Supporting and Strengthening Women Business Owners Across the State

6 mins read

Brittany Kennedy, Copper Dog

Brittany Kennedy, and her mom, Cathy Ehlis, are best friends. Both are determined goal-getters with an immense love for community, travel and a great cup of coffee. Their overlapping interests inspired the mother-daughter duo to build a small business where they could bring a taste of their joint adorations together for the benefit of their community. The pair founded Copper Dog, a gourmet waffle and custom coffee café, in July 2019. Copper Dog fosters a family-friendly environment coupled with delicious food: one-of-a-kind waffles topped with a custom blend of local ingredients and high-quality, locally roasted coffee. A favorite of many Copper Dog patrons are their homemade Stroopwaffles, gooey caramel sandwiched between two thin crispy waffle cookies, that were influenced by Cathy’s overseas travels.

Copper Dog is nestled within Mandan’s central business district in a revitalized portion of Main Street—a city close to their hearts. Their family has called Mandan home for decades. “We wanted to bring more culture and unique experiences to the place we love and call home,” Brittany shared.

The café features a special space at the back of the building, a Mini Gym designed to help the community’s youngest members get their wiggles out in a safe, fun atmosphere. This unique aspect of the business was especially important to Brittany because she has three small children of her own, and she notes it can be difficult for parents to find places to eat and relax in a kid-friendly environment. “Copper Dog is about spending time together and enjoying those little moments you share,” Brittany said.

Becoming business partners was a natural fit for Brittany and Cathy. Brittany inherited her parents’ entrepreneurial spirit. Cathy and her husband Randy owned a small business for decades. Copper Dog offers Brittany and Cathy the opportunity to engage their entrepreneurial roots while making a deeper impact in their beloved community.

“We love being a part of the community and strive to make a difference by getting involved whenever we can. We host fundraisers and support local causes,” Brittany said. “Our business serves families like ours, and we want to show up for our community’s family with care and thoughtfulness.”

A Shared Community

Brittany and Cathy take pride in being a woman-owned business and worked with the NDWBC to register as a Certified Woman-Owned Business. The certification and involvement with NDWBC are a mark of distinction for the pair and offer a wealth of resources that connect them to a wider community of women business owners.

“We’re so grateful to the NDWBC for supporting our business and goals,” Brittany explained. “We appreciate knowing they are there to lend a helping hand whenever we need it.”

Brittany credits the NDWBC with encouraging her and helping instill more confidence in herself as a small business owner.

“Any time you have a larger presence in your life of people who are there to support you and help you through the peaks and valleys, it makes everything easier,” she said. “The NDWBC introduced us to a community of smart, talented and strong business owners who have experienced it all and are willing to share their ideas and experiences.”

This sense of shared connection is at the heart of Copper Dog and Brittany and Cathy’s desire to serve their community.

“We hope people feel at home at Copper Dog,” Brittany said. “Our home is your home; we just love waffles!”

By Laiken Aune, Advocacy Director, and Christy Dauer, Executive Director, NDWBC The North Dakota Women’s Business Center is the leading voice, resource and partner for women business owners. Over the years, our organization has helped thousands of women start and grow their business, which in turn enhances their communities and the lives of their customers, positively impacting North Dakota. We are thrilled to share the stories of three women business owners making a difference both locally and statewide.

Beth Nodland, Juniper, LLC

A surprising artifact discovery during her college years unearthed a new and unexpected path for Beth Nodland, president and CEO of Juniper, LLC. Beth has always been interested in history, especially local history and the discovery prompted her to take a deep dive into the past—and her future.

“Finding that artifact led me to researching, which led me to take classes, which led me to change my major, which led me to two degrees,” she said.

Beth was in her 30s with a well-established career, but she decided to pivot after her discovery and pursue her passions in anthropology and archaeology. It was a change that led her to find Juniper in 2007.

Juniper is a regional cultural resource management and environmental consulting firm. The team works on state, tribal and federally permitted projects that involve archaeological, environmental and paleontological resources. Juniper has provided National Historic Preservation Act compliance services to more than 82 private and public clients in more than 1,200 separate projects.

From Questions to Confidence

As she dug into starting her company, Beth attended Marketplace of Ideas conferences that provided her opportunities to learn about available entrepreneurial support in North Dakota, including the NDWBC. She recalled feeling stuck when she tried to create a “too-detailed” cash flow projection. The NDWBC staff worked alongside Beth to help scale her plans and supported her in establishing a strong foundation to start her business.

“I first went to the North Dakota Women’s Business Center before the oil boom, when there wasn’t a lot happening in my profession in North Dakota,” she said. “I wanted to start a niche business, and they advised on the challenges, while always encouraging me. Years later, when the oil boom hit, I was prepared to launch Juniper.” Beth said the NDWBC is her primary connection to the broader women’s business community, a connection she values immensely. “I started North Dakota’s only woman-owned archaeology company, in a male-dominated industry. Being a female, older-than-most entrepreneur, it was lonely at times,” she said. “I was also raising a child with special needs, which added to feeling isolated.”

She appreciates the years of steadfast support and many meaningful relationships with other area women business owners she’s gained through the NDWBC.

“I always felt like the NDWBC had my back if I needed them. They would do whatever they could to help if I asked,” Beth said.

Marissa Nehlsen, Freedom Financial Group

Free yourself. Dream big. Live well. It’s the mantra Marissa Nehlsen lives by—and the core values by which her business, Freedom Financial Group, was founded in 1993.

Freedom Financial Group offers a game-changing holistic approach to educating, empowering and equipping individuals to take control of their finances, and ultimately, their futures. The organization helps people realize their dreams through the guidance of well-rounded staff, collaboration and comprehensive services in all elements of finance: tax, legal, risk and wealth management. They also offer family planning services and communication coaching for conflict resolution and team building, recognizing that communication breakdown is often at the core of many issues businesses and families face.

Every Freedom Financial Group teammate has a specialty, but everyone works together as a strong group to create customized plans designed to help clients grow and conserve their wealth. This distinct tailored approach often has their clients referring to Freedom Financial Group as the “Mayo Clinic of Finance.”

“We kick off the initial meeting with a client by asking them to paint a picture of what they want in life. Our entire team is present during this time, like a roundtable,” Marissa explained. “This allows us to understand the client’s whole picture and put together the best plan to serve as their vision to build their lasting legacy.”

Marissa said this approach is different because it places the emphasis on the person rather than the plan, and it’s an approach that’s working. As founder and CEO of Freedom Financial Group, Marissa has helped thousands of people take control of their futures and live well.

From Power of One to 10x The Power

Marissa’s humble rural North Dakotan roots equipped her with the grit and moxie she needed to start her own business and become the trailblazer she is today. Even so, she found herself curious about how other business owners balanced life and entrepreneurship.

“I wondered how people manage their lives while operating a business, especially those doing it alone,” she said. A friend invited her to connect with the NDWBC, and Marissa’s world opened up to bountiful opportunities through networking with other women business owners.

“Everyone needs a thinking partner to share ideas, strategize and discuss options with. The community I found in NDWBC is irreplaceable. I have a network of women telling me I can be the best version of me in my business,” Marissa said.

The support Marissa gained through the collaborative ‘thinking partners’ positively impacted her life and the way she operated her business.

“In the presence of leaders one day, I posed a question. ‘What must we do together that we can’t do alone,’” she said.

The dialogue that followed helped her harness the power of big thinking, which led her to starting a passion nonprofit foundation in Costa Rica. The Foundation of Latin America organization builds schools that focus on a curriculum geared toward learning practical skills such as sewing lessons and the fundamentals of money management while providing mentorship to students.

Marissa said these foundational building blocks help Costa Rican youth develop the necessary skills to change the course of their lives—and to dream big and live well. It echoes the same supportive guidance she’s received through the NDWBC that led her to founding the nonprofit—a full-circle life moment for Marissa and life-changing experience for the youth she serves