UI Partners hopes to help Iowa companies with IT, business services

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When Daniel Reed, the UI's vice president for research and economic development, first came to Iowa from Microsoft, he took a tour around the state to assess businesses' needs. One thing he heard again and again: there's a major shortage of skilled workers in IT, web development and highly technical fields.

A new program known as UI Partners hopes to tackle that issue, while also providing opportunities to students.

UI Partners would consult with small businesses on their IT needs, such as creating websites, managing databases, e-commerce or general tech support, as well as general business planning. Those needs would then be translated into projects that student interns or apprentices could work on, allowing the students to build their resumes while also connecting with innovative Iowa companies.

"It should be of mutual benefit, to the students and to the companies," said David Conrad, the UI's economic development director.

The first UI Partners office, in Iowa City's Old Capitol Mall, is actively seeking both business projects and student interns.

Conrad hopes to open a second office in Council Bluffs by the end of this year. UI Partners evolved from the idea of creating a network of four to six engagement centers around the state, to better connect the UI to businesses across Iowa.

"No matter where the small business is located, they wouldn't be too far away from the center," Conrad said.

The idea of connecting academia and industry is not new to Conrad. He came to the UI in November 2013 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he focused on building partnerships, including a long-running research partnership between Conagra Foods and UNL's food science department.

UI Partners has hired two staff members: Hayley Yearian as assistant director of economic development and Adam Engel as IT consultant. Yearian and Engel will work with businesses to determine their needs and opportunities and supervise students who will complete projects, as well as provide ongoing support and training to businesses after student projects are complete.

The Iowa City office is being funded by a grant from the Iowa legislature that was designed to connect the UI's innovation and entrepreneurship programming to more Iowans. John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center programs including Dev/Iowa Bootcamp, an intensive course in coding open to the community, and Iowa Innovation Associates, which is placing paid interns in Iowa companies, were funded by the same grant.

UI Partners is conducting a survey of Iowa businesses on their IT needs. More information is available at uipartners.uiowa.edu.

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