Exploring market options in Africa

Students advise Iowa businesses on entering international economies

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IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is going global this semester with students providing services for businesses that hope to enter the international market.

Small to medium-sized don’t have the same in-house capabilities and resources as their larger counterparts, which means they often rely on external help to enter overseas markets, explained Dimy Doresca, director of the Institute for International Business (IIB).

IIB students this semester have been providing such help for these businesses by making entry strategy recommendations based on foreign market research and analysis. The idea is that students can gain experiential learning, and participating businesses can obtain data, analysis and entry recommendations.

“Some of the other options I investigated for a comprehensive, international market analysis cost several thousand dollars, and the IIB is providing a comparable service, for the investment of our time only,” said Jill Blaine, CEO of Ankh Data Systems in Iowa City.

“We are getting access to the great minds at the university and the students are getting to see our business and how we operate so they can someday run their own businesses as well,” said Tom Nicknish of Cyber-Anatomy Corp., based in Coralville.

The projects are completely student-run, with Doresca acting as a mentor.

“Coming from the industry with 15 years of international business operations in Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean, it is a great pleasure for me to share my experience with the students,” Doresca said. “I am available as a sounding board for them to bounce ideas and recommendations at.”

Focusing on Africa

All three of the businesses within the program — Ankh Data Systems, Cyber-Anatomy Corp. and Digital Doc in Cedar Rapids — are looking at opportunities in Africa, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Many economies in the North Africa region are seeing the emergence of a new middle class, Doresca added, and, “We know that American products and services are in high demand in many parts of the world, especially in places where the middle class is growing.”

Not only does Iowa have a lot to sell to Africa as far as medical equipment, technology and consumer goods, but the African market has a lot to offer Iowa businesses in return

“In the United States, each store can generate over $500K in annual sales for each 100K of population. South Africa alone has over 50 million people,” said Bob Geers, owner of Digital Doc.

IIB will host a business summit on April 8, as the first installment of an annual initiative called “Doing Business Forums in Iowa City.” At the event, international experts will discuss market opportunity assessments of African countries, career opportunities for international business students and how to minimize the risks of entering different markets.

Some 200 students are involved in the overall IIB program, with a dozen working on the Africa project. IIB itself has been around since 1997, but focus shifted to small and medium-sized businesses this past summer.

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