An entrepreneurial hangout in downtown Iowa City


Various venues — Thursday-Friday, May 4-5

Preparations underway for EntreFEST at Merge. — photo by Zak Neumann

In a self-described “collision” of the arts and technological innovation within business world, EntreFest will take hold of downtown Iowa City for a two-day series of meetups, conferences, workshops and more. Businesspeople from Iowa, and across the country, will join up from Thursday, May 4 to Friday, May 5 to provide insight and stoke motivation for entrepreneurs in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor. There will also be an early registration held the Wednesday evening prior. The entire package costs $385.

“We’re providing the opportunity to focus on both [the arts and entrepreneurship],” says Jill Wilkins, the event director of NewBo Innovation Collaborative, which is co-presenting EntreFEST along with Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. “We want to draw unique groups of people together that wouldn’t necessarily cross paths.”

The pre-festival activities began in the Gabe’s Oasis beer garden Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Registration will be open between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Thursday morning at MERGE (136 S Dubuque St, on the Ped Mall), home to the Iowa City Area Development Group.

Keynote speakers for the event include Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, a prescription glasses outlet with a social conscience; Elizabeth Caven, founder of the online marketplace UpCraft Club; Nick Saddock, who works in data center management and leadership at Google; Paul Singh, active speaker, formerly of @disruptioncorp; and Alicia Syrett, founder and CEO of Pantegrion Capital, a firm that seeks venture capital for early stage startups.

This year’s festival features women as over half the speakers, as well as various meetups focused on networking amongst women. Shonna Dorsey will speak about women in the technology sector. Lynn Allendorf, an instructor at the UI’s Tippie College of Business, will also speak about startups and pitching ideas. She began the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory in 2004 — something of a prototype for workshops pitching app ideas with a fast-paced turnaround — held in Iowa City every summer.

Breakout groups will meet up at various downtown locations, from the Iowa City Public Library to Iowa Chophouse to Beadology. Topics such as hiring/firing employees, refining pitches and the ins and outs of creating apps will be covered. A full schedule of events is available on the EntreFEST website.

EntreFEST will showcase multi-disciplined artists-as-entrepreneurs, such as Iowa craft brewers and even an Iowa-based cricket farmer (yes, for munching). On the technological front, cutting edge doodads will highlight futuristic thinking and the purposes they serve business models: virtual reality equipment, artificial intelligence (courtesy of Keith Adams at XBox) and a self-driving car.

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