After taking on the role of president for the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative this month, Bree Langemo said she is ready for new challenges and experiences, including hiring staff for ELI’s local office. ELI provides education programs and training services throughout the world, and Langemo said she hopes to shift others’ mindset toward taking ownership of what compels them.
“Because entrepreneurship isn’t just business creation — it’s a way of thinking,” she said.
A native of North Dakota and a 2014 Colorado Springs Business Journal Rising Star, Langemo serves as board president of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence and has had work success in accounting, law, higher education and administration.
Where did you begin your career?
I’m originally from Fargo, N.D., and earned my bachelor’s degree in accounting from Minnesota State University Moorhead and my Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. I spent several years working as a staff attorney at the Second District Court of Appeals in Ohio, drafting decisions on civil, criminal, domestic and juvenile cases. I taught courses in the paralegal program at Sinclair Community College. Eventually I became chair of the paralegal, law and real estate departments and then accepted a position as the associate dean of curriculum at Sinclair’s Courseview Campus Center.
I’ve always been passionate about teaching.
What brought you to Colorado Springs?
In 2012, I accepted the position as dean of business, public service and social sciences at Pikes Peak Community College. While there, I helped coordinate the rollout of the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program, a required course for students during their first semester to help engage them in an entrepreneurial mindset and persist in their studies. At first, I thought it would just be offered in the business division but found it valuable to all students. After that, I took the role of vice president of strategic partnerships for the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, the creators of the program.
Why did you want to work for ELI?
It was an unexpected turn in my career, but I’ve always picked jobs I’ve felt very passionate about and that I could have the biggest impact. I felt like we could change the world with this program. I’ve seen the impact and shift in students and citizens, and that’s why I’ve stayed with ELI. When you look at Gallup Inc. statistics, 87 percent of people worldwide aren’t engaged in their work. There are about 13 percent who are and working to solve problems that they care about. If we flipped those numbers, we would have a vast reservoir of human capital.
That’s the work that ELI does. We know engagement starts early, before people get in the workforce. We focus on mindset first and engage with, what is their goal? What do they really care about? Identify a problem, find solutions and make connections. We have city employees who have been trained in this program to help solve community issues. Then go out, talk to stakeholders and watch ideas evolve.
We’ve had an ELI office in Colorado Springs for a year. PPCC has put at least 2,000 students through Ice House and we have about 70 local facilitators certified to teach the program. I think it’s good for the city’s economy. We want to help produce graduates who will go into the workforce and are the entrepreneurial people employers are looking for.
What do you think of the city’s business climate?
What will be interesting for me is engaging in the hiring process here. Do we have a culture of innovation in this community to attract the talent that companies like ELI really need? My goal is to hire in Colorado Springs, but I will hire talent where I can find it. That’s the new economy and new world of work. Forty percent of the workforce will be independent contractors by 2020. My needs for having someone local do not outweigh my needs for having talent.
What advice do you have for Colorado Springs business professionals?
People are empowered through solving problems for other people. When they solve problems for others, they create value. When you create value, you help an organization innovate. You personally reap the rewards because people look at you as being reliable, resourceful, a problem-solver and opportunities will come your way.
What has been your biggest challenge throughout your career?
A concept ELI focuses on is called flow. When the level of challenge starts to get easier and your skill set grows, you can become bored in a job. When the challenge continues to grow and your skill set grows, you enter what is called flow and are the most engaged in your work. I think people are hungry for flow, where those two pieces perfectly align.
My biggest challenge has been staying in flow. How I’ve overcome it is recognizing opportunity where others don’t see it — and that’s not just a business idea. Sometimes it’s just personal to you. I’ve always had the ability to recognize places I can make impact. That’s where my engagement goes, and I’ve seen my career evolve based on that. When I was teaching, I was so highly engaged I didn’t care about the paycheck. In fact, most of my promotions have come with pay cuts.
What else would you like to share?
I love new experiences and this role allows me to meet new people, in new environments. My partner, Joe Raso, is the president of a private company based out of Chicago. We are both able to work from home on missions we really care about, both being presidents of companies. We get to travel together and can work from anywhere, so it’s a wonderful situation that meets our values.
I’m also passionate about international travel because I think it helps you overcome the fear of the unknown and helped shape my thinking, especially now leading a global organization. I hope to take my 10-year-old daughter on some trips. I feel like people need to be exposed to that to really understand the world.