Business savvy and bold

Kimm Harris’ can-do, entrepreneurial attitude shines bright at the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC). She plays an integral role at Iowa JPEC, serving as both a teacher and mentor. Harris is a lifelong entrepreneur and she often educates herself about an industry or company before submersing herself in it. Through a combination of passion and experience, she is involved in many innovative activities at Iowa JPEC and in her personal life.

In 1993, Harris was offered the opportunity to start a new company by licensing software from a former employer. She knew a great deal about the business but was uncertain about pursuing the opportunity alone. Her knowledge of business led her to bring two equal partners into the company to provide revenue resources during the growth stage of the business. Harris’ choice to engage in entrepreneurship paid off. Today, the company is thriving and she still works with the same business partners.

Another opportunity appeared for Harris when she began teaching ten years ago. She started by teaching a one-credit course at a community college to see if she would enjoy the experience. After a short time in the classroom, she knew she had discovered a new passion.

Bringing her spark to the classroom

Harris says, “Teaching is something I am passionate about. Being able to share personal experiences, connecting students with resources, and expanding students’ thinking are the things that make teaching and entrepreneurship so rewarding.” Harris especially enjoys teaching for Iowa JPEC because there are numerous resources available to students interested in entrepreneurship. Iowa JPEC’s programs recognize that there are many different kinds of entrepreneurship, so students of all majors and interest areas can find something of value. Harris admits that a fun aspect of teaching is convincing students to take advantage of the resources provided by the Iowa JPEC community. As she likes to say, “There is an opportunity around every corner.”

At Iowa JPEC, opportunities also exist for faculty to pursue their passions. Harris’ love for mentoring is met through her involvement with the UI student body and communities throughout Iowa. Her teaching and mentoring roles at UI have left students with vivid memories – she is known for doing Zumba routines in her 8 am classes to get everyone energized for a case study on Zumba’s business strategy. She also mentored twenty-five entrepreneurs from countries throughout Africa who came to the University of Iowa as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program in 2016. She developed and implemented a specialized curriculum centered on the Business Model Canvas in order to prepare the fellows to successfully start or grow a business upon returning to their home countries. Harris actively mentors several of these individuals from a distance, proving her dedication to her students does not end when they leave her classroom.

This mentality is due to Harris’ own involvement in the University of Iowa Venture School Program’s first cohort. She initially became involved with Venture School as a participant, although she now serves as an instructor.

Guiding startups

Venture School is a statewide program for startups that uses innovation-based, leading edge curriculum taught by serial entrepreneurs to emphasize real-world entrepreneurship. Harris believes Venture School stands apart from other startup programs because it drives entrepreneurs to meet deadlines. She explains, “You have to follow the process and grasp present opportunities. You are held accountable.” Harris enjoyed Venture School so much that she returned as an instructor. She has helped many teams through the program and still mentors groups that have graduated and become real-world businesses.

Harris also serves as the lead instructor for Student Accelerator, where she guides teams of student entrepreneurs through the startup process. Student Accelerator connects students from all across Iowa with industry partners and coaches while teaching them how to refine and execute their business idea. Harris loves interacting with the students on a daily basis and engaging them in creative pursuits.

For students who cannot spend a full summer on a business, Iowa JPEC offers a weekend-long program for student teams to create a business in just three days.

All in a weekend

Iowa Startup Games allows students to pitch their business idea, form a team with peers, and create a business in a weekend. By the third day, teams show a minimum prototype and pitch the story of their progress to an audience of community members for a chance to win cash prizes. Iowa Startup Games holds a special place in Harris’ heart because it is such a unique opportunity for students. The competition is cross-disciplinary, bringing students across campus together to make amazing progress on a business. Harris says Iowa Startup Games can be intimidating for many students because they are asked to pitch their business idea when it is still only an idea. The flow of the weekend fosters the growth of these ideas into actionable steps. When big ideas are put into action, students feel capable of taking responsibility for their ideas and moving forward with them.

She gives an example of a computer science student who pitched his idea at Iowa Startup Games several semesters ago and was unable to find a partner. When he participated again in a recent cohort, he pitched a new idea and succeeded in pulling a team together. On the final day of Iowa Startup Games, the team won second place in the pitch competition and was awarded money to move the business forward. Moments like this make Harris proud to be involved with innovative entrepreneurship programs and demonstrate that her dedication makes a difference in the lives of those she mentors.