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Okoboji Institute Will Test Development Strategy

The first-of-its-kind college credit entrepreneurial institute will take place July 30 to Aug. 4 at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory on West Lake Okoboji.

The joint endeavor is a cooperative effort of the State Board of Regents, the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED), the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa, and the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation.

Twenty-four students from the state universities will participate in advanced study of entrepreneurship, seminars with entrepreneurs and business and community leaders, networking and mentoring to enhance their understanding of entrepreneurship opportunities in Iowa.

"We see the Okoboji Institute as a test of economic gardening strategies for entrepreneurial development throughout the state. Plant the seeds, cultivate gardens of opportunity and raise a new crop of businesses," said Gov. Tom Vilsack at a news conference Tuesday in Des Moines.

"The strategy is to develop nurturing places for entrepreneurs within regional business communities, introduce students to the quality of life throughout Iowa and help them succeed with new business ideas as they emerge from the state's entrepreneurial training centers," Vilsack added.

"Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute is another example of how engaged Regent universities are in strengthening the state's economic future through outreach, distance learning, research and technology transfer," said Regents member Tom Bedell of Spirit Lake. "The Lakeside Lab, which is operated as a biological field station by the three universities, will provide a really creative atmosphere to develop business ideas."

At the Institute, 24 budding entrepreneurs -- eight each from the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Iowa -- will work in teams on a computer-based simulation that incorporates the creation and operation of a new business and a fundraising round where teams must present plans to community volunteer venture capitalists to acquire capital for their simulated companies.

Iowa Department of Economic Development director Mary Lawyer explained that when Bedell was named to the Board of Regents, "He was on a mission to bring the board of regents closer to rural Iowa and especially western Iowa."

According to Spencer businessman Toby Shine, the institute will expand each year with more students and more locations. Next year, he said, he expects to double the number of participants.

Bedell said the funding for the OEI is coming from individuals, groups and businesses that have already contributed about $20,000. He said he is still seeking $1,000 contributions for scholarships that he expects will total $50,000 to bring the 24 students to the area for a week.

Iowa Great Lakes area residents will open their homes to host the students during the event, providing students with a full quality-of-life experience.

The Institute is part of an Entrepreneurial Initiative of the four counties that make up the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation: Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, and Buena Vista.

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