UI Entrepreneurial Finance class project becomes fundraiser for Children’s Hospital

In the University of Iowa’s Entrepreneurial Finance class, students are taught about starting a small business and managing finances through a product-selling project called the “$20 Startup.” Students from this class took it upon themselves to donate parts of their proceeds to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.


Lillie Hawker

Entrepreneurial Finance student Isabelle Willey poses with a sweatshirt her group designed and made for a class project in Iowa City on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter


What began as an innovative class project turned into a fundraiser for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Associate professor of instruction in the Tippie College of Business Bob Walker has taught the Entrepreneurial Finance class for around five years.

In this class, students participate in a project titled “$20 Startup” where groups of four or five students invest $3 and Walker invests $5 into their new small businesses. For the next five weeks, the groups are challenged to advertise, create, and sell their product with the goal of making the most money in the class.

In the fall 2021 class, one group began selling their product — water bottles — outside Hawkeye football games. The group decided to advertise they were donating some of their profits to the children’s hospital, and they were shocked by the outcome. Walker called the students’ idea to donate proceeds from the project purely voluntary.

Walker explained it was his Entrepreneurial Finance class that inspired former Hawkeye center Tyler Linderbaum to donate all $30,000 from his name, image, and likeness clothing fundraiser to the hospital last December.

“I’m impressed with the students and their creativity in what they do,” Walker said. “It’s really fun for me.”

The group’s decision to donate their money restored Walker’s faith in his students, he said. He estimated groups from the fall 2022 class donated $1,200 to the children’s hospital.

As an incentive, Walker gives extra credit to the team that earns the most money. This semester, those coveted points went to a group selling UI- and Iowa City-themed glass cans — cups made out of glass shaped like cans.

Ava Parris, a senior majoring in entrepreneurial management and minoring in American Sign Language, chose to pursue creating glass cans after looking for ideas on TikTok. She thought the social media platform would be a great way to find what’s popular.

“I think it was a great product to choose because it’s something that you can create that’s your own,” Parris said. “We just created our own designs and ran with it.”

Eli Anderson. a senior studying business analytics and information systems and entrepreneurial mangagement, is also a part of the group. He thought the only thing that made the project difficult was the $20 budget. They had to decide on something cheap yet desirable and unique.

After hearing Walker tell their class that previous students donated portions of the proceeds to the hospital, both students agreed it was a no-brainer. Parris’s immediate thought was, “Why wouldn’t you?”

The team decided to give 50 percent of the earnings from their “wave can” to the hospital. The clear can has a black outline of the hospital and yellow lettering that reads “Iowa City, Home of the Wave.” As the weeks passed, they decided to give even more of their profits from the can and ended up donating around $200 to the hospital.

Over the course of five weeks, the group produced over $1,700 in revenue and attributed their success to their product choice. Some teams chose cheaper items like stickers or pens and sold them for $5-10, while they chose to sell sets of glass cans for $20.

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“It was just the nature of every time we sell one, we’re making twice as much,” Anderson said. “That made it easier to build our revenue a little bit faster than the rest of the people we’re competing with.”

Parris said they are still finishing up orders even though the project ended. The group has talked a lot about continuing the small business but still needs to set up a formal meeting and get an agreement written. Anderson also doesn’t see a reason to stop because the business is still booming, and he wants to keep the momentum going.

Both students said their favorite part was getting first-hand experience running a business — doing everything from designing the images on the cans to printing and cutting them out. Despite being seniors in the entrepreneurship program, they have never been a part of something like this before.

Isabelle Willey, a UI journalsim major receiving her entrepreneurial management certificate, said her group sold colorful and trendy Iowa City bar-themed poster packs.  Wiley said she already planned on opening an Esty shop herself, so the posters were designed and ready to go.

After selling the poster packs for a few weeks at $15 each, the group decided to add Iowa City-inspired hoodies to the shop. The sweatshirts varied in color and had phrases like “text me when you get to Kinnick” printed on them.

Willey’s team donated half of their small business’s revenue to the hospital. They ended up making almost $300 selling their poster packs and hoodies and gave $140 to the children’s hospital. Throughout the class, Willey said she learned the ins and outs of marketing and managing finances.

“It was good to get a little bit of an eye-opener about your cost of goods, what you’re making, how to decide what to price stuff, and how to market your brand,” Willey said.

Over the past five years, Walker said he had really positive student feedback from this project. His ultimate goal is to help students get out into the real world and practice what he teaches.