North Iowa Businesses Compete in Venture School Launch Day

North Iowa Businesses Compete in Venture School Launch Day Main Photo

18 Apr 2023


MASON CITY, Iowa— The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center hosted the Venture School Launch Day competition on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. The Spring 2023 Venture School cohort competed in person after attending classes virtually for 7 weeks of training, customer discovery, and developing their business model alongside local entrepreneur coaches. A panel of judges [Stacy Doughan, Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce; Natalie Plagge, Clear Lake Bank & Trust; Zack Smith,

The Stock Cropper] selected First, Second, and Third Place winners, and one Honorable Mention award.

  • First Place – Molly Angstman, Three Bells Books, Mason City IA.
    • Awarded $2000 prize. Three Bells Books is a community-focused indie bookshop-in-planning located in downtown Mason City.
  • Second Place – Mary Jo Vrba, Mags & Lu, Mason City IA.
    • Awarded $1500 prize. Mags & Lu is a pet service business including pet boarding, dog daycare, and other additional services.
  • Third Place – Retrofit Electric, Oscar Madong, Lake Mills IA.
    • Awarded $1000 prize. Retrofit Electric is a company that retrofits existing gasoline vehicles to electric ones.
  • Honorable Mention – Dustin Buck, Buck Wild Racing, Forest City IA.
    • Awarded $500 prize. Buck Wild Racing manufactures kart components for both consumers and businesses for the go-kart racing industry.

The University of Iowa Venture School is a premier statewide program for entrepreneurs and is built from a streamlined curriculum developed by the National Science Foundation I-Corps at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. Venture School emphasizes real-world entrepreneurship and innovation based on leading edge curriculum. Teams will accelerate the startup process by testing their business model hypotheses immediately. They get out of the building to talk to customers, partners, and competitors, rather than relying on statistics and secondhand market research.

Each team is assigned a local entrepreneur as their coach. On Launch Day, participants compete for seed money with the top team winning $2000. In addition, eligible teams may compete for cash awards at the state level during the Venture School Launch Day at EntreFEST in Iowa City on June 8-9, 2023. The cost for the course is $299. Contact Mary Spitz at with questions. If you are a local entrepreneur interested in becoming a Venture School coach, please contact Ashley Page at . To apply for the Fall 2023 cohort, visit and select the Mason City cohort in the dropdown menu.

The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is the expert in rural business innovation and success. In partnership with North Iowa’s Small Business Development Center, together we provide tools, support, and resources to Iowa’s entrepreneurs. We counsel both new and existing local businesses, from Main Street to industry leaders. We’re growing Iowa’s entrepreneurial culture through grade school initiatives, college and community programs, and business training and development. Contact the NIACC Pappajohn Center at 641-422-4111, or

North Iowa Area Community College, founded in 1918, is a nationally-recognized, two-year college located in central North Iowa.  With approximately 3,000 career and transfer students, the College has been recognized by the Aspen Institute as a leading community college in the nation.  NIACC welcomes students from across Iowa, Minnesota, the nation, and the world. The College has served as a leader in student-centered learning, community engagement, and collaborative leadership for more than 100 years. Are you ready to become a Trojan? Apply Today at

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