“Entrepreneur” is quite the buzz word these days.


It’s about time we in the OTA region begin to really see ourselves as risk-takers, innovators and inventors. Believers of our quiet ideas.

But Karel Sovak has known this all along. Living in Bismarck, North Dakota, he’s slowly watched his community unfold into bold business starters, and not only does he feel a sense of enthusiasm and bravery along with it, he sees growth.

“If you take a look at any community or nation that is thriving,” Karel says, “it’s coming from innovation.”

He is hopeful that this is a new direction we all deserve to be a part of, but something’s missing.

Not all of us can be so bold, and a lot of times, when someone has an idea, they don’t even see themselves as an entrepreneur or someone big or brave enough to follow through.

So they don’t.

But if you ask Karel, we are all entrepreneurs if we take our hearts there. We just need a little guidance, a little push, a little togetherness to build something.

We need a place to start.

This is that place

Karel is such a busy guy in Bismarck. He’s a professor by day, but he’s also engaged with myriad business leaders and nonprofits, and it’s all because he enjoys this work. He chooses compassion for his community every day.

“Where there is a need, I want to be able to help.”

Lately for Karel, that need is a platform, a place for the startup community to come together and connect and help one another.

One Million Cups and StartUp Weekend have helped to created a good entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bismarck,” he says. “I think we’ve done well. I just want to come in and enhance it.”

So he’s starting a project called Innovative Social Entrepreneurial Ecosystem United — iSEEu — a way to begin for those who want to help their community.

We are all entrepreneurs.

“All it’s about is connecting the right people,” Karel says. “It’s just a platform that says, ‘I have a social issue I want to tackle, or I have a social solution to an issue that exists out there — can you connect me with the right people? Can you help me take the next step?’ ”

As an example, Karel already has a couple projects in the works under iSEEu that are focusing on PTSD and human trafficking. But anything can be brought to the table, from homelessness to parking fees.

“iSEEu has a double-fold meaning. Yes, it’s the acronym, but it is also letting the community know that, yes, we see the social problems you have here, and we’re looking to find solutions for you or to assist you or supplement you or complement you in some way.”

Simply put, Karel sees those who are reaching for something bigger. He sees their ideas, their enthusiasm and determination to make better their community and their surroundings.

And he wants to help.

“iSEEu means that we are trying to find innovative ways to tackle social issues that are out there in an entrepreneurial way — and we want do it together. We do it collectively. ‘United’ is probably the key in there, that’s what’s going to either make or break our success.

“We must stay united.”

How it works

Not only is Karel starting this project small, he intends to keep it that way. He foresees 10–20 people helping him to guide iSEEu, no matter how many projects come their way.

“I want it to be grassroots,” he says. “I want it to come from the individuals who really want to see a difference in their communities. Those people who are passionate. But I want to keep it manageable where I can keep track of those who are participating. I don’t ever want to lose track of who we have in the mix.”

He also sees crowd-funding as a way to make money for any idea that comes to iSEEu, and he doesn’t intend for it to be a grant either.

“I’m not doing this as a nonprofit, because I truly want people to understand that I’m trying to create a social entrepreneurial ecosystem, and I don’t want to vie for the scarce resources of what nonprofits go through. I just want to make sure we have something that is sustainable into the future.”

This isn’t about individual success for Karel. In fact, this work isn’t about him at all. It’s about seeing us succeed.

“It’s amazing what you can get done when people don’t want to take credit for something,” he says. “I’m not here to make a name for myself. I’m not here to do anything else other than create a platform that will help people put whatever they want into action.

“I want to be able to make a difference in communities and help individuals see whatever dreams they want to accomplish on the social side of things and really create an ecosystem.”

Karel just wants you to believe in yourself — because he knows it’s those people who will affect change in a community — and isn’t that the best we can ask of someone?

“My hope is that iSEEu is liberating people to say, ‘It’s okay to think about these ideas,’ ” Karel says. “We just need to be united in what we are doing, and we need to be innovative in what we are doing. The rest will fall into place.”

Sounds like the kind of entrepreneur I’d want to be.