Wednesday, August 17, 2016

This year’s Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute (OEI) kicked off on Sunday, August 7. Students traveled to Okoboji, Iowa, where they were welcomed into the program and introduced to their host families. Over the course of the next few days, students heard stories from experienced entrepreneurs, attended networking events, splashed in the lakes of northwestern Iowa, and grew in their entrepreneurial journey.

OEI brought students together from the University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, Iowa Lakes Community College, and Buena Vista University under the roof of Lakeside Lab near Okoboji. Lakeside Lab was founded in 1909 by Dr. Thomas Macbride, a naturalist and botanist who served as the tenth President of the University of Iowa. While the space was originally created to study the wildlife and natural areas of Iowa, OEI student entrepreneurs found it just as useful for pitching their business ideas in business plan competitions and lunching with venture capitalists.

When students weren’t taking part in speaker panels, entrepreneurial simulations, or business research, they left the classroom to bask in the waters of Iowa’s Great Lakes. Whether it was boating, jet skiing, tubing, or swimming, the young entrepreneurs enjoyed spending some of their last days of summer on the lake. In the evenings, they participated in networking events with local entrepreneurs and their fellow OEI students.

For Liza Strueva, CEO of Culturally Connected, OEI’s hands-on learning opportunities and out-of-the-classroom activities are part of what makes being an Iowa JPEC entrepreneur so special. “It is my first time at OEI, and it won’t be my last. The program is incredible. It lasts for one busy week, but with the amount of knowledge and experience we receive, it feels like a month. The skills we have acquired here are not something we can learn in school.”

Strueva is new to entrepreneurship, as she decided to go into the field last January. When she first got involved, she had no idea was she was getting herself into. Although she was out of her comfort zone at first, she quickly learned to appreciate Iowa JPEC courses and knew that she had found her calling. Shortly after this discovery, she decided to participate in Iowa Startup Games, a weekend-long event that teams students up to create new businesses.

It was here that Strueva came up with the idea for Culturally Connected, a professional cultural mentoring service for new international students. Since founding the company, Strueva and her team have strived to become better entrepreneurs. The team is fully committed to making Culturally Connected a household name, participating in Iowa JPEC competitions and the Venture School Student Accelerator Program to learn about entrepreneurship and win cash prizes to grow the business.

Participating in OEI was just another way for Strueva to step out of her comfort zone and engage with the entrepreneurial community. “Both Iowa JPEC and OEI influence me to dream beyond the comfort zone and what is easy. I have a chance to surround myself with incredibly successful people who are extremely hard workers. Being surrounded by such a crowd inspires me to challenge myself – how far can I go, what can I achieve. With every single person I meet, the common goals we all have are to make a bigger, better, more welcoming community of entrepreneurs that are always willing to help and inspire each other.”