The Bedell Learning Laboratory turns 10

BY BEN MARKS | DECEMBER 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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When it first opened its doors in 2004 as a space for entrepreneurs to meet and share ideas, the University of Iowa’s Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory was among the first one of its kind nationwide.

However, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Bedell is one of hundreds of similar programs across the nation, Bedell Director Lynn Allendorf said.

The Bedell, she said, was opened to help students in a way the business school couldn’t — providing them a physical space to meet and work.

“Students are often living in dorms or shared apartments where they don’t really have physical space to work on their businesses,” she said. “And it’s often difficult to work in teams. Where are you going to meet, in your bedroom?”

Converted from an old fraternity house, Bedell has 17 offices. For its first five years, Allendorf said, it remained at half capacity.

Although only 17 carefully selected businesses are given offices, last year, the lab supported 53 businesses.

Josh Krakauer, the cofounder and CEO of Sculpt, a social-media marketing company that utilized Bedell in 2012, said in addition to a work space, another important but often overlooked service the center provided students was an address.

“If you’re a company trying to acquire clients, it means you can put it on your website,” he said. “It means you can have mail delivered to you when clients send checks. It means you’re somewhat established.”

Elise Froh, the founder of Mobile Bra Shoppe LLC, a professional bra-fitting company that carries full range cups from A to N and current occupant of Bedell, said that for her, the space was vital.

“You’re expected to have some type of location outside of your house,” she said. “And if you don’t, then most people don’t want to work with you. They want to have someone that has some type of space that makes it an official business.”

Froh said, in addition to space, the biggest benefit for her so far has been the Bedell’s commitment to community.

In addition to weekly Friday “roundtable lunches,” in which each business gets a chance to network, Allendorf said, each semester, the lab also hosts a showcase of each business’ progress.

Froh said that at this showcase, she met a dean at the business school who became her mentor.

As one of the few female business owners in the Bedell, Froh said, it was even more daunting running a store that’s mainly female-centric, and although her business was not very similar to the ones around her, the community experience of being surrounded by entrepreneurs was beneficial.

AJ Nelson, a cofounder of clusterFlunk, who also held an office in Bedell in 2012, also agreed that while physical space was important, the people mattered more.

“What it comes down to is the people you’re around,” he said. “If I had a question about anything marketing, I could walk down the hall and talk to [Krakauer]. We got ingrained into all the other people trying to make businesses in Iowa City.”

Ultimately, however, Nelson said, it wasn’t the space, the mentors, or the address that helped his business to become a success.

“They gave us the mentors, they gave us the space where we could go 24/7/365,” Nelson said. “They gave us all the tools to be successful, but they only supplement you with the tools and resources you need. It’s down to you to actually do it.”

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