Nancy XiáoRong Valentine (pictured) and Dr. Shauna Overgaard discussed their first impressions of ILT Academy series.

As future entrepreneurs, many look for ways to help bring their ideas to life. This could be anything from watching videos, reading books, talking with other entrepreneurs or attending workshops. Recently, Greater Fergus Falls (GFF) announced a partnership with ILT Academy and Launch MN. Through this partnership, GFF sponsored two area entrepreneurs in Nancy XiáoRong Valentine and Dr. Shauna Overgaard to participate in ILT’s 2021 Lean Startup series.

The series is a 20-week interactive, immersive program that introduces concepts in the Lean Startup methodology in greater Minnesota. The two Fergus Falls entrepreneurs selection to the academy had different meanings for each.

“Particularly in this remote work era, I hoped I would be accepted to train in the academy so that I could learn and give back to the community,” Overgaard said. “I used to think that I needed to put my goals on hold until we moved back to an area that supports my work. In partnering with Greater Fergus Falls, it’s become quite clear that one can enjoy the quality of life Fergus Falls offers while continuing to pursue cutting-edge work.”

“From my perspective it means that my participation in the cohort, the ways I engage with the cohort and apply the learnings from this academy is representative of the entrepreneur sector of Fergus Falls,” Valentine said.

Entering the program, Overgaard, who has dedicated her career to objective measurement and monitoring of brain health, hopes to learn new methods, associated communication styles and innovation-focused teamwork and dynamics modeled into the academy to lead her start-up and provide support to others. After accomplishing this, Overgaard plans to create a business plan and prototype to inform her timeline and investors. 

Valentine’s journey to this point involved attending the Blandin Community Leadership Institute and dreaming of ways to intersect her work as an artist with community development. By participating in ILT Academy, Valentine hopes the cohort will help catalyze the process of connecting the community with her artistry and amplify the vibrancy of the community.

The academy’s learning is 100% online using various platforms for group work and out-of-class work. Valentine explained that the class is four hours each Tuesday with group discussion and sharing feedback, while homework involves watching videos and reading articles to prepare for the next week’s class discussions. “The program has been very fast-paced thus far and much of the ‘learning’ takes place outside of class,” Valentine added.

“The way the ILT Academy is structured is that we are continually evolving and innovating. All of this is occurring in front of our coaches and our cohort. The structured and experiential learning environment in this realm of study is like nothing I’ve experienced. It far surpasses text, YouTube videos and even conversations with established business leaders. They have systematized the training such that every iteration of our work is valuable and better than the first attempts,” Overgaard said.

Currently, the program is focusing on identifying target audiences, problems that each participant’s start-up or small business provides a solution to, and developing a 30-second pitch to best articulate what their businesses are to audiences and potential partners and investors.

Although the two’s participation in the programs has only started they have gained knowledge and learned new lessons.

“A vital lesson I’ve learned is that seeking out feedback from diverse perspectives is crucial to refining one’s business plan. Our cohort is comprised of start-up ideas and small business concepts across a spectrum of sectors and I walk away from my computer each night with a new-to-me idea or framework that has helped me answer some challenging questions and problems,” Valentine said.

Both Valentine and Overgaard are extremely grateful for the opportunity and thank Greater Fergus Falls. For updates on the duo, visit greaterfergusfalls.com or read additional articles printed in the Daily Journal.

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