Tuesday, March 22, 2022

By Tom Snee

The Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) has opened its first business incubator designed specifically for University of Iowa graduate students interested in commercializing their research.

While JPEC has maintained an undergraduate business incubator for some time, this is the first designed with the needs of the university’s graduate students in mind, said Kurt Heiar, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship who directs the initiative. He says it’s also being utilized by faculty members.

The first cohort started this spring with 19 students and faculty from academic programs across campus, though most are researchers, doctors, and lab workers from the colleges of engineering, pharmacy, medicine, and dentistry. Among the product ideas they’re pursuing are a soluble ophthalmology solution for eyecare, a new biopsy process for neurological disease, an innovative LED examination light for dentists, and an engineering education initiative to provide resources to under-resourced minority K-12 students. 

He said the expectation is to have the first ventures advance to growth-stage funding out of the incubator with an idea that will attract national investors’ attention soon.  

Like most incubators, the graduate student incubator teaches the basics of building a business to students who have little experience in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The businesses are typically in the idea or start-up stage at this point, Heiar said, so instructors first help students figure out if there’s a market for their proposed product or service. After that, they learn about writing a business model, resource availability, understanding investors, the importance of competitive analysis, and technology competencies that are needed to make it a sustainable, scalable venture.  JPEC also has professionals on retainer who can help students with marketing, accounting, legal, and other issues involved in turning an often-technical idea into a business.

He said participation also gives qualifying students access to startup and development money from I-Corps, the National Science Foundation’s funding initiative for startup STEM ventures. The plan is for the incubator to continue this summer with new individuals joining current participants. 

“We connect them with whatever services are needed to move their ideas forward, and resources from people who know what they’re doing,” Heiar said.

Students are also assigned a mentor experienced in business management and entrepreneurial startups, while experts from the Small Business Development Center and Heiar himself also provide one-on-one assistance.

Heiar said the new incubator is designed to have more flexibility for participants than the undergraduate incubator, since graduate students and faculty often have more rigid schedules. For instance, he says several doctors and medical students are involved, “and if they’re in the middle of surgery, they can’t leave because we have a meeting.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (o); 319-541-8434 (c); tom-snee@uiowa.edu