Pausing the in-person conference, ISU’s Women Who Create event sends home comforts from female entrepreneurs

Rachel Gai, founder of RachelReloaded, wearing the “Comfort at Home” box scarf she designed for Iowa State University’s Women Who Create gift boxes now on sale.

Photo by Rachel Gai

In a normal year, Iowa State University takes a week at the end of October to host female entrepreneurs and creators to build a network across the state. This year, the annual Women Who Create initiative is bringing female entrepreneurs directly to customers with the help of two curated box gift sets.

“We’re trying to be more creative, because we felt like a lot of people are a little event-tapped out,” said Diana Wright, marketing and programs coordinator at the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship.

This year more than 200 universities and institutions participated in the global Women Entrepreneurship Week initiative, during which ISU typically holds the Women Who Create statewide conference. Wright has led ISU’s participation since 2017.

The two box sets, “Comfort at Home” and “The Inner Artist,” feature nine items produced by female entrepreneurs with ties to Ames or Iowa State University. The boxes are available through the Innovate 1858 store at the Student Innovation Center on ISU’s campus, and continue to be on sale until Thanksgiving, Wright said.

“I do think that communities really have rallied behind these local businesses and Black-owned businesses, whether it’s the restaurant industry, the hospitality industry. … It’s really easy to see where people are getting hit really hard,” Wright said. “People love the local, small businesses; it’s all about the relationship.”

Founder Rachel Gai of RachelReloaded, a CYstarters alum who graduated from Iowa State University in spring 2020, created the two scarves sold in the “Inner Artist” box this year. Gai launched her business as a junior, creating custom upcycled clothes and outfits for clients before scaling her services up to plan DIY sewing and upcycling classes, which she plans to launch soon.

Much of her initial marketing was having her custom outfits seen out on the town in Ames — when COVID-19 closures struck early this year, it interfered with the ability to have her clothes seen, Gai said.

“There are young women entrepreneurs in Iowa. We’re growing, and hopefully [customers] go and tell their friends and family all about the people in these boxes. Hopefully it inspires another young girl to start her own business,” Gai said.

Through a partnership with the Ivy College of Business and donors Tom Swartwood and Terri Combs, $100 of every box purchased will go to a fund establishing a new Women Who Create Scholarship for female students at ISU who are involved in entrepreneurial programs or businesses outside of class.

All other profits from the boxes are returned to the businesses as a way to rally support, Wright said.

“Much of what we’re trying to promote is to really help women business in Iowa,” Wright said. “Your wallet says a lot; there’s a lot of power in how we spend our money. It also shows other women that you can create these products, or you can start a business, and there’s value there.” 

“I’m very inspired by all the people who are in the boxes,” Gai said. “They’re all amazing people, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”