Bedell Entrepreneurial Lab hopes to expand despite funding delays


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Sitting at his desk in a bright-orange office, recent University of Iowa graduate Josh Krakauer said he considers the UI Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory to be a great asset to Sculpt, a company he founded with two other UI students early this year.

“You’re looking at one of the biggest resources for us,” Krakauer said in the colorful room on the third floor of the lab. “It’s really difficult to work with other people and be creative and collaborative when you don’t have your own space [in which] to do so.”

Sculpt, a social-media marketing agency with such local clients as Java House and Buzz Salon, occupies one of the 17 office spaces made available to UI students in the lab.

Lynn Allendorf, the director of the lab, said a proposed $1.5 million addition to the lab would increase that number to 25.

“We’d also like to have some physical office space up here for staff, so there could be a mentor on-site 40 hours a week,” Allendorf said. She said the first floor of the lab, which is a former fraternity house, could be remodeled to house several staff offices.

She said the addition, which was proposed before the 2008 floods, is in the process of being evaluated in terms of priority by the UI Foundation, the fundraising arm of the university.

“We were moving up on that priority list, and then the flood happened,” Allendorf said, noting the recovery efforts affected the timeline for some funding priorities. “We’re hopeful that this becomes a bigger priority in the near term, and we can start actively fundraising to get some financial support to expand this building.”

Thomas Hornbeck, a UI computer-science student on a leave of absence — and founder and CPO of Tutor Universe, an online start-up with two office suites in the Bedell lab — said the office space has been invaluable to his business. He also said, however, that perhaps of equal value is the mentoring available to students through the lab.

“It’s basically an incubator,” he said. “We have weekly meetings with [the advisers], and they give us advice on business development and strategy and give us feedback on our business plan.”

Hornbeck said the mentoring has helped to accelerate the growth and sophistication of Tutor Universe — an online tutoring platform that connects tutors and students on a global scale — more quickly than he and his partners would have been able to alone.

“I and the other cofounder of the company, we’re both non-business students,” he said. “We’ve never taken a business course. We were just computer scientists.”

Allendorf said the lab’s resources can allow businesses such as Sculpt and Tutor Universe to get a head start on their business plans, giving a sense of legitimacy to start-ups and helping the businesses grow through mentors — both business school alumni and local entrepreneurs. She said expenses for the lab are paid completely through private donations.

Krakauer said one of the greatest benefits to Sculpt from the lab has been the proximity to other small, student-run businesses.

“That’s really what you need in a start-up, as a young business owner and student,” he said. “You need people to connect with you and give you ideas, to recommend books and blogs, and just to talk and hash things out.”

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