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UI entrepreneurs joining Chamber of Commerce

BY IAN MURPHY | FEBRUARY 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce is not just a group of stuffy old men sitting in a room discussing business — at least not anymore.

Young entrepreneurs and business owners who are alumni of the University of Iowa are joining the chamber to network and gain advice to help them as their companies grow.

Nancy Quellhorst, the president and CEO of the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber wants to help students and recent graduates.

Quellhorst said she hopes the influx of young entrepreneurs will help to make the chamber more transparent.

“We hope it makes them aware of opportunities through the chamber,” she said.

In some cases, students have come to the chamber while still in school.

To support these startups, Quellhorst said the chamber offers up to five grants each year to cover 75 percent of the yearly membership fees. Businesses can be no older than 11 months to be eligible for a grant. In turn, the businesses benefit the chamber.

“What’s good for the economy is good for the chamber,” Quellhorst said. “Economic growth is predicated on startups.”

UI graduate Adam Keune, a co-founder of Higher Learning Technologies, said the chamber helped he and his co-founders get started in the business world.

One co-founder, a dental student, was frustrated that the only option for studying for dental boards was an expensive set of flash cards. In response, he called the companies to inquire about an app he could use on his smartphone and tablet.

The group’s education apps evolved from a side project to a full-scale business venture, and the chamber gave the group an opportunity to make connections to help it grow further, Keune said.
Keune said the chamber connected the entrepreneuers to experienced businessmen who have since become mentors.

“It’s a great way to network,” Keune said.

UI alumnus Josh Krakauer, CEO and cofounder of Sculpt, a social-media marketing company, said the chamber helped to connect his company to the area.

“It’s a name you want to be associated with,” Krakauer said.

When starting out, he said, the chamber provided his firm a place to get a footing while adding validity to the company.

“We were a no-name company,” he said.  “We’re not a fly-by-night venture; we’re a legitimate company,”

Krakauer said he and his friends were in a class discussing social media when they realized Iowa City businesses were behind on social media.

“We had no connections to Iowa City, and when that’s your target market, that’s a problem,” Krakauer said.

The chamber provided this support for the growing company.

Krakauer said Sculpt was the first company to receive the grant offered by the chamber.

“The chamber has proven it is committed to the next generation in Iowa City,” Krakauer said, “Iowa City can’t survive holding onto the same businesses.”


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