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The University of Northern Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) offers support to Iowa’s entrepreneurs amid a changing workforce
With changing workforce trends across the state, Iowa’s entrepreneurs work in more diverse spaces than ever before. The newly-reorganized University of Northern Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (UNI JPEC) has extended its services off campus, creating an entrepreneurship program that supports students, community startups and established small businesses in Northeast Iowa.
JPEC is continuing its commitment to UNI with the R. J. McElroy Student Business Incubator, an educational learning laboratory designed to inspire and educate students interested in entrepreneurship and small business. The incubator offers physical office space, networking opportunities, and small business support to its seven current tenants.
“JPEC provides students with a collaborative and creative work environment where they can find balance between their roles as an entrepreneur and student,” said Maddie Palmersheim, program assistant at the JPEC.
In comparison to their previous offices, Palmersheim says “the layout of our center allows students to choose from a diverse pool of workspaces with sections designated for community and others for solitude. Students who are currently operating a business are eligible for a free office space in which they are encouraged to design and customize for optimization of their work and school priorities.”
Additionally, JPEC offers students a minor and a certificate in entrepreneurship, which can be as few as nine credit hours. These two programs can round out any degree at UNI, not just business.
Two existing UNI small business assistance programs join the JPEC team and service portfolio.
For the community, JPEC now houses America’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and IASourceLink. This move allows for better collaboration among the entrepreneur and small business support programs.
SBDC expands JPEC’s reach by providing resources to small businesses outside of the UNI student body. Appointments are provided at no cost, and advisors focus on real-world small business needs, including startup assistance, business planning, accounting, human resources, marketing, sales, and information on local and statewide resources.
IASourceLink connects Iowa entrepreneurs to a network of over 360 nonprofit resource organizations that provide business-building services, and has served over 73,000 entrepreneurs since 2012. They facilitate the linking of these organizations to one another and to established, emerging and start-up small businesses. Network resource partners provide a wide range of business-related services, like marketing, financial planning, sales, loans, technical assistance and more.
JPEC sees a changing workforce, but not necessarily in a shift to remote work.
All JPEC programs have witnessed a shift in Iowa’s workforce preferences. While these changes might provide flexibility for Iowans starting ventures on their own, JPEC sees more challenges for employers than employees.
“Businesses continue struggling to find and retain employees for in-person jobs,” said Amy Dutton, regional director of the SBDC, who worked with about 300 clients throughout the past year. “Continued rising costs are making it hard for smaller businesses to manage pricing and payroll. However, we have seen anecdotal evidence from our local Main Street districts that consumers (at least during holiday season) were turning their focus to local businesses to avoid shipping and supply chain issues, and to support local options.”
Because most SBDC clients have brick and mortar businesses, Dutton says that remote work isn’t an option. However, “there has been an increase in individuals starting small home-based businesses—lots of micro projects that are social media driven. I had a few individuals who have flexibility due to a spouse that can now work remotely, and this may affect a business decision or path for the trailing spouse. I do have one client who now has less than 1% of his employees working at an office site. They found that some of their top performers in the office were not successful working remotely and vice versa!”
From a campus perspective, a more flexible environment within the JPEC offers a space where students can be operational at all hours.
“Since we work with students, we aim to be accomodating to their needs—even if it’s 9 p.m. on a Monday!” said Palmersheim. “Students enjoy the ability to go back into the traditional classroom, but are still receptive to utilizing the tools popularized through the pandemic. Our center now takes on a handful of students during winter and summer breaks for remote programs.”
The UNI JPEC is prepared to meet the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs in Northeast Iowa with quality guidance and support. Through entrepreneurial education, applied learning experiences and real world business guidance to students and community members, the UNI JPEC is helping to build a better Iowa.
JPEC is located in Business and Community Services at the University of Northern Iowa. Learn more about JPEC, SBDC, and IASourceLink by visiting https://jpec.uni.edu or emailing jpec@uni.edu. Those interested in individual business support can request counseling at www.iowasbdc.org/uni.

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The goal would be to identify College Hill as a “historic location and significant entertainment district” for the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, and the greater region.
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