UNI prepares students to launch successful businesses

Early founders participants


The University of Northern Iowa’s Early Founders Program focuses on helping students take their startups from an abstract idea to a concrete business backed by validated customer discovery and market testing. 

This summer, the eight-week program is providing a $5,000 stipend to six students in order to allow them to work on developing their business ideas while giving them the skills and resources to launch a successful startup.

For senior mathematics major Ross Vande Voort, who is developing a mobile app to track golf scores and statistics, the program has been invaluable.

“You’re not going to get this experience anywhere else,” Vande Voort said. “If anyone is trying to get a business idea off the ground, this should be the first place they think about. They get you connected with the right people and the right resources. You just can’t put a price on it.” 

The Early Founders Program is part of UNI’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC). The JPEC partnered with Fluent, a Colorado-based company, to develop the program and curriculum, which focuses on identifying the biggest risks in the business model and how to develop tests to validate before moving on to the next stage. Each week is filled with workshops, scrum reviews, daily standups and counseling sessions. All of the businesses are working out of a dedicated office space located in the center, and many of them will continue to be involved in the R.J. McElroy Student Business Incubator program this fall. 

The JPEC staff works with the students to establish milestones and overall goals while helping them identify and navigate challenges and roadblocks. The $5,000 stipend helps with living expenses and allows the participants to focus solely on developing their businesses.

Two businesses will have an opportunity to be awarded an additional $500 cash prize when they make their final pitches on Friday, Aug. 2.