It all started in the fall of 1993 when Tara enrolled in her first entrepreneurship course at the UI. She recalled that at the time, many people didn’t even know the meaning of the term entrepreneurship - let alone could spell it. She sat down on the first day of class with the 11 students, who in her words, were “die hard” about wanting to start a business and had enrolled in the only entrepreneurship course the UI had to offer at the time.


Looking back on starting Java House at age 21, what advice would you give to students that are thinking about starting a business?

In 23 years of doing this I still don’t feel like I’m ever going to work. I enjoy challenges, trouble shooting, and something new every day. If you like to rise to a different challenge every day – that’s how you know entrepreneurship is right for you. I have never been your typical nine to five person who looks for predictability in their career. When you start a business, you have to be able to make decisions 24 hours a day.

Being a Communications major, what is it that prompted you to begin taking entrepreneurship classes?

I just knew I wanted to start a business. I used to think my communications degree would not be beneficial in a business setting. Today, I couldn’t disagree more. The non-traditional business students typically are the ones that have the street-skills that stand out. They just see things from a different perspective. I think entrepreneurship courses compliment any major well and will make you more competitive in the business industry because you are offering a variety of skill sets.

What is it about the Iowa City community that prompted you to open your businesses here in the corridor?

Iowa City originally made sense because it seemed like a good fit and a good place to raise a family. As a business owner, the community has truly welcomed me with open arms. I don’t think the concept of being a local company originally meant much to me – but after 20 years I can look back and see how the Iowa City community has made being local “cool” for my businesses. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine being anywhere else.

When you started Java House it was less about providing a good cup of coffee, and more about creating an environment. How has your business focus changed over the years?

When you open a company - you will make mistakes. Typically people will try to do all things well. When you realize that it is very difficult to do everything perfect, you learn to recognize what you are really great at and you begin to prioritize. Today my company is very product driven. That doesn’t mean guest experience isn’t a priority, but in order to get people through the door, we realized we need to have a product that delivers.

Many entrepreneurs feel the spark to launch a new venture, but are worried about failing. What advice would you give to them?

My favorite saying is “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” For me, if you take a failure and make it an opportunity to improve a process or product, you will be successful. You have to have that mentality. I’m not afraid to change something – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But, if you are a true entrepreneur, you will make any failure an opportunity for something better.