By Will Musgrove, Dickinson County News Staff Writer
Governor Terry Branstad spoke to a group of young entrepreneurs at Lakeside Lab Thursday morning about the future of business in Iowa.The speech was part of the 11th annual Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute’s week of events. The institute develops the networking and business skills of 32 Iowa college students each summer in the Iowa Great Lakes Area.
“This is about encouraging and helping people to think outside of the box,” Branstad said. “We need to make sure young people have a chance to succeed here in Iowa.”
Branstad outlined the current economic climate in Iowa and what the state is doing to foster that environment. He said his administration is focused on putting government practices in place that provide better opportunities for entrepreneurs.
He said technology will play a key role in establishing these opportunities. He pointed to Iowa’s growing renewable energy market as an example of the state’s dedication to innovation and creating jobs.
“Iowa now leads the nation in ethanol, biodiesel, wind energy and is growing very much in the solar area,” Branstad said. “This is bringing in good jobs and helping us build the economy. The other thing that is exciting is all the other products that can be made from the byproducts.
“The area we see the biggest growth opportunity in now is biochemicals,” he continued. “They are better for the environment. Obviously, they are made from corn and byproducts made from agricultural production. We passed a biochemical tax cut this year. We are the first state to have it.”
Branstad added that government needs to be more streamlined to remove obstacles and barriers that may hinder business owners.
The governor also stressed the need to keep young people working within the state. He said the state has to build a culture of problem solving to ensure Iowa is a great place to raise a family and run a business.
“When I first became governor back in the 1980s, a lot of young people didn’t really see an opportunity in Iowa to grow a business,” Branstad said. “Today, we have a lot of young people staying, and many of them are interested in starting their own businesses. I find that really exciting.”
Branstad encouraged students not to be afraid of failure.
“We Iowans know that the cornerstone of entrepreneurship is to never give up,” Branstad said. “At our very core, it’s our work ethic that pushes us to find a new way to look at challenges as something that can be overcome. I can see that the (Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute) has embraced the culture of never giving up. Trying again and again is what it takes.”
The Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute is a collaboration among the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation and the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at Iowa State University, University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Buena Vista University and Iowa Lakes Community College.
The program began on Sunday, Aug. 7. Students were broken into groups of four and tasked with forming a simulated computer sales startup. Throughout the week, each team pitched its ideas to potential investors and assembled marketing and advertising budgets for its company.
“We really look at applied learning,” OEI instructor Bob Walker said. “Everything they learn in the classroom, they apply to the simulation. They look at manufacturers, hiring sales personnel, figuring out locations, whether if they are going to be online or a brick-and-mortar store. Everything that goes into a business they have to handle.”
Students participated in entrepreneurship panel featuring Debi Durham of Iowa Economic Development Authority, Mike Taylor of Midwest Growth Partners and Michael Koening of Scout Pro on Thursday as well. The Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute concludes Friday, Aug. 12, at Pearson Lakes Art Center with a graduation ceremony.
“We have to work together and always be looking ahead to the future,” Branstad said. “With programs like the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute, business leaders, (students) that are committed to solving tomorrow’s challenges and state government on your side, I believe we have a very bright future and can be very proud of the opportunities available in the state.”