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UI BizCamp Motivates Iowa's Young Entrepreneurs

Thirty-one Iowa high school students learned what it takes to start a business at BizCamp, sponsored by the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) at The University of Iowa.

The weeklong residential camp June 23-28 gave students a chance to develop a business plan from start to finish, learn how to identify and evaluate entrepreneurial opportunities, do market research, and find financing for new ventures. Some participants developed a business idea into a plan, while others expanded their plan from an existing enterprise.

"BizCamp is a chance for business-oriented students from across the state to meet and share ideas about entrepreneurship. In the daily sessions, they learn from seasoned entrepreneurs and business faculty about what it takes to start a successful business," said Dawn Bowlus, JPEC Youth Entrepreneurship Coordinator.

Students attended classes and worked on their business plans in the John Pappajohn Business Administration Building. In addition, they toured local businesses and labs on campus and in the UI's Technology Innovation Center. In the evenings, they took part in several fun activities, including a Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball game and a magic show from Nathan Suckow, a young entrepreneur from Postville. The campers stayed at the Currier Residence Hall on the UI campus.

JPEC, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and the UI sponsored the BizCamp program. There was no fee for the camp, which is made possible through a grant from The William Zimmerman Foundation of Fairfield, Iowa. In their application, students submitted an essay about what kind of business they wanted to start, why they wanted to attend the camp, and included other business experience and academic background.

The camp culminated with a business plan competition where participants competed for seed money for starting their businesses or for college tuition. First place winners winners of $500 seed capital grants were: Sarahe Gorashi of Iowa City for her plan for Buy Me Roses, a coffee house and book store; Matt Craig of Cedar Rapids for Media Communications, a video production business; and Jason Heki of Johnston for Green Acres Family Farm.

At the BizCamp, Heki, 16, developed a plan to add broiler chickens to his current business of producing and selling chemical-free vegetables and farm-fresh eggs. "I've always really enjoyed being around the animals, so I decided that raising more would be the best way to expand my business," Heki said.

Even with his previous business experience, Heki said that the camp was extremely helpful. "It's a really great class," he said. "It helps you figure out what you'll need to get started and how to make your business run more efficiently."

"I didn't know anything about business before the camp. But after the business finance session, I can do cash flow projections," added Gorashi.

Second place winners of $350 seed capital grants were: Rochelle Riehm of New Albin for her Rochelle Riehm Housecleaning business; Chris Cran of Humboldt for Cranman's Mobile Sound and Light, a mobile disc jockey business; and Travis Tranel, a student at Dubuque Wahlert High School who lives in Cuba City, Wisconsin, for T and T Labradors.

Tranel started his business by selling a few Labrador pups, and has made approximately $2,000 after seeing it grow through word of mouth. "I had $350 in start-up costs, and my family thought I was crazy. I liked the challenge of proving everyone wrong."

Third place winners of $200 seed capital grants were: Megan Hess of Spencer for a bookstore called Catharsis; Dave Krushak of Dixon for Prometheus Wiring; and Brittany Sherrard of Centerville, who planned a custom sewing and embroidery business called Sew Creative! The remaining students each received $100 seed capital grants.

Hess wants to encourage reading in her community by opening a bookstore with a special emphasis on children's books. Through her market analysis, she saw a need for such a business, since there is only one other bookstore her town. She enjoyed BizCamp and learned much from the instructors. "I didn't realize how much work there is to start a business, but I'd still love to pursue it," Hess added.

JPEC Director David Hensley said the students had a wide variety of business ideas, and came to BizCamp wanting to learn. "Whether the students go into business or not, the skills they learned this week will be critical to their success for many years to come," he said. "This program also shows the importance of entrepreneurship to the state of Iowa, and that the state needs young people to begin businesses here."

For more information about youth entrepreneurship programs at The University of Iowa, contact Dawn Bowlus at (319) 335-0985.

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