Hannah Lange, Venture Financing Manager, North Dakota Department of Commerce

Written by: Brady Drake

Making Room at the Table

“We have this perception that there are limited seats at the table for women in business. Why don’t we just pull up more chairs?”

And that’s exactly what Hannah Lange has been doing. Lange is the venture financing manager for the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s North Dakota Development Fund. She works to create a path for primary sector businesses to find a home in North Dakota where they add value and create new wealth for our communities. But supporting opportunities for businesswomen and helping build a community of empowered, female entrepreneurs in the FM area has been a personal priority since her days at NDSU College of Business.

Changing the Face of Finance

“It will come as a shock to no one that there were very few women studying finance and economics at NDSU,” Lange said. “I joined the NDSU Bison Fund with a friend. We were the only women in the room. It was pretty isolating. We decided Bison women deserved more. They deserved a supportive community that understood the unique challenges of being a female in business. So, we founded Women in Business. It was originally supposed to be Women in Finance, but we needed more than two members.”

Lange’s vision struck a chord with women throughout the school of business and soon the organization boasted over 100 members, all working to create more space for women at the business table. Now, her efforts continue through programs like She Starts Week, a Fargo-based program filling gaps of connection and education for women looking to start and grow their businesses in North Dakota. Over the last few years, the organization has worked with local businesses and organizations to provide events jam-packed with information and education, reaching hundreds of women in the Midwest.

“Working in finance and economic development gives me a unique way to make a positive impact on the world and my community,” Lange said. “Today, I’m helping bring together investors and worthwhile enterprises that will make North Dakota stronger, which, in turn, helps our communities thrive. I’m helping build a whole new table with room for everyone!”

A Foundation of Faith

“I had never have gotten this far on my own,” Lange said. “I recognize the strength from family, friends and my faith that has helped me with every step along this path. And, I’m happy to be able to share that support with other women.”

Lange credits her strong faith for many of the characteristics that have made her successful:

  • An unending curiosity and the ability to think deeply about herself and her place in the world.
  • Knowing she is loved and finding the courage to love herself.
  • A desire to give back and make positive change.

“I’ve always wanted to understand everything,” she said. “When you go around like that—asking questions, soaking up knowledge about anything you come across, contemplating your place in the universe—you end up with a slightly more mature perspective. Too often, I think college students are busy rushing through the experience and don’t take the time to sit and reflect on the person they are growing into. Instead, they pursue what they think they love. Then, it usually takes a few years to find what they actually love. I knew I wanted to change the world and empower the women around me. Finance was my avenue for doing so. I don’t want to waste time.”

Following up success with Women in Business, Lange helped found Pathways Venture, a student-run venture capital fund focused on women and minority founders in the Midwest before graduation. These programs are still operating and creating opportunities for NDSU students and members of the wider community to find their path forward.

Pull Up a Chair

“I’m not an anomaly. I see a lot of women in economic development. My team is three amazing women looking to make positive changes in North Dakota commerce. I geto work with smart, successful women at every level of business. But, the thing is, it’s not just those in the C Suite—Success looks different for each woman. I think sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. We need to appreciate our differences as women and find ways to empower ourselves and those around us.”

For female entrepreneurs, Lange recommends connecting with other businesswomen to grow their networks and fill in knowledge and access gaps. College students can ensure a successful career path by job shadowing.

“I’d ask anyone and everyone to coffee,” Lange said. “I wanted to know what they loved about their job. It cost me a few dollars in coffee, but the insight I gained was invaluable.”

But beyond career advice, Lange finds female-centric community an important step to break through corporate and social glass ceilings.

“With the right support, you can do anything you want. Fargo-Moorhead is pretty unique. Someone out there has something you need and, this is my favorite part, they genuinely want to help. I don’t think you’ll find that in other communities. So get out in the community. Get outside your comfort zone. Find the people you trust and create a support network that sets you up for your version of success. Then pay it forward.”

Thinking about starting a business?

Here are some resources to get started.

Lotus Midwest: lotusmidwest.com
Female Founders Fund: femalefoundersfund.com
ILT Academy: iltacademy.io
North Dakota Small Business Development Centers: ndsbdc.org
Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber: fmwfchamber.com
ND Women’s Business Center: ndwbc.com

Looking for the right people to surround yourself with?

Try these female-centric communities.

She Starts Week: shestartsweek.com
Ladyboss Lifestyle Facebook: /ladybossfm
NDSU Women in Business: myndsu.ndsu. edu/organization/womeninbusiness

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.