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Successful Debut Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute Wraps Up

The first Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute wrapped up Friday at Lake Okoboji with participants fired up and ready to go into business on their own.

"The stories we've heard this week are enough to make anyone want to go out and start their own businesses," said Erin Hughes, a University of Iowa senior who was one of eight UI students to participate in the week-long advanced study of entrepreneurship and building a business.

David Hensley, a UI clinical business professor who coordinated the event, said the institute exceeded most everyone's expectations.

"We had a fantastic time this week," said Hensley, the executive director of the UI's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. "The Iowa Great Lakes community showed the students why Iowa is such a special place to live and work -- they went out of their way to insure that everyone would have a life-changing experience. It was a success in every way, and we look forward to the second Okoboji Institute next year."

The Okoboji Institute brought together 24 students, eight from each of the state's three public universities, to participate in advanced study of entrepreneurship that included an entrepreneurial simulation, seminars with faculty from each of the three universities, guest presentations by successful entrepreneurs and business and community leaders, and networking and mentoring to enhance their understanding of entrepreneurship opportunities in Iowa.

One goal, too, was to demonstrate a new way the state's Regent universities can connect to the entire state, particularly northwest Iowa. Hensley said the first Institute well exceeded that goal.

"This is a great example of how we can create new partnerships in the state with university students and faculty, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and economic development officials to inspire Iowans to pursue their dreams of business ownership, to strengthen Iowa's economy and to make a difference in the community," Hensley said.

The Institute was spearheaded by Tom Bedell, an Okoboji resident and CEO of Spirit Lake-based Pure Fishing who also serves on the Board of Regents, State of Iowa. His hope was that the Institute would show young entrepreneurs that the entire state of Iowa is a fertile market for business, particularly the northwest part of the state. Stephanie Paulson, a UI senior from Boone, said the institute drove that point home to her.

"It opened my eyes," said Paulson, who hopes to go into business as the owner of a live music venue. "The Great Lakes area is a beautiful part of the state and now I know there's lots of market opportunities here."

The participating students spent their mornings in a computer simulation developing and operating a start-up computer manufacturing and sales company. But perhaps the most valuable experience were get-togethers with such successful entrepreneurs as Bedell, Gateway Computers founder Ted Waitt and convenience store mogul Bill Krause. The group also met with Gov. Tom Vilsack.

"It was very motivating and inspirational to hear their stories because they were all in the same situation we're in today," said Adam Bugbee, a UI student from Perry. "When I'm ready to start my own business, I can look back on where they started from and see how much they achieved."

The institute was co-sponsored by the Iowa Lakes Corridor of Opportunity, Iowa Department of Economic Development, Iowa Lakes Community College, and various county and municipal governments.


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