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Venture School prepares Q-C entrepreneurs for business
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Venture School prepares Q-C entrepreneurs for business

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A group of area entrepreneurs and their plans for new businesses and products were put to the test this spring as they completed the University of Iowa Venture School — Quad-Cities.

The first-time Quad-City program — an extension of the university's Venture School — wrapped up Friday after six weeks with a final business pitch by the students and a graduation ceremony. Throughout the intense training, teams of entrepreneurs worked to determine whether there is market potential for their startup and new product or service, and if they should take it the next step.

"This is a cutting-edge program for entrepreneurs to learn about the process," said Kurt Heiar, Venture School's lead instructor. "When a team comes into the program, we help guide them through early stage market research, provide mentors with real world experience, and then connect them with other resources, enabling them to more confidently launch their business."

The traditional "Pomp and Circumstance" commencement march was played as course certificates were presented to students during an event at the Kahl Building in downtown Davenport. The class ended with a final pitch to capital investors.

The program was a partnership between the University of Iowa's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center; Eastern Iowa Community Colleges; Iowa Small Business Development Center, or SBDC; and Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce/Ignite Quad-Cities.

"The amount of improvement and growth we saw in just six weeks is amazing," said Marsha Rinetti, the SBDC's regional director. "They hung in there and did not give up. Their commitment and strength to continue made all the difference."

Rinetti said two of the teams were existing businesses looking to grow. The chamber put a team through the process to delve deeper into the Quad-Cities Manufacturing Innovation Hub.

John Benson, part of Video Armor team, said the experience helped the team completely change its idea. With Twin State Technical Services's web team, he said the process "helped us realize there is much more important problem to solve in the police industry."

The Davenport company is working on a digital asset management system to help law enforcement handle "the tidal wave of information" being gathered today from a wide variety of electronic devices. "Now there is no good way to organize it all,'' he said. "This energized us as a company. We feel we're making software that matters."  

Tara Barney, the chamber's CEO, said the hope is that the teams will move forward and launch all the innovative and creative business ideas brought to Venture School. "We need this to get entrepreneurism revving in the Quad-Cities. I can't wait to see where these businesses are in a year," she said.

Throughout the training, the entrepreneurs were introduced to attorneys, investors, other entrepreneurs and experts and vetted their ideas. "The idea here is entrepreneurism is a team sport," Heiar said. "They were pitching in front of an audience that could provide all those niche skills they need to be successful."

Jennifer Ott, training and engagement liaison for Pappajohn center, said Venture School's arrival in the Quad-Cities is part of a statewide roll-out of the program. In addition to the Quad-Cities, the university has been training entrepreneurs in Council Bluffs and Cedar Rapids. In the fall, new Venture School courses will be taught in Sioux City, Des Moines, Cedar Falls and Iowa City. Another Quad-City session will begin Sept. 29.

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