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Drake alum’s Hatchery lets students spend summer building companies

Members of the Lorentzen New Venture Hatchery meet for the first time at StartupCity Des Moines. 

While most college students spend their summers working part-time jobs or interning, six Drake University students have the opportunity to spend their time creating a startup. 

Through a $50,000 grant from Drake alum John Lorentzen, the Lorentzen New Venture Hatchery allows students to construct a business idea and recommit their time to a company they’re passionate about. 

“It’s a real pressure for students to get jobs or internships over the summer,”  Tom Swartwood, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Drake, told Silicon Prairie News. “So [John Lorentzen] essentially came up with the idea to create internship opportunities for Drake students to work on their own startups.”

The students will work out of StartupCity Des Moines and attend 1 Million Cups each week to get a better feel for the Des Moines community. Geoff Wood also is acting as an adviser and director for the program. 

“We thought it was important to have somebody experienced in startups, particularly someone connected to the tech community,” Swartwood said of the decision to ask Wood to participate. 

After applying to the program and pitching their company, each accepted team was required to incorporate their startup and commit the bulk of their summer work hours to the program. Through educational sessions, mentorship and immersion in the community, Swartwood says he hopes to help students work through their mistakes instead of letting them destroy their companies. 

“One of my primary goals is to demystify the process of entrepreneurship,” he said. “You don’t have to be Mark Zuckerburg or Steve Jobs, in fact, they made some pretty significant errors that we’d like to avoid. Mostly we’d just like to prevent them from self immolating.”

Through the program, individuals working alone may receive up to $5,000 in funding while the two-person teams may receive up to $7,500 from the program. 

The University has a three-year commitment to fund the Hatchery, but Swartwood says that much of the program’s first iteration will be determining best practices through its inaugural cohort. The six current participants have already agreed to serve as ambassadors and mentors for next year’s class.  

While plans for final presentations haven’t been finalized, Swartwood says, at the very least, organizers hope to have students present during 1 Million Cups later in the summer. For now, learn a bit more about each of the Hatchery’s teams and the projects they’re working on this summer:

 Opportunity on Deck

Dylan DeClerk

Opportunity on Deck was organized for the purpose of providing low-income students in Des Moines with opportunities to participate in organized baseball and basketball leagues.

Frank’s Fixies

Aaron Hermsen and Joaquin Valdes 

Frank’s Fixies focuses on reigniting the “fixie” culture in Des Moines as it specializes in fixed gear bicycles by offering accessible, durable, custom-painted bikes.

 Reflex Fight Gear

Kevin Clark

Reflex Fight Gear is focused on providing unique sports training equipment and apparel to athletes across a number of disciplines. Starting with our flagship product the ‘RFG Shadow Boxer’ (a tool that helps train reflexes and hand-eye coordination), we plan to expand our product line to include other patented devices that improve performance in a variety of sports. 


Naren Bhojwan and Benjamin Mullis 

An automotive brake light system—a group of moving, intensifying LED lights controlled by a sensor underneath the brake of a car to help determine how hard the driver is pressing his/her brake. 

Want to learn even more about each of the Lorentzen New Venture Hatchery teams? Find them around StartupCity or on Wednesdays at 1 Million Cups throughout the summer.  


Credits: Photo from Entrepreneurship at Drake’s Facebook page

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