COUNCIL BLUFFS — As part of a push into southwestern Iowa, the University of Iowa plans to open an engagement center in Council Bluffs and bring in its renowned Venture School next spring.
University President Sally Mason said the university wants to reach out to the western part of the state to attract as many Iowa students as possible. It already has engagement centers in Iowa City and Sioux City to provide expertise, training and support for small businesses.
The new center in Council Bluffs will be based at Iowa Western Community College, Mason said.
"It sounds like a great plan," said Don Kohler, a spokesman for Iowa Western. "We have been trying to work with them for years to have some sort of a presence in southwest Iowa."
Iowa Western has already been boosting its offerings to support small businesses and startups. Iowa Western recently opened the Port, for example, providing a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs to have workspace, technology support and access to networking opportunities and the campus Small Business Development Center.
The university's engagement center will focus on information technology, said Joseph Brennan, U of I vice president for strategic communication. The university is advertising in Council Bluffs to hire a senior information technology consultant to lead the effort.
David Conrad, the U of I's assistant vice president for economic development, spoke about the proposal at the Noon Rotary Club last Thursday following Mason's visit to Council Bluffs on Wednesday.
The center is the brainchild of Vice President of Research and Economic Development Daniel Reed, formerly a senior executive at Microsoft.
"He really understands the power of information technology, computing and big data," Mason said. "These engagement centers are really an attempt to bring some of that power into smaller communities and smaller businesses."
Bringing the Venture School to Council Bluffs is another way for the U of I to do outreach and attract more students from all corners of the state. It's also another way to boost economic development across Iowa.
"If you follow the ways that this Venture School can teach you how to do a startup, if you follow their process, then your odds of succeeding are much higher," Mason said. "That's something that we're trying to scale statewide."
The Council Bluffs Venture School is scheduled to run from March 29 through May 5, 2015. The location has not been chosen, but Iowa Western is the tentative meeting site. Applications are not yet being accepted, but information will be available online at iowajpec.org/entrepreneur-support/venture-school.
The Iowa Board of Regents also recently approved a new bachelor's program in enterprise leadership through the U of I's Tippie College of Business. The college also offers an undergraduate certificate in entrepreneurial management.
Mason said the university is working to make its entrepreneurial programs available through Iowa community colleges, the same way its bachelor's degree in nursing can be completed.
"We have been trying to work with them for years to have some sort of a presence in southwest Iowa."
Don Kohler, Iowa Western Community College spokesman