Officials optimistic on Iowa's potential


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Seven students with big ideas beamed at Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad Thursday as they displayed their reasons for believing business students should have no fear of building their businesses in Iowa.

The governor and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds stopped at a series of buildings on the UI campus. When the duo came to the Bedell Entrepreneurial Learning Laboratory — a place on campus dedicated to assisting students pursuing businesses in college — they were reassured by UI Students’ plans on keeping their start-ups in the Hawkeye state.

“I think this entrepreneurial program is one of the best I’ve seen,” Branstad told The Daily Iowan. “There is a lot more interest in young people in starting their own businesses. It’s what [John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center] has done that makes it more possible and affordable for students when they graduate to stay and start a business here.”

From farm-operating manuals to the first wireless Internet company in Iowa City, the students spoke on a wide range of businesses they have created and are currently running.

One first-year M.B.A. student launched Higher Learning Technologies after he was baffled by the cost of pre-made note cards for studying for his entrance exams for dental school. He and his cofounder created a series of apps that allow students to view these study tools in a 21st-century way.

Alec Whitters, a cofounder of Higher Learning Technologies, said he was proud to be able to share his success with Branstad and Reynolds.

“It’s a huge honor to be able to talk with the people who are making decisions and to be able to get recognition and appreciation for the things we’ve done in business,” he said. “It’s really affecting the bigger picture.”

The first-term lieutenant governor acknowledged despite the students’ willingness to remain in Iowa, the Midwest is not always highly recognized in the business market.

“The East and West Coasts are looking [for business students], and we know there are opportunities to leave [Iowa],” she said. “We will continue to drive [ideas] to support [the students] to stay here.”

Although some students choose to head out to the coasts after college, Whitters has no doubts about staying in Iowa.

“Iowa is a place that has so many natural resources in terms of the people and the mentors,” he said. “In our business, we’re in education. Iowa is one of the top states for education, so it is perfect place for us to be, and it’s a perfect place for us to stay.”

Reynolds emphasized the types of stories the students shared need to be known all over Iowa to encourage others in business endeavors.

“Young people need to see [the students’ successes],” she said. “They need to see that somebody from [Iowa] identified a problem, solved it, and look where they are today.”

The five-term governor noted that it was impressive to hear these stories and see how far the entrepreneurial programs have come.

“For me, having been with John Pappajohn when we announced these programs, and to see now what has transpired is so different,” he said. “There are a lot more young people willing to take the risk and go out and start a business.”

Branstad said he is confident Iowa is moving in the right direction, and with all of the progress being made, he said he has faith the state is on the rise for business.

“It takes a whole ecosystem for this to really work, and we are finally reaching the point now where we really have a lot of the resources,” he said. “Hearing these entrepreneurs that have had one successful venture and are now starting another one, to me, that’s really exciting.”

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