Entrepreneurs share advice, inspirations with U of Iowa students

In conjunction with Iowa's Creative Corridor Creative Week and the UP America Summit, the University of Iowa's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and Silicon Prairie News co-hosted a panel for students on founding startups and what it takes to be an entrepreneur. More than 100 students and entrepreneurs gathered Tuesday afternoon ...

SPN’s Brittany Mascio (second from left) shares advice on entrepreneurship with more than 100 students. 

In conjunction with Iowa’s Creative Corridor Creative Week and the UP America Summit, the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and Silicon Prairie News co-hosted a panel for students on founding startups and what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

More than 100 students and entrepreneurs gathered Tuesday afternoon at the University of Iowa’s recently opened Thinc Lab, a new meeting and collaboration space for students and community members. SPN’s Jeff Slobotski moderated the four-person panel, guiding the discussion and helping field student questions.

Meet the panelists

Over the course of the hour-long discussion, the four panelists—with varying backgrounds from around the Silicon Prairie—shared entrepreneurial lessons with students from the University of Iowa.

While the panelists touched on a variety of topics, several themes dominated the conversation. The panelists agreed: Students need to stop making excuses about timing or thinking they’re too young to start a company, and just do it. In a similar vein, a number of the panelists stressed using student status to help young entrepreneurs get started, meaning student entrepreneurs tend to be more memorable and have greater opportunities to make an impression in a startup community. 

Each panelist shared a little about their professional background, offered advice for students just getting started, shared what inspires them and suggested ways to cope when times get tough:

Josh Cramer, founder of Cramer Development

Josh pursued a career in engineering before turning to the entrepreneurial sphere. In 2000 he founded Cramer Development, a web and mobile application development firm. After the sale of his second business, Cramer IT, in 2011, Cramer remains passionate about the startup community and continues to use his talents to help new and early-stage companies through mentoring and angel investing.

Advice: “Just looking at how things turned out for me, I’m glad I took a risk. I’m glad I fought through those initial years to get to success. Wherever you are, just start now. The big thing is just to start doing it and start doing it now.”

Inspiration: In 2008, Josh attended SXSW. “That pretty much just blew my mind. What I realized about that experience and what I’ve tried to do ever since, was I put myself in a position where I was surrounded by a lot of people who were not like me and who were smarter than me. So I’ve sought out opportunities to do that ever since.”

Brittany Mascio, events director at Silicon Prairie News

In early 2011, Brittany joined the SPN team as an intern and later that year began working with the team full-time. Although she isn’t a founder, Brittany shared her experiences as SPN’s event director and mastermind behind events like the startup’s flagship conference, Big Omaha.

Advice: Make flash cards to familiarize yourself with key players in the community. “If you’re willing to ask for help, it’s nice to know more about who you’re asking help from.”

Pressing on: When things get tough, don’t quit before your company makes it big. Think of the team around you and those who are all in. “I never want to be the fourth member of Destiny’s Child.”


Jason Trout, co-founder of GoodBlogs

Jason graduated from the University of Iowa in 2001 and began building his first company. In October 2010, Jason and his co-founder Peter Awad launched GoodBlogs, a content marketing platform, based in Decorah, Iowa. 

Advice: “There’s just so many resources you have now you won’t have after you graduate, especially within the Iowa startup community where it is now. I would just encourage you all to start now. There’s probably never been a better time to be a student interested in entrepreneurship in the state of Iowa.” 

Pressing on: “I always think of the quote, ‘Success is the ability to walk from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ Failing is just a cost of doing business.”

Alec Whitters, co-founder of Higher Learning Technologies

Alec went through seven out of eight years of dental school at the University of Iowa before deciding to reconsider his career path and start his company, Higher Learning Technologies. The startup has now released five mobile applications, many of which are ranked in the top 100 grossing educational apps. 

Advice: “You need to believe in what you’re doing. If you can convince yourself it’s important, you can get everyone around you to believe. You need to have that conviction in your voice. You have to have that certainty. Make sure you believe before you make others believe.”

Inspiration: Alec found inspiration in a 20-hour video set about entrepreneurship, and encouraged students to seek out what works for them and read or watch it over and over. “Find some resource you like learning from and it’ll just ooze out of you.”


Credits: Event photo from UI Entrepreneurship on Twitter. Josh Cramer photo courtesy of Cramer. Brittany Mascio photo by Malone & Co. Jason Trout photo from Twitter. Alec Whitters photo courtesy of Higher Learning Technologies. 


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