The University of Iowa Venture School expands its program across the state


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More Iowans will soon have access to a prestigious University of Iowa business-training program.
The UI is expanding the Venture School program through the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center to include Council Bluffs and the Quad Cities.

The program will expand in those cities by March 2015.

The Venture School is a six-week training program designed to accelerate the start-up process of a business while increasing the chance of success for entrepreneurs.

Currently, Venture School programs exist in Des Moines, Iowa City, and Cedar Falls.

“The Venture School is important on so many levels,” said Kurt Heiar, lead instructor for the UI Venture School.

He said by reaching out across Iowa, the program is meeting a major need that entrepreneurs have, which includes understanding how start-ups can use iterative processes to de-risk themselves.

The Venture School in Iowa was created at the UI in the fall of 2013, and the National Science Foundation at Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley developed its curriculum.

The program requires a minimum team of three people, including a mentor.

The curriculum focuses on customer discovery, which involves at least 100 in-person or Skype interviews. The interviews are used to assess need, solutions, and business processes using “real-time agile development that changes as customer insight is gained,” Heiar said.

He said the expansion is in response to a demand the program has been seeing.

Additionally, he said, the increasing focus on intrapreneurship — acting as an entrepreneur in a large corporation — is creating new opportunities, as the Venture School allows graduates to bring a set of skills to that ecosystem.

“Our goal is to provide resources for entrepreneurs across Iowa to help them be more successful building their startup,” said Jennifer Ott, the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center training and engagement liaison.

She said program officials were asked by the Iowa Economic Development Authority to help spur innovation and entrepreneurship across the state by utilizing UI resources and expertise.

Ott said the program is doing this through partnerships with local educational institutions, so the entrepreneurs have a connection to both the UI and their other resources.

So far, the Venture School has partnered with Drake University, Simpson College, the University of Northern Iowa, North Iowa Community College, Eastern Iowa Community College, and Iowa Western Community College. The program is also working closely with local Small Business Development Centers.

David Hensley, Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center executive director and associate vice president for economic development, said the program’s growth will allow more Iowa entrepreneurs to access UI resources as they develop their technologies and launch companies.

These resources include faculty and research centers for technology development and testing, UI ProtoLabs for assistance in creating prototypes, and the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center for obtaining business strategy and planning assistance.

“We want to increase the number of successful Iowa start-ups, see more high-quality jobs created for Iowans and students, and bring life-improving products and services to the market,” Hensley said.

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