The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Tipton business owner wins $10,000 competition

Finalists for a statewide business contest talked about happy cows, vacant buildings, and an idea to revolutionize health care on Thursday.

Ten business owners had eight minutes to persuade a large crowd at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., and a panel of judges why they should win the Dream Big, Grow Here contest.

Entrepreneurs have ventured to Iowa City for EntreFest, a conference geared towards helping Iowans expand their existing businesses or find a catalyst for a startup. The pitch competition is just a small part of the overall conference.

Deborah VanderGaast won for her pitch to develop her home daycare for children with special needs into a full-fledged daycare center. Her goal is to open this summer, and she will put the money towards classroom improvements.

VanderGaast said these types of services are not in Tipton, so the money will have a dramatic effect on the community.

Other ideas included starting a brewery for a wedding chapel in Shelby, reclaiming a vacant building in Mount Pleasant for an automotive repair shop, and taking the wares of an organic ice-cream shop in Indianola to new markets across the state.

The three-day conference was started six years ago when a handful of organizations wanted to create a place where innovators could come together.

The University of Northern Iowa latched on to the idea, and it has hosted the event ever since. An official who helps put on the event said even though he has only been in the state for a short time, he has seen how the event helps form a community of people.

“The time is ripe to build a business in Iowa,” said Paul Kinghorn, the director of regional business center and entrepreneurial outreach at the UNI.

Kinghorn said Iowa’s size allows for a community of business owners to be formed at events such as EntreFest, noting that in larger states, the focus is really on community development, but in Iowa, the focus is on bringing everyone together.  

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who emceed the Dream Big, Grow Here contest, said the focus is on getting entrepreneurs and young people to stay in Iowa to pursue their dreams.

Reynolds said she sees a business ecosystem thrive as the state expands its outreach efforts to small businesses.

Josh Krakauer, who attended to EntreFest for a second year, said having such a large gathering of people similar to him made it easy to come back.

“Best networking party you could ever imagine,” he said. “Right next door is full of most interesting makers, doers, and builders in Iowa.”

Krakauer, who founded Sculpt — a social-media marketing agency, 316 E. Court St., said the competition illustrates how business owners don’t need to leave the state to find success.

“[EntreFest] pouts a density of interesting, crazy ambitious people that all have one thing in common, passion for growing in Iowa,” he said. “It’s validation that you can grow a company like this here.”

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