Wollmuth Insurance wins BIG Challenge

Shari Wollmuth is speechless as winner of the BIG Challenge on Nov. 18 in LeMars. The entreprenuer program gave its $5,000 top prize to her Sibley business, Wollmuth Insurance, at its finale showcase at the Willow Creek Golf Course.

LEMARS—Wollmuth Insurance won a regional award for new businesses and a $5,000 prize on Nov. 18 from the BIG Challenge in LeMars.

The independent insurance office in Sibley was one of five finalists for the entrepreneur program and was recognized for its rapid expansion and its status as the only Spanish-speaking agency in N’West Iowa.

The BIG Challenge is a collaboration between area development groups to build, innovate and grow emerging shops and firms in the region.

The other four finalists did not leave empty-handed. A second-place prize of $2,500 went to Midwest Designs of Sheldon. In third was Hardly General of Moville, which earned $1,500. The two other finalists, Friedrechsen Meat Company of Sutherland and Lovechatas of Sioux City, each got $500.

The lineup met Thursday evening at the Willow Creek Golf Course in LeMars for a pitch and Q&A competition. A panel of judges chose Wollmuth Insurance as the 2021 business most deserving of the prize to boost its early growth.

Wollmuth Insurance

Shari Wollmuth started off on her own after a career working for major national insurance agencies. The Sibley native knew that she could bring her small-town know-how and personal touch if she opened an independent office, which she did in April.

She said the one-on-one conversations she has with local clients is what sets her office apart.

“I get to know them and their back­ground and see if any gaps need to be filled,” Wollmuth said. “We go through what they need, what they’re lacking and make sure they’re covered. I mean, that’s what insurance is for.”

Shari Wollmuth, Wollmuth Insurance

Shari Wollmuth pitches her business at the BIG Challenge event on Nov. 18 in LeMars. Wollmuth Insurance, her independent insurance agency in Sibley, won first place in the entrepreneur competition.

Wollmuth Insurance offers plans through various providers, although its main connection is through Nationwide. The owner said she is proud of the array of coverages she offers to individuals and businesses from heavy machinery and motorcycles to big acreages and renter’s insurance.

Wollmuth said her experience in the colossal corporate side of her industry has given her the experience to be an effective agent while her local roots make her a fighter for her clients.

“You can call me day or night. You don’t have to call a 1-800 number and talk to somebody in Tennessee. I’m right there,” she said.

The other calling card for the firm is its investment in Hispanic N’West Iowans. Wollmuth said a quarter of her business comes from Spanish speakers who otherwise would not have a place to get covered anywhere nearby.

Right after opening, she hired Alicia Ordonez as the office’s Spanish translator. The move was cited by BIG Challenge judges as a top reason for giving the top prize to Wollmuth Insurance.

“We are growing in Sibley. To see Hispanics in our area, we welcome them. We want to educate them and make sure they’re doing the right thing and get protected,” Wollmuth said.

The $5,000 will go toward expanding the company offices to a satellite location in a city yet to be decided.

Midwest Designs

Sheldon’s business at Thursday’s event started in Brittany Maassen’s home last winter. Midwest Designs makes hair accessories, specializing in headbands, all of which Maassen makes by hand in her free time.

Even as a part-time substitute teacher and full-time mother of three young boys, Maassen said she still finds a way to keep up with demand, shipping out inventory from coast to coast.

Brittany Maassen, Midwest Designs

Brittany Maassen runs her accessory business, Midwest Designs, out of her Sheldon home.

“I do it during nap time and when they go to sleep,” she said. “Right now, it’s part time, but sometimes with kids, they do have to go to the day care so I can still keep up with things.”

Maassen started making headbands as a hobby, dissatisfied with the retail offerings she could find. She taught herself to sew with tutorial videos and she soon was making more for friends, family and eventually hoards of orders from her business’ website.

She operates Midwest Designs single-handedly out of her Sheldon home, crafting 50-100 items a week.

“Rough math — I’ve made over 4,000 handmade products in 11 months,” Maassen said.

The businesswoman said she knows that apparel trends can change quickly so she’s expanding her repertoire to include scrunchies and other products to supplement her signature headbands.

“It’s turned into something way more than I ever thought it would,” she said.

Friedrechsen Meat Company

Will and Macey Friedrechsen are passionate about supporting their small town of Sutherland. Will has his own interest in butchery, holding an animal science degree from Iowa State University in Ames, and Macey comes from a family of entrepreneurs.

Macey and Will Friedrechsen, Friedrechsen Meat Company

Macey and Will Friedrechsen run their booth on Nov. 18 at the BIG Challenge event in LeMars. The couple is in the process of opening a butcher shop and meat locker in Sutherland called Friedrechsen Meat Company.

Those factors together drove the young couple to found Friedrechsen Meat Company earlier this year. Once a prime spot on the main road through town became available, the Friedrechsens sunk their teeth into the opportunity.

“We had been talking for a few years about putting up a meat locker. After everything that went on with COVID, we decided if we’re going to do it, we better do it,” Will said.

He and Macey explained that there is not a custom slaughter shop anywhere near the community in south O’Brien County.

With plenty of cows, pigs and more exotic beasts available in the area, it should be a sound economic decision to open the meat locker in the rural region.

“We really wanted to bring another business to Sutherland,” he said. “We love the community. We love their support. They’re incredibly supportive of everything and we just thought it would be a great place to open a business. It just so happened to be my hometown.”

The Friedrechsens are expanding the building at 410 E. Southern St. and renovating the existing structure and are looking to open their doors some time next year.

Others

In addition to the three N’West Iowa businesses, the BIG Challenge had a pair of finalists from Woodbury County.

Hardly General is an event center and shared commercial space in Moville. Owner Marissa Molland said her town of 1,700 has plenty of small businesses but many are not big enough to justify a storefront. Her place fills that gap.

“It gives vendors a brick-and-mortar feel without the expense,” Molland said.

When it is used as a pop-up marketplace the storefront can be a venue for nearly any gathering. Molland listed yoga classes, photography shoots and corporate meetings as examples, although celebratory gatherings are her most common clientele.

“I like to say that all you need is a cake to come have an event in our space,” she said.

Sioux City also had representation at the BIG Challenge with Lovechatas, run by Barnabe Mendoza.

Like Maassen and the Friedrechsens, Mendoza’s business started as a hobby that got out of hand.

He said he started Lovechatas when he could not find a version of Spanish-style sweetened milk drink that he liked nearby.

After taking months to get the recipe just right at home, he started selling in and around Sioux City.

“The goal one day is to be worldwide, but right now it’s just out of Woodbury County,” Mendoza said.