News & Events

OEI Participants Join the 18th TAI Event

Thirty-two students from the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute traveled to Spencer as part of their first full day of activities to participate in the Technology Association of Iowa's 18th Pitch & Grow event. Conducted at StartupCity Spencer, the entrepreneurial incubator located at Gary's on the River, nine different pitchers shared their business propositions with a panel of experts and peers in an effort to garner valuable feedback and insight into the steps necessary to successfully move forward with their endeavors.

At the end of the four-hour event, Arabella Franze-Soeln, an OEI participant and recent graduate of the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business, earned top honors from those in attendance. Franze-Soeln, who maintains dual citizenship with her native Austria and the United States, and lives in Storm Lake with her mother and two siblings, pitched GenerationFuse.

"We want to create technology which encourages us to communicate more with our elders," Franze-Soeln explained.

The technology is a "sibling startup business" between the winner and her siblings.

She said the problem of generational disconnect in families is a global problem.

"It's a very personal story. We—my siblings and my mom—are the only four people in our family from Austria who live here in the United States," Franze-Soeln explained. "We notice that the elder generation are more technologically challenged."

She added, "We don't communicate with people who matter to us the most. We want to bring everybody together."

Franze-Soeln won a new Trek bike for her efforts but gained much more from the input offered by expert panelists and fellow students in attendance.

"What we value most is feedback," Franze-Soeln suggested, indicating the Pitch & Grow was perfect to assist them in their continued development. "That's how we've created it so far. It's all about solving problems and figuring out where the pain points are and solving those."

"It's a good group of kids," Brian Dalziel, with the Iowa Great Lakes Corridor, said. "We're off to a good start."

He noted, "Last year was the first time we worked with the Pitch & Grow. It's a good partnership. The important thing is we get the students participating. That's the way people learn."

Ryan Bush was among the first presenters of the day. He introduced his app to aid campus fraternity and sorority recruitment efforts.

"It was a little nerve-racking," Bush, who will be a senior at Iowa State University in the fall, admitted. "It's something I've been working on for several months with my partner so I know the product. That gave me confidence."

He explained, "I got up there for the experience of doing it and getting advice from people with experience in developing business. It's an invaluable opportunity."

Expert panelists included Dalziel, Iowa Lakes Corridor; Trond Gjendem, Kingland; Nate Gruys, Edgewater Ranzal; Jill Harms, Blink Marketing; David Hensley, University of Iowa; Peter Hong, Executive Management Resource Group LLC; Drew Larson, BrownWinick; Barry Sackett, Sackett & Sackett; Sean Solberg, Davis Brown Law Firm; Bruce Tamisiea, Tecton Industries; Don Van Ort, R & D Industries; and Tony Virelli, Emagine.

The 32 students, who arrived in the area Sunday, will continue to participate in OEI events in the Corridor region for the remainder of the week.

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