EntreFEST in Cedar Rapids this week, Venture School Launch Day tonight

Tominsky, David (@tominsky). “These are my people, my tribe. On an adventure together at #entrefest #EntreFEST2019.”  10:25 AM – May 16, 2019. Tweet Tominsky, David (@tominsky).  “Love that @geoffwood does this crash course on the Iowa Startup Scene and excited to have it as one of the first sessions at #EntreFEST2019.” 9:09 AM – May…

EntreFEST 2

Tominsky, David (@tominsky). “These are my people, my tribe. On an adventure together at #entrefest #EntreFEST2019.”  10:25 AM – May 16, 2019. Tweet

Tominsky, David (@tominsky).  “Love that @geoffwood does this crash course on the Iowa Startup Scene and excited to have it as one of the first sessions at #EntreFEST2019.” 9:09 AM – May 16, 2019. Tweet.

EntreFEST by nonprofit New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative (NewBoCo) is in full swing this week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  EntreFEST is a two-day conference, celebrating the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation where professionals at every level can come together, share ideas, and own their success. EntreFEST kicked off Wednesday and runs through Friday. The event features a full schedule of sessions, pitch coaching, panels, and more.

Aaron Horn, Chief Operating Officer of NewBoCo said, “EntreFEST brings together students, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, and business leaders in the community. This event brings people from all over the state to hear from speakers over two packed days of learning and networking.  Over 500 EntreFEST attendees are enjoying picture-perfect weather in Cedar Rapids today as they attend the breakout sessions scattered throughout the city’s NewBo district. The event’s location provides attendees an excellent opportunity to explore the local area businesses and dining as well.”

Eric Engelmann, Executive Director of NewBoCo tweeted a few take-aways from today’s keynote address delivered by Jerry Greenfield, Co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, as Greenfield relayed the story of the ice cream sensation’s founding and the principles that are the bedrock of the company.

Engelmann, Eric (@ericengelmann).  “You can design your organization to maximize its social impact; “business can be spiritual” For Ben & Jerry’s, “organized people + money = power” — to leverage the business this way, chose to support missions they care about, e.g. voting rights, enviro issues etc.” 11:15 AM – May 16, 2019. Tweet.

Engelmann, Eric (@ericengelmann). “You can be intentional about designing a business that also makes your community better.” 11:08 AM – May 16, 2019. Tweet.

EntreFEST’s speaking lineup includes many notable names such as Rada Yovovich, Co-founder of the The Darkest Horse, Michal Eynon-Lynch, Co-founder of Pear Deck, Scott Hoekman, Co-founder of Next Level Ventures, Brad Dwyer, Co-founder of Hatchlings, and Mike Draper founder of RAYGUN, to name only a few. Melissa Perri, Founder & CEO of Produx Labs will deliver Friday’s EntreFEST keynote address, The Build Trap.

The University of Iowa’s Venture School Launch Day event is being held in conjunction with EntreFEST.  Eight Venture School alumni from the 2018/2019 year are set to pitch their businesses tonight to a panel of judges for a chance to win cash prizes. The first prize winner will receive $10,000. The second-place winner will receive $5,000, and $1,000 goes to each of the remaining six businesses.  (See company bios at the end of this article).

The Venture School, established in 2013 in partnership with the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, is an extension of the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC). Iowa JPEC was established in 1996 and is committed to teaching and supporting innovation and entrepreneurial development. The center serves University of Iowa students, Iowa startups and businesses, and k-12 innovative youth. Iowa JPEC’s programs support entrepreneurs of all ages and experience levels.

Venture School is an innovative training program focused on real-world experimentation, customer discovery, and Lean LaunchPad methodologies. The statewide Venture School program helps entrepreneurs by accelerating the startup process and increasing their odds of success. The program is available to startups, small businesses, non-profits, and corporate innovation teams in Iowa, and has grown dramatically to reach all major cities across Iowa, from Council Bluffs to Dubuque.

Over 320 themes and companies with 160 mentors have accessed the program since it was established. The Venture School Launch Day features eight businesses selected from over 50 teams throughout Iowa, including Mason City, Iowa City, Des Moines, Quad Cities, and Dubuque.

“We’re excited that our partnership with the Iowa JPEC is providing the opportunity for these entrepreneurs to take center stage and share what they’ve been working on for the past year,” NewBoCo Events Director Jill Wilkins said. “At EntreFEST, the teams building these new companies will not only get to pitch to their mentors but also to business leaders from across Iowa and the Midwest.”

Kurt Heiar, Venture School Director, said about the program, “The business landscape today is dynamic, and changes are rapid; entrepreneurs are more important than ever because they are willing to jump in, take on risk, and create jobs. The Venture School offers the perfect marriage of experienced mentors, experienced investors, and experienced entrepreneurs to help assess commercial opportunities. The program has resulted in the launch of several companies, and we’re excited about the talent and promise we see here in Iowa. Our program is in place to impart high-value insights, experiences, and academic tools to benefit these companies, and help drive them toward success.”1

Heiar added, “The EntreFEST program is important because building a business is a team sport. EntreFEST is an excellent opportunity for business networking and interfacing with people at all levels of experience – those who have done it and those who are doing it. The idea-sharing and exchange of information that happens at EntreFEST is integral to the methodologies and training we employ at the Venture School.

The action continues next week (May 21 and 22) as Dwolla hosts premier tech summit Monetery at the Temple for Performing Arts in Des Moines. Monetery will feature a heavy-hitting lineup of speakers in the tech sector on Day 1. The summit offers Midwest startups an opportunity on Day 2 to connect one-on-one with investors. Check back right here on SPN for coverage of Monetery.

The Venture School Launch Day companies pitching tonight at EntreFEST are the following:

VerdiLifeIowa City. Mahdi Eghbali, William Braverman, Kaveh Mostafavi.
VerdiLife strives to make the Earth a healthier planet by replacing harmful agrochemicals with an all-natural solution. Their business focuses on recycling wood-waste into 100% organic fertilizers and pesticides in the form of wood vinegar and biochar.

Argrow’s House Bath and BodyQuad Cities. Dr. Kit Ford.
Argrow’s House is a social enterprise where women survivors of violence create beautiful bath and body products that are natural, healthy, and smell wonderful.

Continuum AgMason City. Mitchell Hora.
Continuum Ag is the intel processor of agricultural data and the fully transparent link between the consumer and the soil. Their business works with farmers, ag companies, and food organizations, around the world, to quantify and improve soil health.

Grateful GrazeQuad Cities. Alyssa Bradley, Yasmin Moreles, Chrissy Elliott.
Grateful Graze stands out from the typical farm of corn and soybeans by raising grass fed and finished beef in their crop rotation along with lamb and pastured chicken. Their mission is connecting farmers to families with food they can trust – raised in a way that is best for the animal, the environment and people.

Boundry Dubuque. Eric Peters.
Boundry helps dog owners keep their pets safe with a simple, humane, and portable dog fence solution built on positive reinforcement, superior training, and GPS perimeter technology.

BluJaketQuad Cities. Michael Lawrence.
BluJaket makes mobile marketing easy and affordable for small businesses and restaurants by connecting them with consumers in the right place, at the right time, for a mutually beneficial engagement.

Horse Auction BlockDubuque. Tyrel Nelson.
Horse Auction Block is providing an online auction styled marketplace for horses. Their business assists in both the buying and selling process to ensure that both parties are honest and receive the horse that they paid for.

Immersive Development Reality (IDR)Iowa City. Jens Zalzala, Megan Zalzala, Joshua Jackson.
Immersive Development Reality (IDR) teaches students the concepts of coding while in a virtual reality environment. As middle schools struggle with participation in computer science, IDR presents a fun way to garner student interest and create continuous engagement, while teaching valuable skills.

Visit www.venture-school.com for more information.

  1. Kurt Heiar is an Iowa JPEC lecturer, and Lead Instructor for UI’s statewide Venture School Program. Kurt has been the President & CEO of four early stage companies to date, including Immortagen, Inc., a women’s cancer diagnostics company named UI Start Up of the Year for 2016.


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