Conference Speakers


Become a Speaker

Do you have practical tips and specific information for starting, growing, or improving a business? We would love for you to share your knowledge at our Eau Claire business conference!

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Conference Speakers

Jonathan Bader

Visit Website | Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP)

Bio Coming Soon! 

Taylor Becker

Visit Website | Clearwater Dental

"I’m originally from Fennimore, WI and my husband Brad and have now lived in the Chippewa Valley for 4 years. We have a black Lab/German shepherd, Buddy. We love going for long walks, traveling to go see family, and watching the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan Wolverines! I love interacting with our patients and doing everything I can to make sure each visit is a positive one. I do a lot with our marketing as well and have so much fun with it. We love thinking of new ways to improve the business and make it more comfortable for our patients!"

Kelly Berry

Visit Website | Resourceability

Kelly Berry is the owner of ResourceAbility, LLC, and has been in business for over 12 years. She specializes in research, marketing planning, strategic planning and project management.

Kelly is approved as a Service Provider for the Wisconsin Center for Technology Commercialization to write business plans and commercialization plans funded by state grants. She enjoys working with entrepreneurs and small business owners across Western Wisconsin.

Laurie Boettcher

Visit Website | Chippewa Valley Technical College

Laurie is the Marketing and Digital Marketing Program Director and Instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College. Years of social media and marketing experience have made Laurie a strong speaker, blogger, and tweeter when it comes to all things marketing, social media, and digital design. She effortlessly breaks down the complex world of social media, making it interesting and easy to understand at any skill level, all the while motivating and empowering her audience. She has been featured in US News & World Report, The New York Times, and numerous other popular media outlets. Laurie holds an MS in Communication from Northwestern University, a Mini-MBA in Mobile Marketing from Rutgers University, and a BA in Mass Communication-Public Relations from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Jackie Boos

Visit Website | Chippewa Falls Area Chamber

Jackie Boos has lived in the Chippewa Valley since 2008 and worked in the tourism industry for over 10 years. Working with Destination Marketing Organizations has shaped Jackie's outlook on marketing, community, and small business in a way that reflects the needs of the industry.  Jackie works with many levels of government, private businesses, and large and small community organizations alike using minimal resources while maximizing outreach. She is currently overseeing efforts of GO Chippewa Falls and Explore Chippewa County.

Jackie is also a partner of Artisan Forge Studios, where she has been involved since its inception in 2015. Jackie and Greg Johnson have created a community for creators and makers that follow their mission in everything they do: Fostering Creativity, Collaboration, Education and Community. With over 50 businesses calling Artisan Forge Studios home, there is no stopping this creative machine. 

Stacie Breitung

Visit Website | WESTconsin Credit Union

Bio Coming Soon!

Evlyn Carlile

Visit Website

Evlyn Carlile is the owner of Simple Office Solutions and has been in business for over 13 years. Before she was in business, Evlyn worked in the accounting department of a CPA firm and as a tax preparer in a local tax office. Simple Office Solutions is dedicated to helping small business owners improve the organization and accuracy of their record keeping system, thereby giving you the financial information you need, when you need it.

Deb Clarke

Visit Website | Chippewa Valley Technical College

Deb Clarke is a trainer and consultant for the Business & Industry department of Chippewa Valley Technical College. She has over 20 years of leadership experience in post-secondary education.

Her favorite training topics include team building, problem solving, performance management, change management and employee engagement. Deb is a certified trainer in Everything DiSC, a leading assessment tool to help people in an organization effectively understand themselves and others.

Beth Crowell

Visit Website | Charter Bank

Beth WaldhartBeth Crowell joined Charter Bank as an AVP/Business Banker in October of 2016, specializing in small business startups and expansion. She brings 15 years of lending experience to the bank, having spent the last 9 years at Regional Business Fund, Inc., an economic development financing program for business expansion and startups. There, she managed the non-profit organization and provided financing to hundreds of businesses throughout the Chippewa Valley and beyond.

Beth is active in the community, serving as a board member for Junior Achievement, the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation, and the Women's Business Center. She is also a Chamber Ambassador, a committee member of the Women's Business Center Revolving Loan Fund, and a member of the Women's Giving Circle. She graduated Cum Laude from Ripon College with a degree in Economics, a Mathematics minor and a Business Management Certificate. Beth also undertook a year of graduate work at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Policy, with an emphasis on Women's Studies and Education Policy; here, she ran a program called Tennis Plus, through which low-income girls were taught tennis and life skills.

Kristen Dexter

Visit Website | Forage EC, LLC

Kristen and Michelle Thiede own Forage EC, LLC, a commercial kitchen, food incubator, and event space for up to 150 people. Located in the historic Uniroyal Factory of Banbury Place,  Forage EC provides a licensed venue and affordable space for established and budding caterers, food producers, pop-up restaurants, and cooking instructors. Chef Michelle has worked in food service for two decades and was head chef at a Wisconsin brew pub for 11 years. Kristen is a home cook with a lifelong interest in all things food-related. Together, they strive to create community around food!

Mike Dieckman

Visit Website | Wisconsin Business Development

Mike DieckmanMike Dieckman has worked for Wisconsin Business Development (WBD) for 20 years. WBD is certified by the SBA to deliver its 504 Loan Program, partnering with financial institutions to finance fixed asset projects and provide long-term fixed rate financing.

WBD also assists lenders and borrowers with SBA 7a loan packaging and serves as a resource for information about a variety of financing options for small businesses.

Ray French

Visit Website | City of Eau Claire Economic Development Division

Ray French is the Business Assistance Specialist for the City of Eau Claire’s Economic Development Division. The division offers loan programs for new and established businesses, as well other grants and awards through its partnership with Downtown Eau Claire, Inc. Ray is an alumnus of UW-Eau Claire (’08) with more than 5 years’ experience in local government. He received his JD/MPA from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN.

Cathy Gardapee

Visit Website | Wipfli

Cathy Gardapee is a manager specializing in business advisory services. With more than eight years of experience in public accounting, she has spent the majority of her time specializing in consultations for small to midsized businesses. The experience and knowledge Cathy has accrued has aided her in helping clients with their everyday financial needs, including tax, payroll, and general business questions. Cathy has a strong understanding of what accounting procedures need to be in place in order for clients to achieve their desired results. 

Cathy attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in accounting and a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education. 

Cindy Hangartner

Visit Website | Weld Riley

Cindy advises clients in areas of estate planning, probate, tax, and business and corporate law with an emphasis on non-profit organizations and business succession planning. She regularly advises clients on complex estate planning techniques and assists with simple wills and powers of attorney. Cindy also represents clients in New Markets Tax Credit transactions.

Prior to joining Weld Riley, S.C., Cindy provided detailed tax analysis and guidance to individuals and Fortune 500 companies. During that time, Cindy provided advice on federal, state, and local tax laws for a major tax advisory authority, telecommunications entities, and multiple Fortune 500 companies. While working for two international companies, Cindy oversaw each company's compliance with regulations and industry standards.

Cindy graduated from Luther College where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics with a minor in English. She received her law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cindy went on to earn her master's degree in taxation at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado.

Cindy is a member of the Eau Claire County Bar Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and the Illinois Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in Illinois, Colorado, and Iowa. She also serves as a board member for Feed My People Food Bank.

Jacob Haupt

Visit Website | Western Dairyland Business Center

Jacob is a Business Development Specialist for the Western Dairyland Business Center, which serves northwestern Wisconsin. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in both political science and public administration from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, as well as a master's degree in both Public Administration and Urban Planning from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


Jacob’s expertise is assisting entrepreneurs with conducting market research, navigating governmental regulatory issues, and government procurement.


Chris Herzog

Visit Website | Stokes+HERZOG

Chris HerzogSarah Stokes and Chris Herzog are the married co-owners of Stokes+HERZOG Advertising, Public Relations and Video Studio, where they successfully manage the advertising strategy of several major area brands. They proudly employ a staff of six and several freelancers. Sarah and Chris have also sold a business that grew to seven times its size and launched a national consulting business in April.

Prior to their lives as business owners, the parents of two were anchors at WEAU 13 News in Eau Claire. You can learn more about how they help companies reach their goals at

Ben Holmen

Visit Website | Lorman Education Services

Ben Holmen has been building websites since 2001 and continues to enjoy learning about new businesses and meeting different challenges. He lives with his family in Eau Claire and enjoys woodworking, mountain biking, and backpacking in his free time.

Mary Kante

Visit Website | Population Services International (PSI)

Bio Coming Soon! 

Vanessa Klemish

Visit Website | Klemish & Johnson, LLC

Vanessa A. Klemish is a partner at the law firm of Klemish & Johnson, LLC.  She practices in areas of business, contracts, real estate, estate planning, probates, guardianships, and litigation of those areas.  Vanessa graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with majors in economics and political science, and obtained her law degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She is licensed to practice law in the State of Wisconsin and the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.            

Angie Kuhn-Wozney

Visit Website | Furnish123

Bio Coming Soon! 

Tobi LeMahieu

Visit Website | West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission

Tobi LeMahieu has been employed with the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (WCWRPC) since April 2011. Initially, Tobi was hired as a planner and worked on various community and economic development projects; in October of 2016, she was promoted to Fund Manager. Now Tobi, alongside Jordan Pospishil and Mai Xiong-Thao, is responsible for the contract the WCWRPC has with the Regional Business Fund, Inc. (RBF, Inc.)—a consolidated regional revolving loan fund program. RBF, Inc. is capitalized at over $15 million, covering seven counties in west central Wisconsin. Tobi has a Master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a Bachelor of Science degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. Prior to working at the WCWRPC, Tobi was employed for six years with the Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison, a satellite office of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council. 

Tanya Malaney

Visit Website | Wipfli

Tanya Malaney is a tax senior manager with a focus on manufacturing and distribution practice. She strives to add value to each engagement by applying her technical expertise and understanding of the client’s business to develop tax savings strategies and ideas. Tanya has over 15 years of experience in public accounting, and her broad backgroundenables her to tackle a wide variety of challenges.

Tanya’s Specializations include:

 Entity tax planning and compliance

 Individual tax planning and compliance

 Entity formation and structuring

 Business acquisitions and disposition structuring and planning

 Tax research and advice

 Federal and state audit assistance

Pete Marsnik

Visit Website | Musky Tank, LLC

Pete Marsnik is a co-founder of Musky Tank, LLC, and the executive director of Chippewa Valley Angel Investors Network (CVAIN). Musky Tank is a consulting firm based in the Chippewa Valley that focuses on startup and company growth, including turnaround and tune-up consulting.  CVAIN is an investor network that has successfully operated for over 12 years in the Chippewa Valley, with local and regional investments in the portfolio.

Thalia Mendez

Visit Website | Wisconsin Business Incubation Association Inc

A former serial entrepreneur herself, Thalia has been working in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of southeastern Wisconsin for over 20 years. She began her career in the heart of Milwaukee working with entrepreneurs in what was then the nation’s first high-tech/empowerment women’s business incubator. Most recently, as the Business Resource Specialist for Gateway Technical College, Thalia manages Launch Box Co-working space and growth accelerator programs while providing one-on-one technical assistance throughout Gateway’s tri-county district. Working with business owners remains at the forefront of Thalia’s passion. She holds a national certificate in Business Incubation Management and is a certified GrowthWheel® Advisor and Lean LaunchPad Instructor. Thalia currently serves on the Wisconsin Business Innovation Association (WBIA) and Kenosha Creative Space board of directors and has served two terms on the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) board and one term on the WI Economic Development Association (WEDA). In addition, as a consultant, she served on a Federal Entrepreneurial grant (for Gateway) for three years as an international subject matter expert on a program for entrepreneurs in Oujda, Morocco. Thalia has met with (and provided updates to) Representative Peter Barca, an early advocate of Business Incubation in the State of Wisconsin. Under Thalia’s direction, the Wisconsin Business Innovation Association (also known as the WI Business Incubation Assoc.) conducts a bi-annual survey on the Economic Impact of Business Incubation, one tool in the entrepreneurial eco-system of economic development. This survey highlights the importance and success of providing services to all entrepreneurs, especially the traditionally underserved-- women, people of color, and the pre-wealthy. Thalia worked on the first two InnovateHER competitions in SE WI in 2016 and 2017. In addition, with the support of the WI Economic Development Corporation, Thalia facilitated three Lean LaunchPad Accelerators. This rigorous program helped the entrepreneurs navigate through the customer discovery phase of their business, while reviewing their Business Model Canvas on a weekly basis. In addition to quarterly breakfast networking events, Thalia facilitates monthly Lunch & Learns, addressing legal, financial and business management needs for business owners. Whenever possible, she seeks out Launch Box members to present these workshops, therefore giving them a platform to showcase their business. In addition, Thalia meets one-on-one with clients, using tools such as the GrowthWheel® 360° Framework to find the most pressing concerns among their business challenges and focus on them first. In order to reach entrepreneurs outside of the Gateway community, Thalia serves on the SE Advisory Council for WWBIC, the Elkhorn Economic Development Alliance, and the Downtown Burlington Forum Group. In addition, she regularly attends the Southeast I&E Club and has presented to the Hispanic Professionals of Racine and Racine Rising Stars. She is always seeking out the business owner, whether at the coffee shop, glass studio or salon, and asking them, “how’s business – what can I do to help?”

Nancy Mistele

Visit Website | Office of Business Development

Nancy Mistele has seen both sides of government rules and regulations.  Most of her career has been in the private sector, spanning numerous industries.  For the last 6 years, she has assisted businesses from within Wisconsin state government, spending 15 months with a regulatory agency and now serving from the Secretary’s Office at the Department of Administration. Nancy is a Director in the Office of Business Development, where she works to remove red tape, reduce unnecessary regulations that can burden business owners, and help businesses connect with various resources across the state.

Nancy proclaims herself to be a “life entrepreneur." She is also married to an entrepreneur, and all three of her adult children own small businesses.

JoDee Mittlestadt

Visit Website |

JoDee Mittlestadt owns –– a website and branding agency she operates with her sister and business partner, Cara Christenson. They are geekily passionate about helping small business owners find ways to use the online world to authentically grow their businesses.

JoDee uses insight and interview to lead clients to "breakthrough" moments, which are followed up with a strategic business plan that aligns with the client's gifts and skills. This is topped off with professional branding and website creation; that newfound clarity is put into instant action, attracting new, highly-aligned business growth.

JoDee has a Bachelor’s Degree in design, a Master’s Degree in communications, and a ridiculous amount of self-study and experience in small business strategy. She has worked in the private industry as a designer, content writer, creative director, and sales professional. She has also served in higher education as a digital marketing instructor. JoDee lives outside Menomonie, Wisconsin with her family and fuels daily on books, laughter, coffee, and faith.

Carol Murphy

Visit Website | Wisconsin Procurement Institute (WPI)

The Wisconsin Procurement Institute (WPI) is a non-profit Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) that was established in 1987 to assist Wisconsin businesses in creating, developing and growing their Federal, State and Local Government sales, revenues, profits, and jobs.  WPI provides professional technical assistance throughout the State of Wisconsin — in rural and urban areas — with large, small, well-established and newly created businesses in areas of manufacturing, technology, construction, research, IT, and services. WPI works closely with Federal, State and Local small business programs to maximize the opportunities and market success for disadvantaged, minority, native/tribal, female, disabled, and veteran-owned firms as well as those located in designated HUBZone and distressed areas. WPI services include market research and strategy development, locating opportunities, compliance, solicitation and proposal review, and a myriad of other assistance.  Last year, WPI worked with over 1,000 businesses, hosted over 100 events, and was credited with assisting Wisconsin businesses with over $455 million in contract awards.


Truphosa Mwololo

Visit Website | Wisconsin Supplier Diversity Program

Bio coming soon! 

Tina Nazier

Visit Website | Wipfli

As one of the leaders of Wipfli’s Health Care Practice, Tina Nazier uses her strategic knowledge, leadership experience, professional coaching, and analytical skills to help clients effectively address their strategic and operational challenges. Drawing on more than 20 years of experience in leadership, organizational and cultural development, strategy, and operations, Tina helps executives overcome major issues which create roadblocks that prevent them from maximizing their potential.

Tina earned a Bachelor of Science in management and her Master of Business Administration from Cardinal Stritch University. Tina is a Certified Professional Coach and a Vital Smarts Certified Trainer of Crucial Conversations®. She regularly expands her professional education in leadership coaching and development, behavioral change modeling and implementation, strategic planning and implementation, and cultural transformation.

Kim Nimsgern

Visit Website | Casual Panache, Inc.

Kim Nimsgern is the CEO/President of Casual Panache, Inc., located in Menomonie WI, and the creator of Click n Curl, a patented hairstyling tool that she cultivated from concept to retail.

Kim has been surrounded by entrepreneurs her whole life and has always understood the allure of entrepreneurship, but she didn’t set out to become an inventor. Like many women, Kim is busy. She works full-time, has two children, a husband, and four pets. Many mornings, Kim wondered if she even had the time to wash her hair, let alone dry and style it. So when a hair brush malfunction that resulted in a round brush handle breaking off-- leaving the brush head still wound in her hair-- created amazing curl and volume without the need for a curling iron, straightener, hot rollers or any of the other tools she regularly relied on, she knew it could be a game-changer and a time-saver. The idea for Click n Curl was born, and her journey as an accidental inventor began.

Kim believes her success with Click n Curl is the result of three things: a good idea, some transferable skills, and perhaps most importantly, the tenacity to see it through. Kim is not a hairstylist, nor does she have any formal education in design, manufacturing, importing/exporting, sales or the other major knowledge areas involved in bringing a retail product to market. Her education is in psychology and counseling. In fact, prior to creating Click n Curl and establishing Casual Panache, Kim worked as a family and adolescent therapist. She served for approximately ten years as the Executive Director of Positive Alternatives, Inc., a multicounty, non-profit organization providing services to at-risk youth and families, before moving on to a twelve-year career in Higher Education, where she developed and managed student support services for first-year students.

Since the launch of Click n Curl in 2012, sales have exceeded a million dollars and distribution has expanded internationally to twelve countries. Click n Curl has been featured on shopping channels in both Canada and the US,  as well as the NBC Today Show, Rachael Ray Show, Katie Couric, The Meredith Vieira Show, The Real, and Wendy Williams. Kim's product has also been showcased in magazines like Oprah, Allure, Hair Cut & Style, and Sophisticate’s Hairstyle Guide. Kim was featured in the newest edition of The Mom Inventors Handbook, a best seller written by Tamara Monosoff, and The Grommet’s eBook, Makers Who Made It, 100 Stories of Starting a Business. In 2014, the success of Click n Curl allowed Kim to quit her “day job” and focus full-time on her mission to create a line of easy-to-use products that help women save time and feel beautiful and confident every day.


Theresa O'Neel

Visit Website | Associated Bank

Gail Okray

Visit Website | Key Elements for health

Gail Okray was inspired to open Key Elements by her passion for the Japanese art of Jin Shin Jyutsu. She has been a Jin Shin Jyutsu Physio-philosophy practitioner since 1998. Over the years, Gail has motivated hundreds of individuals to move toward a healthier and more vibrant life through ancient Japanese art.

Gail’s own experience with chronic pain and fibromyalgia led her to Jin Shin Jyutsu. Through personal sessions and the power of self-help, Gail was able to move from a state of pain, muscle discomfort, and weakness to a fuller, more productive life. Chronic-pain clients who seek Gail for treatment options appreciate her gentle touch and personal experience of living with chronic illness. Gail is a huge proponent of the power of self-help and empowers her clients by providing personalized home care to supplement their sessions.

Gail loves to work with clients of all ages—babies, young people, and adults. She loves working with animals, too! As a Key Elements for Animals practitioner, Gail also offers sessions for a variety of animals.

Through self-care workshops, community outreach programs and various speaking engagements, Gail enjoys sharing her knowledge of Jin Shin Jyutsu with her community. She has worked with the Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI), the Aging and Disability Resource Center and Beacon House. Gail is also a resource to local practitioners by leading Jin Shin Jyutsu study groups and organizing practitioner-level classes in Green Bay, WI.

Rick Olson

Visit Website | PESI, Documation, LLC, KRM Information Services, Inc.

Rick Olson practiced law for several years before transitioning to starting and running businesses in Eau Claire, which he would do for the next 40 years.  Co-author and editor of five law books, Olson helped start his first company in 1976, Legal Systems, Inc. (LSI), a law book publishing company.  He went on to help start and manage three other businesses:  PESI (a seminar/publishing company); Documation, LLC (a full-service printing company); and KRM Information Services, Inc. (a webinar production company).  Now retired, Olson offers free advice to select start-up companies.

Joan Palzkill

Visit Website | Draganettis's Ristorante, Enchanted Inn, Taverna Grill, All Lab Tests Fast

Joanne Palzkill has a degree in Accounting and has been a restaurateur/entrepreneur in the Chippewa Valley for over 37 years.  She and her siblings own and operate the Enchanted Inn, a seasonal restaurant and campground in northern Wisconsin; Draganetti’s Ristorante; Taverna Grill; and, soon to open, Za 51 Pizzeria in the River Valley development in Altoona. Joanne and her husband, Rich, also own and operate All Lab Tests Fast, which offers individuals and businesses direct-access to health and wellness lab tests at affordable costs in the Chippewa Valley.

Joanne currently serves on the Executive Board of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and is a two-time recipient of the Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year Award for the West Wisconsin Chapter of the WRA.  When time allows, she enjoys offering input as a SCORE volunteer locally. In her free time, Joanne enjoys traveling and spending time with family, particularly up north, and also attending her son's basketball games.

Jenni Patnode

Visit Website | Pink Box Purpose, Inc.

Co-Founder of Pink Box Purpose, Inc.

Jenni's first mission trip was to Nicaragua in 2015 where she fell in love with serving others.  After several more mission trips, and continually hearing the stories of women’s hardships in developing countries and about their struggle to manage their monthly cycles, Jenni, along with her sister Heather, came up with a way to sew reusable pads and liners for women in developing countries to use to manage their periods. 

In June of 2017, Heather and Jenni traveled to Honduras to teach women how to sew their own reusable pads, and their first Hygiene Headquarters was formed.  From then on, Jenni and Heather knew they were being called to serve others first, and they formed their 501(c)(3) Nonprofit, Pink Box Purpose, Inc.

Jenni is passionate about women’s ministry and leads a women’s bible study.  She is married to her high school sweetheart and together they have two sons.  In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and writing.

Taylor Pelissero

Visit Website | Stokes+HERZOG

Taylor Pelissero is the account director at Stokes+HERZOG Advertising, Public Relations and Marketing in Eau Claire. Her writing and editing skills and her ability to problem solve make her a great asset to the team.

She works on strategic planning and special event planning for clients, as well as client relations, website updates, and much more to provide solutions that give business owners the freedom and peace of mind they need to run their businesses.

Marieke Penterman

Visit Website | Marieke Gouda

Born and raised on her family’s 60-cow dairy farm—in the Netherlands, Marieke was destined for a life in the dairy business. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in the Dairy business and started as a farm inspector, right after college..

Farming land in the Netherlands is scarce (being 1/4 the size of Wisconsin) and, therefore, incredibly expensive in May of 2002, started a 350-cow dairy farm in Thorp, WI.

Before Rolf left for the U.S., Marieke asked to come and help out for a week. Rolf is an intelligent man, so he agreed. Before that one week was over, Rolf and Marieke were making big plans together. Some of those plans included cows. In 2003, they were married.

Marieke found herself missing the Dutch cheese she grew up on, however. One night in bed, she decided to learn the craft of Gouda cheese-making. “And we already had the good Wisconsin milk right here on our farm,” she says.

On 22 November of 2006, Marieke Penterman created her first of many exquisite batches of cheeses,using equipment, cultures and herbs imported from the Netherlands. Four months later, she received a phone call from Norm Monsen, that they should enter the 2007 US Cheese Competition in Madison, WI. She was unsure at first because she just started to make Gouda cheese and they hadn’t much selection to choose from. Rolf prevailed and she entered a wheel of the Plain young, Cumin and a Foenegreek Gouda. The Foenegreek is from a seed with a maple-like, nutty flavor.

In her first try, in the 2007 US Cheese Championship, Marieke took home the first of many more gold medals—over 150 and counting.

Since that first win in 2007, she has won multiple awards each year at different national and international cheese competitions. In 2013, she was named the US Cheese Grand Champion. The World cheese competition 2014 saw Marieke swept the Aged Gouda Class, while in 2015 she took down the competition again.  In 2016, she swept the Flavored Gouda Class at the World Cheese Championship.

Her goal and milestone of starting her own business before she would be celebrating her 30th birth year got accomplished, ten days before, when she opened her retail store on December 18th 2006.

She had learned how to market her cheeses not only through her retail store and soon began selling to a wide market through distributors and direct wholesalers.

In 2013, Marieke and Rolf moved the operation to a much larger facility with a new farm, creamery and retail store along Highway 29. Penterman Farms is the location for Marieke Gouda.

Rolf and Marieke have not only grown a prosperous business but also a fine family: twin daughters, Joyce and Luna, 14; their oldest boy Dean, 11; their youngest daughter Fenne, 9 and youngest son, Finn, 8. Dean was born about the same time they inaugurated their cheese production.

Their cheese is made from raw milk, and when they start the cheese-making process the milk is still warm from the cows’ bodies, because they use milk that comes straight from morning milk. About 8,000 pounds of milk from the morning milking is used to make the cheese within about five hours.

Wheels are turned by hand, daily for the first 14 days, and twice a week after that. They are cleaned with a solution off water and vinegar each time they are turned. “It’s a lot of hand labor,” Marieke says.


The cows are treated like family. They have Holsteins, Brown Swiss and crossbreds. According to Marieke, the fact that visitors can pet them is really adds value to the farm.

The comfort of the cows is a priority for Marieke and Rolf. There is sand bedding and 45 inch free-stalls, good ventilation and rotating cow brushes, the sprinklersystem completes the cow-spa.

Awards are sweet but nothing pleases Marieke more than to see her cheeses enjoyed by loyal customers and new-found followers, watching their eyes roll skyward in loving appreciation as they savor old favorites and new creations. Whether it is a slice of Bacon Gouda on a cheeseburger, a chunk of smooth Young Gouda with fresh-baked bread, or bits of Aged Gouda with strawberries and a fine wine… the taste is the thing.

It all springs from the same desire that you come, enjoy, and Taste the Marieke Gouda Experience.

Patricia Pettey

Visit Website | Small Business Administration (SBA)

Bio Coming Soon! 

Sarah Pike

Visit Website | Women Venture

Sarah graduated in 1997 from Syracuse University, where she majored in International Economics and minored in Sociology. Not long after graduation, she decided to focus her career on economic and business development and helping people achieve their American dream. She spent the first 7 years of her career as a civil servant, working for the Minneapolis Community Development Agency and then the City of Minneapolis, where she helped to secure over $30 million in federal and state grant funds to support economic and community development. After earning her MBA at St. Thomas University, she decided to chase her own entrepreneurial aspirations and started her own business, which she ran for six years and then sold. In 2010, she began working with Common Enterprise Development Corporation and the Association of Cooperative Educators (ACE) where she was introduced to the cooperative business model and its utility for helping people to reach equity and business ownership. As the Executive Director of ACE, Sarah worked with co-operative educators across North America to teach both the general public and those within co-ops businesses how this model can help to achieve economic self-sustainability. Sarah joined WomenVenture in 2016 to help bring the cooperative business model to WomenVenture’s offerings. Today she is the Women’s Business Center Director and oversees the training, lending, volunteer, and technical assistance programs. When Sarah isn’t at or commuting to work, she can be found spending time with her fellas – husband Wes, son Tyler, and dog Dutch. Most often they are frolicking in Carver Park, hitting the road in their camper, and in the winter months, playing some broomball.

Natasha Plank

Visit Website | Plank Enterprises

Bio Coming Soon! 

Jean Polka

Visit Website | Wisconsin Procurement Institute (WPI)

Wisconsin Procurement Institute (WPI) is a non-profit Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) that was established in 1987 to assist Wisconsin businesses in creating, developing and growing their Federal, State and Local Government sales, revenues, profits and jobs. WPI provides professional technical assistance throughout the State of Wisconsin — in rural and urban areas — with large, small, well-established and newly created businesses in areas of manufacturing, technology, construction, research, IT and services. WPI works closely with Federal, State and Local small business programs to maximize the opportunities and market success for disadvantaged, minority, native/tribal, woman, disabled and veteran owned firms as well as those located in designated HUBZone and distressed areas. WPI services include market research and strategy development, locating opportunities, compliance, solicitation and proposal review and a myriad of other assistance. Last year WPI worked with over 1,000 businesses, hosted over 100 events and was credited with assisting Wisconsin businesses with over $455 million in contract awards.

Dr. Jodi Ritsch

Visit Website | The Joyful Doc

Dr. Jodi Ritsch is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine. She’s a proud graduate of the Medical College of Wisconsin and completed her residency in Eau Claire. She previously cared for patients at Mayo Clinic Eau Claire and was also the distinguished Medical Director of Employee Wellness from 2012 to 2013. Dr. Ritsch has also attended more than 500 births in her more than 11 years of doing obstetrics. She currently owns and practices at the Joyful Doc Clinic, which offers direct pay visits at their clinics in Menomonie and Eau Claire.

Nancy Rothwell

Visit Website | Straighten-Up Organizing

If you ask Nancy how long she has been helping people get organized, she will tell you she has all of her life. However it wasn’t until early in 2002 when Nancy recognized most people desired to be organized and were willing to pay her for her help. It was then that Nancy Rothwell formed Straighten-Up Organizing.


Nancy earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice, Sociology and Psychology at Mankato State University in Mankato Minnesota March 1988. She followed her dream of becoming a Social Worker and did so for the State of Nebraska as a Child Protective Services Worker for several years. In 1994, a move to Wisconsin caused her to leave her dream job behind and focus on the upcoming birth of her first child. Her husband Bryce and her decided she would be able to raise their children and Nancy was fortunate to stay home with both of her children, Bryanna, now 23 and Brayden, now 20. While being at home with her children, she was able to help friends simplify their lives by helping them get organized. The word got out and one day, Nancy was approached by a friend to organize her scrapbook room- and get paid for it. Get paid for a passion- and it was then Nancy felt her calling to become a Professional Organizer.


In the Fall of 2012, Nancy appeared as the Professional Organizer on an episode of TLC’s Hoarding Buried Alive. She is also currently a member of the newly formed Eau Claire County Hoarding Task Force.

Libby Schmiedlin

Visit Website | Wisconsin Supplier Diversity Program

Bio coming soon!

Tracey Smiskey

Visit Website | Northwestern Bank

Tracey Smiskey is a native of the Chicagoland area and has lived in the Chippewa Valley for 11 years. She currently serves as a Vice President at Northwestern Bank, focusing on business development initiatives and building community relationships.


Past career highlights include working in public relations with the Chicago White Sox, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Minnesota Timberwolves, in addition to a leadership role with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Chippewa Valley. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and Public Relations from The Ohio State University, along with an Advanced Leadership Certification from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.


Tracey and her husband, Seth, have three children, Grant, Delaney, and Collin. She is passionate about spending time with her friends and family, coaching her kids in sports, traveling, and reading.


Tracey feels strongly about continuous learning, dreaming big, and accentuating the positive. Her favorite quote is, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.



Heather Smith

Visit Website | Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)

Heather Smith is a Regional Economic Development Director for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). She is responsible for bringing business and community development programs to a ten-county region in west-central Wisconsin. Prior to moving to Eau Claire in the fall of 2016, Heather served as the Director of Economic Development for the City of Fort Scott, Kansas. She also has several years of experience in the banking and manufacturing industries. Heather obtained her Associate Degree from Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri and graduated Magna Cume Laude with her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from Emporia State University in Kansas. In 2015 she received Certified Public Manager credentials from the University of Kansas. Heather has held leadership positions with many civic organizations including Young Professionals, P.E.O., Rotary, and serving as an alumni mentor.

Dr. Leslie Spangler

Visit Website | Clearwater Dental

Dr. Leslie Spangler grew up in Eau Claire and graduated from Memorial High School. She then moved to Madison and completed her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in medical microbiology and immunology with highest honors. While pursuing her studies rigorously, she also enjoyed her time as a trumpet player in the Wisconsin Marching Band.

Following graduation, Dr. Spangler moved across the border to Minneapolis to attend dental school at the University of Minnesota. There, she developed a passion and skill in the area of endodontics (root canals), periodontics (gum treatment), and pediatrics. Upon graduating from dental school, she immediately returned home to Wisconsin and the Chippewa Valley.

Today, Dr. Spangler lives in Eau Claire with her husband, Bill; their three young children, Sylvia, Nolan, Charles; and their black Labrador, Stella. When not seeing patients, Dr. Spangler enjoys long distance running, reading, and following Wisconsin Badger sports. She is a member of the American Dental Association, Wisconsin Dental Association, Northwest District Dental Society, Seattle Study Club, and Chippewa Valley Study Club.

Bill Sparkes

Visit Website | iHeart Media

Bio Coming Soon! 

Anna Steinfest

Visit Website |  Green Bay Packers Mentor-Protégé Program

Since immigrating to the US in 1998, Anna has spent over 15 years developing programs to empower women, minorities and veterans. Anna is best known for developing the Green Bay Packers Mentor-Protégé Program (mentorship partnership). Anna played a founding role in Wisconsin’s Entrepreneur Network, representing the United States Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs in Israel and Jordan, serving in an advisory capacity for WOKI (Women of Kenya Initiative), and numerous other state, federal, and international programs. With a Master’s degree in economics, Anna’s focus is on developing sustainable programs that encourage community development through entrepreneurship and economic development.

By providing women, minority and veteran communities with access to mentorship, training, and partnerships with established business leaders in their communities, Anna consistently generates a long and successful track record of job creation and long term, positive growth. All this without the potentially unsustainable overreliance on government grants and taxpayer funding for dramatic, far reaching impact.

Anna is the president of AFF Research, LLC and is actively involved in community charities and the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce. Anna is recognized by the Chamber as one of the ‘40 Under 40 You Should Know,’ the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award of Brown County, the Woman for Diversity Award from the Girls Scouts of Lac-Baie Council, and the ECC Founder’s Award.

Sarah Stokes

Visit Website | Stokes+HERZOG

Sarah StokesSarah Stokes has BA in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Political Science. Sarah worked in television news before starting Stokes+HERZOG with her husband. She is an expert in the areas of strategic planning, media relations, writing, editing, event planning, problem solving, on-camera talent, social media expertise, community relations and ad development.

Sarah loves to connect people to solutions. She pours her heart into time with their young son and daughter and has a huge heart for philanthropy, serving on several boards and spearheading fundraisers.

Sarah left TV news in 2013 to launch ownership of a women's magazine called Queen of the Castle. Sarah grew the magazine to 7 times its size and sold the magazine in 2016 to focus more on the growing agency needs at Stokes+HERZOG. She was named the Business Woman of the Year in 2016 for the Western Dairyland Women's Business Center and Extraordinary Business Woman of the Year in 2014 by Polka Dot Powerhouse, a national connection company for women.

Michelle Thiede

Visit Website | Forage EC, LLC

Michelle and Kristen Dexter own Forage EC, LLC, a commercial kitchen, food incubator, and event space for up to 150 people located Banbury Place, in the historic Uniroyal Factory. Forage EC provides a licensed venue and affordable space for established and budding caterers, food producers, pop-up restaurants, and cooking instructors. Chef Michelle has worked in food service for two decades and was head chef at a Wisconsin brew pub for 11 years. Kristen is a home cook with a lifelong interest in all things food related. Together they are working to create community around food!

Erin Trowbridge

Visit Website | Bernicke Wealth Management

Bio Coming Soon! 

Justin Vajko

Visit Website | Dialog Design Co.

"Justin, have you ever thought of being a graphic designer?"

That's the question my art teacher asked me in high school. At the time I dismissed it, not realizing until later that yes, this was exactly what I wanted to do. 


I discovered that graphic design, done right, gets real-world results for good products or services. It can move people. It can offend people. It can inspire people. It can even shape culture.

Years since that initial question was asked of me I now work with select partners to improve their branding and communications to create powerful return on investment.

Christine Varnavas

Visit Website | ANANDAworks

Christine Varnavas focuses on what she loves: food, fitness, and fun. She teaches yoga, facilitates TRE®, trauma release exercise; and coordinates the Chippewa Valley WellFEST, now in its fourth year. This event brings together like-minded individuals and businesses in our region. She has taught group fitness classes, yoga, spinning, and more for over 30 years. She is a certified Yoga Alliance instructor, a certified TRE® facilitator, and a life time certified spinning instructor. She has an MS in Training and Development, a BS in Marketing Education, and an ADAS in Hospitality Management. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, she worked at the University of Wisconsin-Stout for 10 years in outreach programming, grant-writing and administering, and event-planning.

Heather Wittig

Visit Website | Pink Box Purpose, Inc.

Co-Founder of Pink Box Purpose, Inc.

Heather’s first mission trip was in 2014 to Honduras where she fell in love with the country and the people.  After several more mission trips and continually hearing the stories of women’s hardships in developing countries and struggling to find ways to manage their monthly cycles, Heather, along with her sister Jenni, developed a way to sew reusable pads and liners for women in developing countries to use to manage their periods. 

In June of 2017, Heather and Jenni traveled to Honduras with 3 friends, to teach women how to sew their own reusable pads, and their first Hygiene Headquarters was formed.  From then, Heather and Jenni knew they were being called to serve others first, and they formed their 501(c)(3) Nonprofit, Pink Box Purpose, Inc.

As a single mom of two boys, Heather is passionate about ministering to women, especially single moms.  She loves exploring the world and learning about other cultures.  Heather also enjoys weight training, helping others become healthy and snuggling with her two boys.

Sam Zordich

Visit Website | RAI Stone Group

I have raised millions of dollars for companies in multiple industries. Most recently, I raised 1.4 million in the FinTech industry as a sole woman-owned company. In the year I raised the investment, only 117 women owned companies were invested in.

This event brought to you by Western Dairyland Women's Business Center, a program of the Western Dairyland Community Action Agency.

Small Business Administration Logo funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Agreements for persons with disabilities will be made at all times in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and associated amendments. Arrangements for persons with special needs will be made if requested at least two weeks in advance. This institution is an Equal Opportunity Provider. Language assistance services are available for limited English proficient individuals.