind program in Iowa, and allows participants and their families to redeem produce prescriptions from their health care providers for fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets and grocery stores. Read more
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