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Laboratory Provides Place for U of I Students to Create

The Bedell Entrepreneurial Learning Laboratory gives free office space for students and guidance from business leaders.

The next generation of Iowa entrepreneurs is brainstorming software and medical technology concepts in an old fraternity house.

The Bedell Entrepreneurial Learning Laboratory on the University of Iowa campus is an extension of one of the five John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers in Iowa. But it's the only one that provides free office space for students, coupled with close guidance from business faculty members and proven entrepreneurs.

Tom Bedell, chairman of fishing tackle company Pure Fishing in Spirit Lake, pledged $660,000 to the center, officials announced this month. The 10,000 square-foot center provides an added boost to students participating in U of I's campus-wide entrepreneurship program.

Steve Davis, president and head programer for Bio::Neos, a software company that supports genetic research, is on one of seven teams already in place. Davis received a master's degree in compu- ter and electrical engineering last year. He and his partners, graduate students Brian O'Leary and Mike Smith, won a Pappajohn New Venture Business Plan competition in December. They moved into the center last spring, saving the $6 a square-foot cost per year for space at the U of I's Oakdale campus.

Bio::Neos writes software for biotechnology and genetics researchers. The company's first commercial product is expected to hit the market early next year.

"Hopefully, it can speed up the time to market products for pharmaceuticals and open the door for genetic treatment and other drugs that can help genetic diseases," said Davis, who splits his week between Bio::Neos and a research assistantship on campus.

Space in the new center is made available semester-by-semester. At least one member of a team must attend Iowa.

Officials decide who gets space based on business models, the drive of team members and participation in Pappajohn Center academic pro- grams. Teams must show progress to retain office space for subsequent semesters.

Justin Glasgow, a senior biomedical engineering major, said his company, Slit Scope Redesign Group, has been designing a product aimed at improving the accuracy of eye exams and patient comfort since February 2003.

The team of six biomedical engineering students has contacted lawyers to secure a patent for a modification to a slit scope - equipment used in eye examines. Glasgow said doctors have said they find it hard to accommodate different body types using the scopes.

Most of the development and testing is done in the U of I's engineering building. Glasgow said the Bedell center, which includes a conference room and meeting hall, will be essential to the team's goal of releasing the product in April 2005.

Samantha Lane, who also works with Slit Scope, said the company wouldn't be able to find funding. "We're a group of poor college students, and the Bedell Labor- atory is putting us in touch with venture capitalists and providing equipment and free office space," she said.

The Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory has 17 private offices, a conference room, library and a social hall for receptions and other networking events. Renovation of the former fraternity house was financed by gifts and endowments and a minor contribution by the U of I, which owns the building.

"It's not meant to be a study hall," said David Hensley, director of the school's Pappajohn Center. "It's meant to be a place where students pursue the creation of a new business."

Each team has access to entrepreneurs to help develop a business plan. Business faculty at the Pappajohn Center also provide assistance, counseling, and mentoring to students who do not have a team housed at the Bedell Laboratory.

"We've got young people excited about creating businesses," Hensley said. "This is a way for us to harness that energy."


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