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UI student entrepreneurs use census to plan businesses

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | APRIL 01, 2010 7:30 AM

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Bryan Nicholson moved his company from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City, largely based on census information.

The University of Iowa senior and senior franchise owner of the Iowa City branch of College Pro Painting, said key factors in the decision were household income and property values.

As census day arrives, officials employed by the U.S. government lace up their shoes in preparation to walk door to door. Their objective: to count the members of every household.

While this sounds simple, the number of residents is factored for state and community funding. For every person counted, the federal government allocates $1,200 per year, according to the Iowa City website census page.

Along with the federal government, many entrepreneur hopefuls read the census.

Nicholson is one of 28 UI students, many of them in the UI certificate in entrepreneurial management program, building businesses with help of the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory.

The facility hosts 17 private offices that students use as a base for their prospective businesses.
Many of these students also look at the census, but for different reasons than allocating federal funds.

By looking at the information gathered in the population census, which occurs every 10 years, and economic census, collected every five, entrepreneur hopefuls gather data including age and average income to find the demographics of a select area, said Kimberly Bloedel, a research librarian in the Pomerantz Business Library.

“It’s important to know the makeup of the population they are doing business in,” she said.

Lynn Allendorf, the managing director of the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and Bedell Laboratory, agreed, noting the three most important things prospective business starters need to study are the industry itself, competition, and customers.

Planning and preparation are key, she said.

“It’s better to fail on paper,” she said, noting that really understanding one’s options before jumping into the business world is important.

But for some students, the census was not so crucial for research.

UI senior Mokotsi Rukundo found that preparing for his food cart, the CorNroc, took little more than people watching. The business- studies major spent roughly a week of periodically watching people walk by the location his corn-on-the-cob cart would sit and decided the location was suitable.

“I got a vibe of what nights brought out more people to Iowa Avenue,” he said.

He tallied the passersby and decided on the best times to open up.

“I’m happy with the results,” said Rukundo, who plans to open his cart for the season today.

For Nicholson, moving his painting company in 2009 after finding Iowa City’s demographics more suitable has also had a good outcome and less competition.

“It’s definitely been positive,” he said.


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