Iowa City’s Very Own Silicon Valley
University of Iowa’s student incubator, The Founders Club, continues to make national headlines. Supported by faculty leadership and unique resources surrounding the organization, the program has experienced a wealth of success in a short amount of time, helping pave the way for entrepreneurship within the creative corridor.
Just within this last year, the program has provided services for over 70 small businesses, offering over $100,000 in startup funds. Quite the feat considering the organizations humble beginnings.
“We’re really proud of those numbers because not too long ago it was just me and a few students who were looking to chase their dreams. It’s been a lot of hard work, and a lot of people deserve a thank you as none of this would be possible without their dedicated efforts,” said Founders Club leader and adjunct professor Jeffrey Nock.
Part of the organizations recent success comes from creative marketing strategies, designed to spark student’s interest within the startup world. The Founders Club, along with JPEC and other University outlets hosts monthly elevator pitches, judged by local business owners and relevant alumni. The competitions typically provide startup cash to the top 5 businesses, giving student’s a realistic chance to obtain the push they may need to chase their wildest of dreams.
“After placing in a small competition, Founders Club directed us to all the right people and places, and without their guidance Nothsor wouldn’t be what it is today,” said Doron Tsachor, CEO of Nothsor Systems.
Those marketing strategies are only going to increase, as the organization recently introduced its very own marketer, Jean Rude. Rude has a wealth of experience regarding public relations, branding, and marketing campaigns. In the past, students were solely in charge of creating their own logos, marketing strategies, and brand identities, but with Rude’s help, that will no longer be the case.
“It’s only been a week and I’m beyond impressed. One thing I’ve really noticed within the students businesses, is that the majority of them are based around compassion. I think that’s something installed within your generation, that ideas are based less around money, and more around helping other people. It’s really encouraging to see and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to help their businesses grow,” said Rude
Another key factor of the organizations success is the mentorship that comes with admission. Every business within the Founders Club is placed with a unique, local entrepreneur who has an extensive amount of experience within their targeted market.
“Without my mentor I would have made some decisions that likely would’ve ended my business, because I would have been wasting the limited resources that I did have. When you’re getting into something new, especially at a young age, it’s extremely important to have a strong network of support helping guide your decisions, which is exactly what they (Founders Club) offered me,” said Thomas Billmeyer, owner of Polarni, a charitable clothing line started through the organization.
The club recently secured a contract with ICAD developer and recruiter Andre’ Wright, who will oversee the mentorship behind the program. Wright, an entrepreneur at heart, uses his vast network to place the right people with the right businesses.
“It’s really all about matching passions and energy. If the connection isn’t there, it will show within the results. In order for this entrepreneurial ecosystem to grow, it has to be reciprocal. Students need to take what they’re learning and aggressively apply it to their ideas. Our only limit to our potential success is ourselves,” said Wright
Not all businesses within the organization will live on post-graduation, and many students will struggle to earn real revenue. However, the professional and entrepreneur skills gained during the entire process are proving to be invaluable, even for those who fail.
“The Founders Club has been an excellent experience for my growth both as a student and budding entrepreneur. This organization has given me the tools for success through organized mentorships, necessary resources, and a community of fellow student entrepreneurs. The impact it’s had has been enormously beneficial to my life, as well as future career opportunities,” said Erin Maurer, a two-year marketing and event planning intern for the Founders Club
Moving ahead, the organization plans to build on their recent successes by raising money for a new, more modernized building, dedicated towards the success of students and their businesses.
“That’s more down the road, but something we’ve been focusing more on. We really want to become the nation’s leader for entrepreneurship, and I think on a per capita basis we already stack up with the best of them. A new building geared more towards collaborative work spaces will only help us achieve that goal,” said Jeffrey Nock