Iowa 4-H Foundation

Meet A 4-H Alum

Inspiring Ice Cream
A passion for community & entrepreneurship support social justicePhoto of Rebecca Runyon

Though only nine years old, Rebecca Runyon would learn a life lesson that would launch her into her entrepreneurial journey. “I vividly remember by first bottle bucket calf interview. I was so nervous. The judge commented, ‘You didn’t shake my hand.’ That was a lesson I’ll never forget,” says Rebecca. “The leadership skills  developed through my 4-H career are definitely an asset I have taken forward into my career. Public speaking, presentation skills and interview skills have also come in handy.”

Fast forward 10 years, Rebecca is a freshman at Iowa State University with so many different business ideas, she ends up changing her major numerous times. She ultimately found her way as she realized she was drawn to entrepreneurial classes. Rebecca was required to take a course in Entrepreneurship in Agriculture in order to obtain an entrepreneurship minor. For her final project, she needed to develop a business plan for a business venture.

“This project allowed me to combine a lot of different areas of interest,” Rebecca says. Her original plan was to run an ice cream shop on her family’s dairy farm as an agritourism experience. “My professor said, ‘You are shooting a mile wide and an inch deep. You need to flip that around. Narrow your focus and go in-depth with that idea.’”

In 2018, Rebecca graduated from Iowa State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Agricultural Studies with a minor in entrepreneurship. She also received a Master’s in Agricultural Education with a certificate in teaching. As time went on, she put her roots down in Ames and had aspirations of opening an ice cream shop in Ames.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 caused Rebecca to pivot all of her business plans. She realized it wasn’t the right time to start a business when restaurants were closing up shop due to lock downs. Instead, she decided to put the brick and mortar building on hold.

However, there was still plenty of interest in her business. Multiple people would ask her about the ice cream shop. “How could I still provide ice cream for people? Is there a way I can tie in a social justice component during this crazy time in the world?” thought Rebecca.

Entrepreneurs are truly creative problem solvers. Rebecca saw a need and wanted to fill it with something sweet for the Ames community to enjoy. Instead of a traditional ice cream shop or an agritourism business, she started Bessie’s Socials.

Rebecca chose to offer quarterly ice cream socials focusing on specific organizations who are making their community a better place to live. People are able to gather together, enjoy a tasty treat, and make a donation if they feel compelled to support the featured organization. Each ice cream social is at a unique location and features a different social justice organization.

Although the location and organization change with each social, the mission to serve the community remains the same. Rebecca’s previous ice cream socials have raised funds for the Ames Romero House, Martha’s House of Hope, and the Bridge Home. Rebecca has a few organizations on the docket for this summer and is excited to keep changing the world, one bowl of ice cream at a time.

Rebecca feels that Covid-19 was a blessing in disguise for her professional journey. Around the time she was gearing up Bessie’s Parlor, she heard about an open position at Iowa State University. Ultimately, she was grateful that she didn’t have an ice cream shop to run while starting her new career at Iowa State.  In January 2021, Rebecca accepted the role of the Director of Liberal Arts and Sciences Innovation and Entrepreneurship Academy.

Each undergraduate college within the university has a program focused on innovation and entrepreneurs. These programs are part of the Start Something Network. The “Innovate at Iowa State” mission comes to life through these college-level programs. The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Academy is a two-year program for students yearning to start a business.

“I have students with lots of different business ideas. Some students are traditional entrepreneurs, some are focused on social entrepreneurship like myself, and others are focused on civic innovation,” said Rebecca. “We also have an intrapreneurship path where students can be innovative within an existing company.”

Rebecca credits much of her success in entrepreneurship to her 4-H experience. “The three main parts to the bottle bucket calf show include interviewing, record keeping, and showmanship. All these skills are needed to own a thriving business,” says Rebecca. “For example, as an entrepreneur you are constantly selling yourself, hence the interviewing skills come in handy. You also have to keep good financial records; 4-H record-keeping prepared me for this business aspect of the business. Finally showmanship, you are always representing your businesses. I truly believe the way you carry yourself should align with your brand.”

Rebecca’s advice for advice for other entrepreneurs is, ‘Just do it!’ “The scariest thing about starting a business is the first step. I once heard that ‘Entrepreneurs aren’t risk takers. Good entrepreneurs are those who squeeze the risk out of an idea.’ So, crunch some numbers to find out if the business idea is worth your time or not, then go for it because you never know what will happen,” says Rebecca.

Learn more about Bessie’s Parlor by visiting

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