What happens when you pair a student studying Chinese language and literature with students studying ethics and public policy, theatre arts, and computer science at Iowa Startup Games? They’ll create a business together, make new friends, and expand their entrepreneurial skillset, of course.

Iowa Startup Games is a weekend-long competition where UI students from all majors are invited to come together, build a business, and grow their entrepreneurship skills. Cheyenne Moore, a Chinese language and literature major at the University of Iowa, built a business with three other UI undergraduates at the fall 2016 Iowa Startup Games hosted by the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC). Her field of study inspired her to create Elastic Language, a software that focuses on teaching Chinese and other character-based languages. Cheyenne’s team finished the weekend with a Judges’ Choice Award for Best Pitch, but what they learned at Iowa Startup Games took them far beyond competitions and prizes and into the real world of entrepreneurship.

Cheyenne’s blend of studies, which includes a Chinese major, Korean minor, and certificates in international business and entrepreneurial management, is perfectly suited to Iowa JPEC’s Iowa Startup Games. Cheyenne and her team had to be mindful of their individual differences and preferences while building Elastic Language – mirroring a real-world startup scenario. Each member was studying something distinct and had to learn how to navigate the startup process together - Sehseh Sanan studies ethics and public policy, Clare Moore studies theatre arts, and Zichen Zheng studies computer science. The variations between the team members made the experience all the more valuable and pushed them to approach Elastic Language from many angles. Cheyenne was also surprised by the level of support she saw between teams at Iowa Startup Games.

“I think more than competing against each other, we were competing against our own expectations, which made for a friendly atmosphere," she says. "Competitions are filled with animosity, but Iowa Startup Games was nothing like that.”

Iowa Startup Games mimics real-world entrepreneurship situations in other ways, too. Students are provided with entrepreneurial coaches, many of which are UI alums. Coaches and facilitators are on-hand throughout the weekend to support teams as they explore the startup process. On Saturday, teams take to the streets of downtown Iowa City and the UI campus to conduct customer discovery interviews. Cheyenne says, “It didn’t feel like we were making outlandish businesses for a school project that would be quickly abandoned. It felt like we were building a real business. There’s nothing more empowering than that.”

On the final day of the competition, teams pitched their businesses to an audience of students and a panel of entrepreneur judges. “By pitch time,” Cheyenne says, “there’s no room for being nervous. It’s all just excitement to show what you’ve done.” At the beginning of Iowa Startup Games, they outlined their limits as creators and ultimately shattered those limits in order to emerge with a Best Pitch prize from the judges.

After Iowa Startup Games, the Elastic Language team plans to carry forward their business and continue growing their entrepreneurial skillset. Cheyenne say she’s “far more equipped to break an idea down into all of its parts and faults” because of Iowa Startup Games. The knowledge she gained during the weekend has already been applied to entrepreneurship courses and has inspired her to keep the Games’ entrepreneurial passion at the back of her mind during all of her daily activities. Cheyenne says, “When you can find a spark in all that you do, you produce work that you can look back on and feel good about.” With the bright future that lies ahead for Elastic Language, it’s evident that the team was inspired to step out of their comfort zone at Iowa Startup Games.