My name is Melanie Iverson and I’m the new Executive Director of Lotus. I grew up in Hawley, Minnesota and now live in Fargo, North Dakota. I’ve started three separate businesses and have had a lot of fun doing that! I spent time in the nonprofit sector and raised about a million dollars for anti-trafficking efforts. I currently lead Mosaic Design and Build.
You have an interesting resume. Walk me through your career journey.
I went to Minnesota State University Moorhead for advertising and public relations. I had the opportunity to study abroad my senior year and which inspired a passion for interior design. In 2012, I started a furniture company with my best friend and we bought and sold furniture locally. A store at the time asked me to become their creative director and to sell my line there. That led me to interior design consulting. I had the opportunity to do a lot of commercial and residential projects, which was a great way to make connections and I had a ton of fun. I needed a break from consulting which is when I landed with the anti-trafficking nonprofit. I helped them tell their story and raise funding.
In 2017, I founded Mosaic Design and Build and stepped back into interior design, and in 2020, I founded She Overcomes. It was inspired by a Fargo Forum article where they reported that pre-pandemic female-founded organizations were increasing by 21% across the U.S., but in North Dakota, female-founded organizations were on the decline. I wanted to enter that space because of my experience founding companies. I feel so passionately about working with women in business and building their confidence around it. I had some incredible mentors who helped me and I wanted to be able to give that back. We raised funding for female business owners and built a strong community.
We renovated a space downtown in the Mosaic District and rent to eight female-owned businesses. Creating a community with those businesses has tied all of my passions together and we’ve been able to create a workplace that works for these women. We have an infant-friendly workplace and Lotus will be housed there as well.
I know one of the biggest challenges for women in business is just funding or getting someone to back their idea.
Women won’t apply for a job unless they’re 90% qualified for that job, but men will apply if they’re just 40% qualified. I think that really speaks to women feeling a lack of confidence in what they’re doing. We aren’t moving in confidence when we have a business we want to start unless we’re sure we can succeed. I want to come into that space and build confidence in every woman whether she’s pitching to raise capital or applying for a job within an organization. We need to learn to fail well and be willing to learn, rather than getting stuck feeling like we have to be perfect to even try.
What differences did you see in the community when you started She Overcomes?
We worked hard on She Overcomes for a year. It was an amazing case study in how women were working in the Fargo region. Many women talked about the struggles with getting funding. Startup Nation did a study on women-owned businesses and found that the top three issues women have when they found a company is that they lack authentic community where they can be honest about where they’re struggling, lack of mentorship was a huge issue as women higher in their careers just didn’t have the time to give, and of course grants and funding. We created a cohort where women could learn and talk openly about these things.
What excites you about joining the team at Lotus?
In the Midwest, we are a humble group of people. It’s hard for women especially to simplify our messaging and talk about our brands without bragging or coming across as arrogant. Each woman’s offering fits a need, and people can benefit from that. I’m so excited to help business owners and new business owners learn how to share their stories so that the people who want or need their services can find them. The opportunity to build a community is going to help advance small business owners’ projects. We’re going to amplify messaging and build confidence. I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum. I’ve been a business owner and I know those struggles of being a small business owner, and I want others to find their voice and identity and share their gifts confidently.
Why is this especially needed in the Midwest?
If I can play a small role in helping women discover their impact and see what an amazing influence they have, I’ll be happy. North Dakota is a place where the community is especially excited to support local and small businesses. By helping women find their voices, we’re going to see policy changes. We’re going to see maternity leave and more equitable workplaces. We’re going to see changes in best practices by creating infant-friendly workplaces. There is opportunity for growth here and for women to discover how and why their voices matter here.
We’ve talked so much about self-care and work-life balance this year. I know especially when you’re passionate about your work those lines blur. How do you keep from burning out?
It feels like a unicorn. It’s something we talk about but it feels magical and not real. I have to be intentional about not responding to texts or emails about work the moment I get them. It takes me away from my family and if I don’t have my family, I don’t know if any of this is worth it. I’ve had to work hard at silencing those notifications, walking away, leaving my laptop at work. Self-care is a rhythm of life, a practice. Doing small things like journaling or even reading for fun has been helpful for me. I also let my family know my schedule so they’re aware of when I’ll be focusing. I’m clear about what time is designated for what.
Who are you outside of your work?
I’m a mom. I have two teenagers and a three-month-old son. I absolutely treasure the time I get to spend with my kids. The teenagers are busy with extracurriculars. I love getting to go to football games and choir concerts. I’m also one of eight kids and I love spending time with my siblings and extended family.