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UI Small Business Center Helps Local Entrepreneur Build Businesses

From life coaching with Tony Robbins to owning a marina, entrepreneurship is a way of life for Iowa City native Kristen Stephens, thanks in part to The University of Iowa's Small Business Development Center.

In 2006, Stephens bought the former Eastwind School, an institution that teaches Eastern and Western massage and other alternative healing techniques. Stephens, an Iowa City Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award winner, wanted to change Midwesterners attitudes about Eastern medicine, massage therapy, and alternative healing techniques that enhanced ones body, mind, and spirit.

Shortly after purchasing the school, Stephens changed the name to East•West School of Integrative Healing Arts and moved it from downtown Iowa City to its current location in the Core Fitness facility in North Liberty. The East•West School offers a range of educational options, including a six-month program where students can become licensed massage therapists as well as learn other therapeutic healing techniques such as arometherapy and healing touch.

While Eastern theory and massage is commonplace on the coasts, the Midwest offers a largely new market for Eastern healing techniques.

"My goal is to mainstream massage and other holistic healing modalities such as healing touch, reiki, arometherapy, and other Eastern types of energy medicine," says Stephens.

Stephens started refining her business acumen a dozen years ago when she enrolled in the University of Iowa's Small Business Development Center's FastTrac program. In the program, Stephens received help on QuickBooks and producing brochures, as well as advice on marketing. With this advice, Stephens opened her first business, an interior design consulting service.

"Within two years I had surpassed my financial goals," said Stephens.

Throughout every phase of her business development, the SBDC gave Stephens advice and helped her make productive business decisions.

"Every one of my businesses has benefited from the services at the SBDC," says Stephens. "I have 12 years of business experience and the SBDC has helped me formulate a recipe for success."

Stephens is quick to point out one of the more important lessons she has learned from the SBDC, which is that a business needs a team to be successful.

"Sometimes people fail when they try to do every role," says Stephens.

She has taken that advice to heart and has 15 independent contractors on her team who all have a role in teaching the school's curriculum. Stephens spends her time thinking of new marketing strategies and imparting the techniques that she has learned at the SBDC, such as how to create a business plan, in the business classes required at The East•West School. Stephens has been so successful that she has been asked numerous times to be a guest speaker at the FastTrac series.

"I always leave the FastTrac students with my motto for doing business, and that is to always exceed people's expectations," said Stephens.

Since 2006, The East•West School has graduated more than 50 students. According to 2007 statistics, those graduates have achieved a 92 percent passing rate on their state massage-therapy boards exams, besting the state average of 68 percent. According to Stephens, most graduates start their own businesses as independent contractors after they earn their massage therapy license. This has allowed the SBDC to have an ongoing relationship with Stephens and East•West by giving SBDC representatives the opportunity to talk with therapists about starting their own business.

The impact of Stephens and her graduates can already be seen by the incorporation of Stephens newest project, A Massage Oasis, a new business that will incorporate massage as stress-reducing treatment for more than 8,000 faculty, staff, patients, and guests of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

"This is a huge step in incorporating Eastern healing modalities and Western medicine," said Stephens.

For more information about The East•West School, visit www.east-westschool.com.


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