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Okoboji To Be Site of "Economic Gardening" for Students

Two dozen students from Iowa, Iowa State, and UNI will be in Okoboji this summer for a week-long course that its creators call "economic gardening." David Hensley of the Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa helped develop the upcoming Entrepreneurial Institute at West Lake Okoboji's Lakeside Lab.

Hensley says the students will divide into teams and simulate start-up companies. "They have to put together production plans, marketing plans, financial plans," Hensley says. "In the middle of the week, they go through a simulated venture fair where they actually have to present the results of their companies to community venture capitalists who'll teach them how to present and work with investors."

Each afternoon there'll be a briefings about marketing, building a management team and venture financing. The afternoon sessions will be opened to the public. Tom Bedell, a businessman from Spirit Lake who is a member of the Board of Regents which governs Iowa, Iowa State, and UNI, says this class answers a question state leaders have been pondering. "How do we nurture young people to be able to build successful businesses?" Bedell asks. "Then, how do we commercialize those businesses and turn them into lifetime career opportunities for their families?"

Iowa businesses are picking up the tab for the program, and Bedell says the hope is that some of these students will start a business in Iowa. "It's a great experiment that we believe is going to demonstrate that rural economic development in Iowa is not only very possible but can be very successful," Bedell says.

Toby Shine, a businessman from Spencer who's a member of the state Economic Development Board, says the students have already been selected -- eight from each state-supported university. "If we haven't got enough salesmen in the group that'll be meeting with them to keep a few of those in the state of Iowa, we're not doing our job," Shine says. "I think we can make a great place for these young people to see a start in Iowa and that's really what it's all about."

The students will meet with some of the state's top business leaders who'll serve as mentors. Governor Vilsack says it'll be a bit like the popular TV show "The Apprentice" -- but no one will be fired. "This is an opportunity for the State of Iowa to continue its effort to build strong entrepreneurial spirit in the state and to prepare the young people who are being educated at our three Regents universities for entrepreneurial careers," Vilsack says.

Iowa State University president Gregory Geoffroy says the one-week program might be expanded to other locations around the state. Vilsack says it's the beginning of an effort to address concerns of western Iowa lawmakers who complain that the state-supported universities do not have a presence in western Iowa. The course begins Sunday, July 30th and ends August 4th.

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