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JPEC Business Fair Highlights Student-Owned Businesses

The next Google, Titleist, or Hertz vehicle rental could be on display when The University of Iowa's student business incubator hosts its annual business fair next week.

The fair will feature all 26 student businesses headquartered in the Bedell Entrepreneurial Learning Laboratory (BELL), 322 N. Clinton St., on Thursday, April 21 from noon to 2 p.m. The BELL is a former fraternity house remodeled into 10,000 square feet of office space, with meeting and conference rooms. It opened in 2004 and is named after benefactor Tom Bedell, an Okoboji-area entrepreneur.

The 26 start-up businesses are owned and operated by 43 students from across the UI campus. The businesses range from retail to web design to video production to animal food production. DataBabies sells flash drives that come inside animal finger puppets, Rader Originals sells recycled lumber for luxury floors, and POS Solutions provides wireless electronic shelf-labeling systems. Three BELL businesses are related to golf.

Student majors include business, engineering, pharmacy, computer science, history, and law.

David Hensley, executive director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) that operates the BELL, said the incubator is more than just office space for student start-ups. Students also receive intensive one-on-one mentoring, business plan development, and a variety of other assistance from JPEC and Small Business Development Center faculty and staff. They meet with successful entrepreneurs through the BELL's Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, receiving mentoring as they discuss their business, the challenges they face, and plans for starting or growing their business. JPEC also helps student entrepreneurs access capital to develop their businesses.

So far, 83 businesses have come and gone from the BELL, with many of them still in operation. Hensley said student interest in entrepreneurship continues to rise and having a space dedicated to assisting students pursue their dreams is essential.

"It's a great environment for aspiring student entrepreneurs to take a chance they might not be able to take otherwise," he said. "They can prepare to start their business in the BELL, and if it looks promising, move out into the community and create economic value for the region. If it proves not to be feasible, they learn from the experience and use those lessons to help them succeed in their next start-up."


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