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School Programs Bring Ideas to Life For Students in Ames, IA

Key programs transform students' ideas into successful businesses.

By Kim Madlom on February 10, 2020

Ames, IA Startup KinoSol
Ames / Mikayla Sullivan

A great idea is just the beginning. The key to successful entrepreneurship is turning that innovative idea for a product or service into a successful business that gives rise to economic growth – generating jobs, attracting investment, increasing revenue and expanding opportunities within a state, region and community.

“One of the things we talk about in entrepreneurship is that it’s not just about starting a business, it’s about solving a problem,†says Judi Eyles, director of the Iowa State University John Pappajohn Entrepreneurship Center (JPEC).

“Successful entrepreneurs have the mindset to make things better to improve the way people do something to change people’s lives for the better.”

ISU is ranked among the top undergraduate entrepreneurship programs in the nation by The Princeton Review® and Entrepreneur magazine. In addition to JPEC, which has been part of the campus for more than 20 years, ISU’s Ivy College of Business offers an undergraduate major in entrepreneurship. In 2020, the new Student Innovation Center is opening, offering a state-of-the-art, hands-on hub for students of all programs and majors to collaborate, design, create and bring their ideas to life.

Jeff Adkins

Bringing People and Resources Together

Entrepreneurship is encouraged inside and outside the classroom and across all disciplines at ISU. Students meet the Ames/Story County leaders and innovators and former students who have started businesses. Community business leaders support students in pitch competitions. JPEC hosts innovation challenges – events that bring together students, faculty, staff and the community to talk about global challenges in agriculture, education and technology and search for solutions.

“Students may be assigned a project in a classroom that turns into an opportunity,†she says. “They may hear a speaker and decide they want to major in what that person did. They may have an idea they want to pursue. Each path is different. Here, students have the opportunity to try on entrepreneurship and see if it’s for them.”

JPEC brings together the ideas and people necessary to launch a new business and provides support and resources to the entire development process.

Ames, IA: ISU Research Park
Ames / Jeff Adkins

Solving Problems with Innovation

Mikayla Sullivan became an entrepreneur as a student at ISU. In 2014, she put together a team to compete in the Thought for Food Challenge, an annual global competition that encourages the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to develop new food and agriculture-related ventures that solve problems and improve livelihoods.

Today, Sullivan is the co-founder and CEO of KinoSol, a company that builds solar dehydrators designed to preserve food that might otherwise be wasted. The company has sent nearly 600 dehydrators to more than 40 countries. The dehydrators allow subsistence farmers to preserve and use and/or sell more of their crops throughout the year.

“When KinoSol started it was just a solution to a problem. We had no idea how we were going to turn it into a business,†Sullivan says. “We were fortunate enough to connect with JPEC and AgEI (ISU’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative), and those programs helped us turn our solution into a business. They served as resources to help with business plans and financials and connected us to key people and organizations to help us continue to move forward.”

Opportunity Blooms in Ames, IA and Story County

Sullivan, like so many entrepreneurs, has seen her initial idea grow and change as she and her team have gained experiences and insights.

“It’s OK for the tactics of the business to change, as long as the overall mission remains the same,†she says. “KinoSol started with the simple idea for solar food dehydrators to tackle global food waste. We realized that we needed to do more, which led to our university partnership program offering social entrepreneurship travel courses to Uganda.

We partner with colleges and universities to offer students short-term study abroad opportunities focused on developing entrepreneurship skills, learning about social problems and implementing life-changing technology.”

Ames, IA Startup KinoSol
Ames / Mikayla Sullivan

Her Advice for Future Entrepreneurs

“I think it’s really important to just get out there and do,†she says.

“You can’t learn how to run a business in a classroom. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s OK. It’s how you continue to grow and build skills that serve you later in life.”

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