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U of Iowa opens incubator focused of graduate students

The University of Iowa’s (UI) John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) has opened its first business incubator designed specifically for UI graduate students interested in commercializing their research.

While the college has maintained an undergraduate business incubator for some time, this is the first designed with the needs of the university’s graduate students in mind, said Kurt Heiar, Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship who directs the initiative. He added that the new incubator is also being used by faculty members.

The first cohort started this spring with 19 students and faculty from academic programs across campus, though most are researchers, doctors, and lab workers from the Colleges of Engineering, Pharmacy, Medicine, and Dentistry. Among the product ideas they’re pursuing are a soluble ophthalmology solution for eyecare, a new biopsy process for neurological disease, an innovative LED examination light for dentists, and an engineering education initiative to provide resources to under-resourced minority K-12 students.

Like most incubators, the graduate student incubator teaches the basics of building a business to students who have little experience in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The businesses are typically in the idea or start-up stage at this point, Heiar said, so instructors first help students figure out if there’s a market for their proposed product or service. After that, they learn about writing a business model, resource availability, understanding investors, the importance of competitive analysis, and technology competencies that are needed to make it a sustainable, scalable venture.  JPEC also has professionals on retainer who can help students with marketing, accounting, legal, and other issues involved in turning an often-technical idea into a business.

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