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Published December 07, 2012, 12:00 AM

40 under 40: Immense Inspiration

The honorees selected for Prairie Business magazine’s annual top 40 business professionals under the age of 40 represent a cross-section of the immense talent that exists in varied sectors throughout our area, providing inspiration for the entire business community through their determination to exceed expectations and willingness to work hard for success.

By: Kris Bevill, Prairie Business Magazine

Among this year's group are entrepreneurs, sales leaders, a patent holder and a Pulitzer prize winner. Some of the honorees have worked in the same field for most of their adult life while others have already made a noticeable impact in new endeavors.

Many of the honorees are devoted to contributing to their communities outside of work as well, serving on local school boards, chamber committees and charitable organization committees.

We are proud to introduce this year's top 40 members of the region's business community.

Darin Seeley (37)

Senior Manager, Human Resources and Employment

Black Hills Corp.

Rapid City, S.D.

Darin, a native of tiny Chester, S.D., left the Ohio auto industry behind to return to his home state in 2009 to work for diversified energy company Black Hills Corp. Since making the switch Darin has embraced his new role at Black Hills Corp. and gained a reputation among his peers as being at the forefront of incorporating technology into human resources activities. Among those technologies is a web tool that allows the company to conduct recorded interviews with potential candidates. Darin says that adopting this method of long-distance interviewing has reduced transportation costs, eliminated scheduling conflicts between interviewees and interviewers and proven to be a time-saver for everyone involved in the hiring process.

Darin has also become a vocal advocate for adequately training workers for in-demand professions, a passion which stems from working for an industry with a graying workforce and few prospective replacements. “The energy industry, particularly utilities, is facing an aging workforce — 50 percent will retire in the next five to seven years — which will translate to a large shortage of workers,” he says. He once went so far as to tell a gathering of college presidents and regional legislators “to stop sending everybody to college,” he says, adding good-naturedly, “They didn’t throw anything at me so I guess I will call that a success.”

Darin holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business from South Dakota State University and an MBA degree from the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio. “I consider myself a business person first, an HR person second,” he says. He says he believes HR professionals in general will need to “learn the language of business” more fluently in the future in order to adapt to the business climate, a concept which gives those professionals with business backgrounds a bit of an advantage over traditionally trained HR majors. He is passionate about his profession and its role in making businesses successful. “I moved into HR because I liked the work in developing people, getting the best out of them, and supporting the business in that way,” he says.

Darin lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with his wife and two children.

Aaron Lamb (37)


Ergologistics LLC

Fargo, N.D.

Aaron is the founder of FormulaNow, an automated infant formula dispensing system, and Ergologistics LLC, maker of the automated hand truck dubbed Lift’n Buddy, but as is the case for many entrepreneurs, his entrance into the world of entrepreneurialism happened by chance. After majoring in international studies at North Dakota State University, Aaron eventually accepted a temporary position as a sales representative for a coffee and tea distributor. The job ended up lasting for several months because representatives were continually injuring themselves while trying to lift heavy equipment. Seeing the frequency with which company representatives sustained injuries led to the “a-ha” moment that eventually resulted in the Lift’n Buddy, he says.

A similar revelation struck one hectic workday morning after his wife verbalized her wish for a machine that could prepare a baby bottle at the push of a button. That thought triggered the notion for an automated machine, and FormulaNow was born.

About three years ago, the North Dakota State University Research & Technology Park accepted Aaron and his team into its Technology Incubator and has provided business development expertise in preparation for his company’s full-fledged launch. “In essence, they provide somewhat of a safety net,” he says. “Then the training wheels come off and you go and grow.” For Ergologistics, which has already sold a few hundred units worldwide, that launch will likely happen next year.

Aaron also expects to launch FormulaNow in 2013. He recently secured Series A financing and is negotiating with the fifth largest infant formula producer in the world.

Aaron says mentors at NDSU urge young businesses to focus on current projects and monetize them before moving on to their next ventures, but he “has the itch to keep on innovating” and hopes to launch more products in the near future. “Watch for us because we do have something around the bend,” he says.

Jennifer Grosz (31)

Lawyer, Shareholder

Ebeltoft . Sickler . Lawyers

Dickinson, N.D.

Jen received her law degree from the University of Nebraska School of Law in 2005 and and soon after began her legal career at Mackoff Kellogg Law Firm in Dickinson, N.D. But within just four years, she moved on to launch a new law firm in Dickinson, N.D., and assumed a leadership role within the firm.

Now three years into her role as shareholder at Ebeltoft, Sickler, Kolling, Grosz, Bouray PLLC, Jen has become the “go-to” lawyer for large-scale business transactions at the firm, specializing in succession planning and sales of operations for oilfield operators. It is unusual for someone to become such an accomplished lawyer at such a young age, and Jen says she sometimes has to convince her clients that although she’s young, she’s perfectly qualified for the job. “Early in my career, I was fortunate to have very talented attorneys guide me into areas of the law that they felt were the most consistent with my talents,” she says. “Because of their leadership and encouragement, I was able to focus on what has become my area of expertise right from the start.”

Jen is also a founding member of the Dickinson Young Professionals Network and mentors new lawyers and law clerks at her firm. In 2010, the Young Professionals Network named the firm the best place in North Dakota to intern. Jen’s main piece of advice to newcomers at the firm is this: Take a deep breath. “I think young lawyers are often overly terrified of making a mistake, thinking that a mistake they make will be fatal to the case on which they’re working,” she says. “Mistakes can be fixed, and my job as a partner is to help our associates and law clerks come up with a plan to fix them.”

Michael Karvakko (32)


Karvakko Engineering

Bemidji, Minn.

Michael is a Michigen native who moved to Bemidji, Minn., with his wife a, Minnesota native, after receiving a civil engineering degree from Michigan Technical University in 2000. In 2006, he founded Karvakko Engineering, a civil engineering company with an emphasis on providing top-notch customer service to its clients. Michael and his small staff worked on a diverse number of projects in northern Minnesota and North Dakota for the first few years of business, most notably the Bemidji airport, which has been under development for 10 years. Since founding Karvakko Engineering, Michael says his company has conducted $35 million in improvements at the airport.

But the Bakken’s reach stretches far, and this past year has proven that point at Karvakko Engineering. The firm has more than doubled in size to its current staff of 15 employees, due largely to projects the company is conducting in the oil fields of western North Dakota. Michael has also been able to expand his company’s offerings, recently adding landscape architecture and land surveying to its list of capabilities. Michael credits his “energetic staff” for seeking out challenges and opportunities that have helped grow the firm’s list of projects and says his staff is what inspires him to build the best business possible.

Michael lives with his wife and three children on a hobby farm near Bemidji. He is a member of the Society of Professional Engineers, the Minnesota Council of Airports, the City Engineers Association of Minnesota and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Nicole Peske (32)

Education and Training Coordinator

North Dakota League of Cities

Bismarck, N.D.

Nicole has worked for the North Dakota League of Cities for more than a decade. In her current role, she connects civic leaders with training opportunities in emergency response, crisis communications, social media and leadership. She also facilitates the league’s scholarship program and coordinates its annual meeting. Nicole also serves as co-lead of the Bismarck-Mandan Young Professional’s professional development team.

David Lehman (37)

Manufacturing Engineering Extension Specialist

North Dakota State University

Bismarck, N.D.

David joined NDSU in 2009, where he provides outreach, resource materials and preliminary engineering assistance based on the needs of investors, companies and organizations throughout North Dakota. He also serves as an executive board member for the IDEA Center business incubator in Bismarck and is a member of the Economic Development Association of North Dakota. Additionally, he is the proprietor and president of a real estate investment firm with holdings in Bismarck, Mandan and Dickinson.

Deb Eslinger (36)

Executive Director

Center for Technology & Business

Bismarck, N.D.

As the executive director of the Center for Technology & Business (CTB), Deb runs the N.D. Women’s Business Center and develops programming and initiatives to support women in business, leadership and economic development throughout North Dakota. She also serves on the excellence in business committee for the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce and provides leadership for the North Dakota Young Professionals through her role at the CTB.

Ryan Boschee (33)

Group Bank President

Great Western Bank

Watertown, S.D.

Ryan joined Great Western Bank in 2001 as a management trainee in Watertown and Madison, S.D. Since that time he has served in various positions, leading to a promotion to group president in 2011. In this role, he oversees markets in Watertown, Chamberlain and Madison, S.D. He also currently serves on the boards of the Business Industry School Coalition, United Way, Habitat for Humanity, the Watertown Chamber of Commerce and Karing Kapers.

Julie Haugen (34)

Impact Institute Director

Impact Foundation

Fargo, N.D.

Julie became director of the Impact Institute in 2007 and works continuously to bring new programs to nonprofits of the region to expand their leadership, capacity and impact. In 2009, she launched a leadership program to help nonprofit executives improve their impact. She also led in developing the online giving website and building Giving Hearts Day to a successful event. The 2012 Giving Hearts Day garnered $1.6 million in donations to charities in a 24-hour period.

Derrick Dinger (32)

Managing Director Northwestern Mutual

Aberdeen, S.D.

Derrick became managing director for Northwestern Mutual in 2009 and has since grown his office from three representatives to 10 and has more than doubled its production. In 2012, he received the Emerging Leader award from the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce. He is an active member of the Wolves Club Board of Trustees and is a committee member for Northern State University Athletics.

Jennifer Slaight-Hansen (39)

Director of Sales and Marketing

Wooden Mallet

Aberdeen, S.D.

Jennifer joined Wooden Mallet in 2008 and is responsible for overall growth and development of reseller relationships. Since joining the company, she has renegotiated dealer contracts resulting in a 25 percent cost savings and opened more than 50 new reseller accounts, comprising nearly 30 percent of the current year’s sales. She is also a founding member of Aberdeen’s downtown association and has served as an elected Aberdeen City Councilperson since 2009.

Jolene Loetscher (33)


Selfspiration, Mud Mile Communications, DooGooders

Sioux Falls, S.D.

Jolene launched her first business in 2007 – a dog waste removal service which provides a portion of its sales to charities. She has also co-founded Mud Mile Communications, which assists brands in developing social media, online, video and communications strategies and Selfspiration, a nonprofit organization aimed at increasing awareness of sexual abuse, particularly crimes against children, through legislative and social change. In 2012, she worked to pass legislation in South Dakota which would remove the statue of limitations on certain types of rape cases.

Kory Anderson (29)


Horsch Anderson/Anderson Industries/Anderson Bros. Farms

Andover, S.D.

After serving as engineering manager for agricultural implement manufacturer Horsch Anderson since 2005, Kory became president of the company in 2010. He launched Anderson Industries in 2006 and has steadily expanded the business, most recently through the acquisition of a Mapleton, N.D., company in 2011. Additionally, he and his brother formed Anderson Bros. Farm in 2011, a South Dakota farming business that raises corn and soybeans.

Stacy Kusler (29)


Aurora Clinic

Grand Forks, N.D.

As manager of Aurora Clinic, Stacy has played an instrumental role in growing the clinic to its current staff of 24 people. She also founded the Red River Runners group of Grand Forks, which has 150 paid members annually, and serves on the Fargo Marathon planning committee. She volunteers as a coach for Special Olympics and serves as the public relations coordinator for the local Special Olympics area management team.

Justin Mahler (34)

Director of Engineering

Spectrum Aeromed

Fargo, N.D.

Justin has held the lead engineer position at Spectrum Aeromed since 2007 and is responsible for the oversight, management and leadership of a five-person in-house engineering team and three outside consulting engineers. In recognition of his skills, qualifications, technical knowledge and expertise as a designer, the Federal Aviation Administration appointed Justin as a Designated Engineering Representative. He is one of the youngest DERs in the U.S.

Lee Harstad (36)

Marketing Director

Deadwood Chamber of Commerce Visitors Bureau

Deadwood, S.D.

As marketing director for the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce Visitors Bureau, Lee directs one of the largest private-sector advertising and promotion budgets in the region. He also currently serves as vice president of the Black Hills Badlands and Lakes Association and is the public information officer for the Deadwood Volunteer Fire Department. He is also an outdoors columnist for the Rapid City Journal.

Scott Eisenbeisz (36)

Director of Clinic Operations

Sanford Health Aberdeen Clinic

Aberdeen, S.D.

Scott became the clinic director at Sanford Aberdeen in 2010 and oversees a medical staff consisting of more than 40 providers ranging from family medicine to advanced sub-specialty practices for children and adults. He has previously served in a variety of administrative roles within Sanford Health, most recently as director of primary care, a position which entails working within rural health clinics, quality payment programs, the Diabetes Health Coach program and electronic health record projects.

Brad Tollerson (38)

Manager, Power Services

Otter Tail Power Co.

Fergus Falls, Minn.

As manager of power services, Brad leads Otter Tail Power Co.’s wholesale energy market operations and staff and is instrumental in leading the company through the dramatically changing energy markets. He is a U.S. Patent holder for his involvement in the development of an Energy Coordination System for facilitating customer choice for electric service. Additionally, Brad is actively involved in regional energy market committees and task forces.

Randy Grismer (38)

General Manager

Comfort Inn

Aberdeen, S.D.

In addition to his role as general manager of the Aberdeen Comfort Inn, Randy operates a restaurant/bar and event facility in Aberdeen and has been an active member of the community for more than 15 years. He helped to create the Aberdeen Hotel Alliance which launched a self-taxing authority for the town’s hotels, generating more than $300,000 annually for marketing and reserve funds for event funding. He has also held leadership roles with the local chamber of commerce and convention and visitors bureau.

Eric Icard (35)

Senior Business Development Officer

Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.

Grand Forks, N.D.

Eric has more than a decade of experience in various levels of economic development and is currently focused on developing the emerging Unmanned Aerial Systems enterprise in the Grand Forks, N.D., region. He is the first chairman of Northland Community & Technical College’s Northland Aerospace Foundation board of directors, a member of the local Air Force Association and represents the Grand Forks Region EDC on the Red River Regional Council.

Emily Richardt (31)

Director of Public Relations, Committees and Programs

Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce

Aberdeen, S.D.

Emily recently joined the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce after having spent 10 years as a journalist. During her time spent as a reporter and editor, she received several prestigious awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in public service, journalism’s highest honor, as part of the staff of the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald for its coverage following Hurricane Katrina. She was also named South Dakota’s young journalist of the year in 2006.

Todd Medd (34)

Project Manager,Fargo Manager

JLG Architects

Fargo, N.D.

He joined JLG just two years ago, but Todd’s enthusiasm and management qualities have quickly led him to a management position, including a recent appointment as manager of the firm’s Fargo office. He also leads JLG’s health care division, which under his management has worked with the Fargo Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Sanford Health. Before joining JLG, Todd worked for HKS, one of the nation’s largest architecture firms, where he worked on the Aria Casino and Convention Center project in Las Vegas among other projects.

Brett Gurholt (36)

Office Manager

Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson

Bismarck, N.D.

Brett has worked for KLJ for eight years, beginning as a landscape architect in 2004. He currently serves as office manager at the firm’s Bismarck location, which houses more than half of the company’s 600 employees. He is a member of KLJ’s long-term planning committee and project management reinvented team, which seeks to find innovative ways to manage projects and meet clients’ needs. Brett serves on the board of directors for Bismarck’s Downtowner’s Association and as chairperson for the Bismarck Forestry Advisory Board .

Chris Dumont (30)

Project Manager

Kadrmas, Lee and Jackson

Grand Forks, N.D.

A graduate of North Dakota State University, Chris has spent six years developing engineering expertise in airport design and construction projects for general and commercial airports. He serves on the board of directors for the North Dakota Young Professionals Network as well as the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals Network. He is an aircraft owner, a licensed pilot, and is actively involved in the aviation community.

Matt Prehn (36)

Principal Business Relationship Manager

Wells Fargo Bank

Aberdeen, S.D.

Matt has spent 12 years at Wells Fargo Bank. As principal business relationship manager, he oversees its business banking team members. Matt has a strong track record in community involvement, serving for nine years as a member of the Aberdeen Sertoma Club and eight years as a member of the Hub Area Habitat for Humanity. He has spent two years on the board of directors at the United Way of Northeastern South Dakota and is a member of the Aberdeen Parks and Recreation board of directors.

Joshua Riedy (37)

Chief Information Officer

University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, N.D.

Josh joined UND initially as dean of outreach programs and quickly revolutionized the division, resulting in UND becoming a leading university in online education. Based on this success, he was appointed to the additional role of chief information officer for the university. He is also the associate chief information officer for the North Dakota University System and director of system information technology services.

Eric Watson (38)

Owner/Executive Chef

Mosaic Catering & Events, Mezzaluna Restaurant

Fargo, N.D.

In eight years, Watson has grown his business from a small catering company with just two employees to a catering service and dining establishment with more than 35 employees. He has been a driving force in creating an upscale catering scene in the Red River Valley. In 2011, Mosaic Foods received the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award. Eric also contributes to community events that support local food pantries, the arts scene and school fundraisers.

Eric Christensen (36)

Chief Financial Officer

Trussbilt LLC

Huron, S.D.

As CFO of security products manufacturer Trussbilt LLC, Eric has transformed the company’s finance department by reducing its monthly close to single day. He oversees five other administrative and operational departments with a goal of reducing costs, increasing output and becoming self-sufficient. A resident of Mitchell, S.D., Eric has been a member of the Mitchell school board for the past five years and recently joined the local career learning center and the James River Housing Authority.

Tyrone Grandstrand (27)

Financial Representative

Northwestern Mutual

Grand Forks, N.D

Tyrone displayed strong leadership skills while still a student at the University of North Dakota, where he served a rare two consecutive terms as student body president and led the impressive student body volunteerism effort during the 2009 Red River Valley flood. In addition to his work at Northwestern Mutual, Tyrone serves as the finance committee chair of the Grand Forks Community Land Trust, a nonprofit group focused on creating permanent affordable home ownership opportunities in the city.

Tiffany Wirth (37)

Director of Marketing

Evolution1 Inc.

Fargo, N.D.

Tiffany joined Evolution1 (then Lighthouse1) in 2009 and helped it grow and maintain its current title as the largest electronic payment, on-premise and cloud computing health care solution that administers reimbursement accounts in the nation. The company and its partners currently serve more than 8 million consumers. Tiffany’s experience includes five years at Great Plains Software and six years at Microsoft, where she served as senior marketing manager before joining Evolution1.

Leap Chear (32)


EAPC Architects Engineering

Fargo, N.D.

Leap’s many office responsibilities at EAPC include project manager, project architect, sustainability coordinator and office recycling program. He is also a member of the company’s project manager group, which is committed to better serving clients through improved office management. He is LEED AP BD+C certified and is an executive board member of the North Dakota chapter of the United States Green Building Council. In 2009, he received the Young Architect of the Year award from the North Dakota American Institute of Architects.

Becky Walen (37)

Vice President, Relationship Manager

U.S. Bank

Fargo, N.D.

Becky has spent more than 15 years in financial services and has experience in investment management, trust, custody, securities lending and financial planning. She joined U.S. Bank’s wealth management division in 2005 and currently serves as relationship manager for a select group of clients in the Dakotas and northern Minnesota. Becky is also pursuing a master’s degree in family financial planning at North Dakota State University and is an active participant in several local organizations.

Nicole Walter (33)

Director of Member Services & Events

Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce

Aberdeen, S.D.

Nicole joined the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce in 2003 as an administrative assistant and has since served as project coordinator and membership director. She obtained an Institute for Organization Management certificate in 2010 through the U.S. Chamber and implemented a membership perks program at the local level in 2011. She is extensively involved in community service activities in the areas of youth, education and community development and has a sincere desire to make a difference in the community.

Jennifer Klitzke (35)

Administrative Assistant

United Way of Northeastern South Dakota Inc.

Aberdeen, S.D.

Jennifer has worked in the nonprofit community for 12 years but also has a background in accounting. At United Way, she is responsible for transitioning the organization through several donation and accounting software upgrades. In 2010, she received the Emerging Leader award from the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce for demonstrating leadership qualities within her place of business and the community. Her community involvement includes chairing the Kids Voting Aberdeen committee.

Val Wagner (35)


Wagner Farms

Monango, N.D.

Val, along with her husband, manages her family’s farm and ranch. She is a vocal advocate for rural North Dakota and American agriculture and served previously on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s National Young Farmer and Rancher Committee. She is adamant that the family farm/ranch operation continue for her four young sons and generations to come and works constantly to utilize farming and ranching practices that increase profitability while lowering expenses.

Nathan Pinke (37)


Pinke Lumber Co.

Wishek, N.D.

In 2007, Nathan left a promising career as a pharmaceutical sales representative to run his family’s lumberyard and general contracting business. Since taking on his new profession, Nathan has transitioned the company from paper to electronic records management and expanded the business’s customer base. Gross sales have doubled since 2007 and the business has hired three new employees to meet demand. Nathan has become an active member of the community as well, participating on the Wishek School Board.

Christina Sambor (29)


Pearce & Durick

Bismarck, N.D.

Christina joined Pearce & Durick in June and focuses on education law, oil and gas litigation, criminal and family law. Additionally, she is the president-elect for the firm’s young lawyers section. Christina holds an undergraduate degree from the University of North Dakota and a law degree from Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, Calif. During law school she spent a summer in Thailand as a law clerk with a human rights organization. After graduating, she worked as a fellow for Polaris Project.

Johnathon Rademacher (36)

Chief Technology Officer


Fargo, N.D.

Johnathon joined Sundog in 2004 as a systems architect and was promoted to executive vice president of technology before becoming chief technology officer. In this role, he sets the technical direction for the company as well as guides clients in setting their own technical direction. His specialty is systems integration — involving multiple software systems and leveraging them for specific business goals.

Aaron Hill (29)


Vice President

Fargo Beer Co.

Fargo, N.D.

Aaron co-founded the Fargo Beer Co. in 2010 and serves as the voice of the company while it grows its presence in the region. The company began selling beer locally in 2011 and is currently working to establish a brewery in Fargo in 2013. Aaron earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Saint John’s University in 2005 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in strategic leadership at the University of Mary. He is a past chair of the Fargo-Moorhead Young Professionals Network and the North Dakota Young Professionals Network.

Matthew DeVries (33)

Financial Advisor

Edward Jones

West Fargo, N.D.

Matthew joined Edward Jones in 2008 after teaching marketing, finance, entrepreneurship and business ethics at a number of schools over a period of six years. During his teaching career, Matthew was named the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s National Entrepreneurship Teacher of the Year in for 2005-’06 and the North Dakota Marketing/DECA Teacher of the Year in 2007-’08. Since joining Edward Jones, he has earned a number of company achievement awards.