Charise Carstensen Flynn ’04

Her boss calls her a “rock star.” The Des Moines Business Record named her one of its “Forty under 40” winners for career achievement and community involvement. She works with some of the nation’s top investors.

All this from a 2004 Simpson graduate who at one point thought that majoring in religion and philosophy would lead to a professor gig somewhere.

But Charise Flynn says she uses what she learned at Simpson in her job as chief operating officer of Dwolla of Des Moines, one of the hottest tech start-ups in the country.

“A liberal arts education exposes you to a lot of different things,” she says. “It’s not a one-track education. It gives you critical thinking skills.

“Philosophy and religion challenge the why of life. In business, you’re constantly challenging the why. Why are we doing this? It expands a part of your brain that’s super-relevant to business.”

Put simply, Dwolla created a new network for sending and receiving money that’s cheaper and safer than credit card transactions. The company has grown from two people to 26 full-time employees and 10 interns in just a few years. As of last April, the company has more than 100,000 customers in all 50 states.

Flynn joined the company in February 2011 after serving as a consultant.

She displayed her entrepreneurial streak at Simpson, organizing a nanny service by pairing students with Des Moines families.

Flynn says she learned to confront challenges as a student. She remembers in particular one Study Abroad experience when she couldn’t find the train that was leaving Spain for France.

“It’s that moment where you want to lay down and cry, but if you don’t figure it out nobody else is going to help you,” she says. “I finally figured out I was at the wrong train station.

“That was a pivotal experience for me. There’s moments in business where you have to use the resources around you to figure out the answer.”

Flynn’s work puts her in contact with many well-known investors, including Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures; Joshua Kushner of Thrive Capital; Marc Ecko of Artists and Instigators; and actor and Iowa native Ashton Kutcher.

“He spent two days with us, not hanging out and playing games,” Flynn says of Kutcher. “We were talking about product and strategy. He’s super-smart.”

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