News & Events

Entrepreneur Program Expands

Iowans across the state seeking to begin their own businesses will soon have a new resource available.

The University of Iowa Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center's Venture School program is designed to assist and refine participants' business models for start-ups.

"We're really pleased and feel strongly that this is a program really helping entrepreneurs make less-risky decisions and makes sure their business makes the right plan," said center director Lynn Allendorf.

Venture School teaches its participants to engage and understand community needs by interviewing potential customers, and then refining their business models during the start-up process, Allendorf said.

This method is called "Customer Discovery," she said.

The UI-developed Venture School program will open a new location at the Pappajohn Higher Education Building in Des Moines near the beginning of August. It has received several applications, Allendorf said.

Plans don't stop in the state's capital.

Allendorf said the hope is to open six Venture Schools across Iowa, with two locations in Iowa City and four elsewhere.

"It's exciting to show off what we have done here at the UI and bring the knowledge, expertise, and innovation to residents across the state," said Jennifer Ott, the Entrepreneurial Center training and engagement liaison.

Venture School began last fall as a pilot program using various resources from the center. The program works with UI instructors along with instructors from partnered businesses across Iowa. Allendorf said that the demand was so high that another program was offered in the spring.

This summer, the center decided to run a 10-week, student-only program Venture School at the university.

"I needed to perfect my canvas, and [Venture School] was the perfect opportunity for that," said Connor Keane, a UI undergraduate business major who is participating this summer.

Keane's model is called the Swvl Shkr, which is a combined seasoning shaker that can hold numerous spices and control whether they come out individually or simultaneously.

He said that the summer program has helped him contact regional distributors and adapt his template to better understand his target customers.

"Venture School helps us find a repeatable and scalable model that is not only regional but could be national or even international," Keane said.

Emily Roberts, another undergraduate business major and participant in the summer session, is involved in a team focused on assisting international students' communication in America through conversation centers on university campuses.

"Most start-ups fail, and what Venture School does is it increases the chances that we won't fail," she said. "Basically, by making us interact with customers,"

Roberts' team has interviewed almost 100 potential customers so far and has presented its business model on a weekly basis to expert panels.

By discussing enrollment statistics and consequential effects with Iowa State University faculty, Roberts said, she has further refined her target clientele.

Both Keane and Roberts said that the Venture School mentors have provided critical and honest feedback throughout the session.

"It's fantastic because they all bring so much energy and passion to their ideas," Ott said. 

The next Iowa City Venture School session is set to begin in September.

"My hope after Venture School is to truly launch my business," Keane said.


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