UNI Provides the Tools for Iowa's Small Businesses to Thrive

University of Northern Iowa

UNI's Business and Community Services (BCS) provide the tools to help Iowa small businesses grow and thrive.

Two of BCS' programs, the Institute for Decision Making (IDM) and the Center for Business Growth & Innovation (CBGI), developed the Small Business Opportunity Toolbox (SBOX) to help economic developers in Iowa's rural areas conduct a business retention and expansion program for small businesses.

The SBOX assists economic developers in conducting small business visits and engaging and training community volunteers to participate in an intensified visitation event. Conducting organized business visit “events” allow Iowa's local economic development staff and volunteers to build excitement and awareness in the local business community and involve the area's resource providers in a unified effort of small business outreach. The SBOX includes survey assistance and technology, business list and GIS mapping, volunteer and staff training and support, event promotion, survey analysis and follow up with economic developers to ensure that small businesses are receiving needed assistance.

The SBOX helps economic developers and business resource providers:

  • Identify and quickly address red flag issues for individual small businesses
  • Develop workshops, trainings or networking opportunities that fit the common needs and interests of the area's small businesses
  • Understand the common issues or barriers facing small businesses in the area
  • Raise the visibility of the economic development organization
  • Say “thank you” to small businesses for doing business in the community
  • Gain insights into the area's strength as a place to do business
  • Paint a picture of the general health of the small business ecosystem within the community
  • Build relationships with local small businesses and community stakeholders

UNI's SBOX program is proving to be a success and has assisted eight Iowa communities and the surrounding rural areas in Adair and Guthrie counties. Over 300 Iowa businesses have been targeted for a visit over three separate events. The events brought together 20 community stakeholders as volunteers, resource providers from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), CBGI, Iowa Workforce Development, local chambers of commerce and other organizations who assist businesses in the area.