Jenny Sheets was born and bred on the northern plains, from Fargo to Billings and up to the mountains of western Montana. She spent her childhood in Fargo and was lucky enough to spend summers in Montana visiting family. When everyone else headed east to the lakes, she was the “weird kid” who headed west toward sagebrush and rimrocks. Jenny bounced around for college but ultimately finished proudly at MSUM with a BA in English and Philosophy. The top-notch education she received at MSUM (“long live the humanities!”) shaped who she is today, and she is lucky enough to still be in contact with several of her former professors. Post-graduation, she was about to head to Syracuse for law school but a strange detour took her on a six-month solo backpacking trip to South America that greatly changed her trajectory. She spent the next 15 years in Montana earning a Masters degree in Public Administration from Montana State and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana, all while skiing, trail running, mountain biking and floating the rivers. When she decided to grow up (“only a little”) and have a baby, she and her husband made the choice to move closer to family and bought a house sight-unseen in Moorhead. Although the move was scary, and nothing could have prepared them for the winter they erased from their memories, she says she never felt more at home than being back in the Fargo-Moorhead area again. Jenny works at Emerging Prairie, an organization created to energize the startup ecosystem, and is able to meet incredible founders and community builders every single day.
What is your favorite thing about your professional life?
I can’t believe how much people share with me about founding their companies and I couldn’t be more honored. No matter the stage of the company, whether a student is dreaming up an idea or someone is raising $10 million, I get to hear about people’s passions and what drove them to build their business. I also love that Emerging Prairie is extremely fast-paced and exciting—even in the office! From the Emerging Digital Academy school in the Prairie Den to the Grand Farm activity happening in the fields to events like Possibility Summit and Prairie Capital, there is always something going on, which I love.
What are three unique facts about yourself?
1 I got to throw a basketball from the free-throw line after a Minnesota Timberwolves game. Alas, I did not make it.
2 I have never had a cavity.
3 I spent 10 days hiking around Antarctica. It was warmer than winter in Fargo.
What are some of your favorite things about the Fargo Moorhead area?
One of my favorite things about the FM area is the diversity of restaurants! I love that I can have incredible bagels and schmear for breakfast, authentic Thai food for lunch and then delicious Ethiopian food for dinner. The options are endless. I am also in love with all of the green space in Fargo, which is a huge improvement from when I grew up here. We have always had nice parks, but now there are trails for hiking and biking, river improvement projects and even more open space than before. And last but not least, the people. Everyone says this, but it’s true: Fargo-Moorhead is about the people. This is one of the best places to put down roots because of the willingness of neighbors and total strangers to network, introduce, and support each other. As we say at Emerging Prairie, a rising tide lifts all boats.
If you weren’t working in your current profession, what would you be doing?
I’m a little scatterbrained with my passions, but I’d have to say if I wasn’t working at Emerging Prairie, my dream job would be some sort of organic farmer with an agritourism business, writing a collection of essays at night, teaching at the university part-time and leading outdoor classes for Nature of the North. That’s reasonable, right?
What are some things you like to do in your spare time?
Being outdoors and active is a big part of my life. I must get outside everyday, even if it’s just for a quick walk. If I have a little more time I love to long-distance run, mountain bike or cruise on my townie bike, cross country ski in the winter and forage in the summer. If it’s too cold, you’ll find me working on my art projects, cooking, reading, writing, and playing with my son, Henry Danger.
What are three books or podcasts you recommend people check out?
I wonder if I am the only person on earth who doesn’t listen to podcasts. I can’t find the time! But I am an avid reader, so I have thousands of recommendations. I am a big fan of creative nonfiction and fiction. Some of my non-fiction favorites include: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. For fiction, I am a huge Harry Potter fan, no shame. Other fiction favorites include The Round House by Louise Erdrich and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (I couldn’t put it down!).
If you could change or impact one thing in our business community, what would it be?
I would love to encourage more women to start a business and/ or consider getting into private capital. We need more women as founders, executive leaders and fund managers. It can be scary, especially when you don’t see yourself represented in “the business world” so my advice is to reach out to women who are running their own business and ask them about their experience, contact the North Dakota Women’s Business Center website (www.ndwbc.com) for resources, and reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get connected but don’t know how!
What are three business tips you can give?
1. Nobody really knows what they’re doing, even the guy in the intimidating suit. Business is risky and scary, no matter who you are or what you’re doing. Take it one step at a time, one breath at a time.
2. Build your community of other founders or people of similar industries. If you are starting a business or running a business, no one will understand you quite like other business owners. Reach out.
3. Advice is free so take it sparingly and with caution.