Friday, April 22, 2022

A very early morning turned into a nerve-wracking Tuesday afternoon for Dariana, a senior from Albia High School.

And she wouldn’t change a thing.

Dariana enjoyed an “amazing experience” at DesignDash, a one-day entrepreneurial workshop for high school students presented by the University of Iowa Jacobson Institute and the Iowa EdTech Collaborative, in partnership with the university's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) and College of Education, Pearson, TechStars Iowa, 1 Million Cups, and MERGE.

“I was nervous pitching to the judges who have been successful in business, but you have to put yourself out there to learn,” said Dariana, who woke at 5 a.m. and left the school parking lot by 6:30 to reach Iowa City in time for the inaugural DesignDash.

DesignDash is a hands-on startup event engaging students and educators in a fast-paced entrepreneurial excursion where teams work to solve problems and drive innovation.  

There were 77 students and 11 instructors from Albia, Alburnett, Cedar Rapids, Chariton, Iowa City City, Iowa City West, Linn-Mar, and Lone Tree. Check-in began at 8:15 at MERGE, then the group walked to the Iowa City Public Library for a morning session of ice-breaking, an interactive Zoom with Iowa JPEC alumna and Shark Tank star Erica Cole, and an introduction to Lean Startup using the Jacobson Institute's BizInnovator Startup curriculum. Teams were formed and challenged to use entrepreneurship to solve an issue that was currently affecting school districts.

The afternoon session was held at the Lindquist Center, where teams worked on a presentation poster and pitched ideas to a panel of judges.

Dariana’s group proposed an online or in-person program called No Pressure, which won an award for being most innovative. The program teaches students to deal with peer pressure. Dariana loved the customer discovery portion of the process.

“You need to get opinions before you go out there and do something,” she said. “Even if it seems like something you would use, that doesn’t mean other people will use it as well.”

Nathaneli, a sophomore at Iowa City West, was part of a team that created Allined, an app for school districts to introduce diversity and inclusion into schools. Their project received the social responsibility award.

Nathaneli benefitted from communicating ideas in a team environment and he learned more by bouncing ideas off peers. 

“(DesignDash) gave you the whole entrepreneurship business idea in four hours,” he said. “This is how entrepreneurs do it; making sure when you go into an executive meeting, you know how to pitch your idea and pitch it well.”

Not all students were beginners to the entrepreneurial journey. Ashley, a sophomore from Iowa City High School, started a fitness, technology, and skin-care business in late 2021. She was part of a team that created Box’d, a nonprofit organization that would deliver nutritious food to people around the country. Box’d was recognized as being the most market-ready.

“Hearing other people’s perspectives on a problem was my biggest take-away,” Ashley said. “You have your own perspective on a problem, but hearing what other people have to say is very important.”

DesignDash was organized by Dawn Bowlus, director of the Jacobson Institute, and Mark Butland, director of the Iowa EdTech Collaborative. Bowlus was pleased with the initial event, citing that in a little more than two months of promotion, more than 120 people became involved including students, educators, and leaders from the university and statewide startup community. 

“We wanted to create this event so students would be inspired by what they could do in one day,” Bowlus said. “They had the chance to work on some of the biggest problems that are facing our schools, and realize that they have an empowered voice to tackle the problems that are real and relevant for them growing up.”

Bowlus said a goal is to eventually scale DesignDash into a state-wide event.