CEDAR RAPIDS — Coe College’s business major is among its most popular — with startup dreams percolating in the minds of many of its students — compelling a new partnership with NewBoCo for an “entrepreneur-in-residence” post on the Cedar Rapids campus.
David Tominsky, chief relationship officer for NewBoCo — or the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative, organized as a Cedar Rapids nonprofit supporting entrepreneurship, innovation and tech education — will fill the new Coe role, which officials expect will be a permanent campus installment.
“We decided to do an event last year, and based on its success, we were looking for ways to expand and reach more people,” Tominsky told The Gazette.
That event was the NewBoCo-sponsored Kohawk Startup — a 24-hour entrepreneurship and innovation event focused on the Coe campus and experience. NewBoCo is hosting that event again this year, and Tominksy — through his new Coe position — last week held a series of one-on-one entrepreneurial thinking sessions covering basic topics like creating a business model, identifying customers, generating revenue and delivering value.
The goal, he said, is to continue hosting events and sessions throughout the academic year to help students generate ideas, learn business modeling and discover what it means to find “product-market fit” — among other things.
“Our goal is to infuse entrepreneurship into the Coe experience,” said Tominsky, a 1998 Coe graduate.
The new position — funded by Coe and donors with a passion for entrepreneurship — comes with an on-campus office, where Tominsky can offer one-on-one counseling year-round. Although the service might not be pertinent to everyone, free coaching and consulting could be career-changing for those with entrepreneurial aspirations, Tominsky said.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic,” he said.
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According to Coe, about 70 percent of those in Generation Z — born between 1996 and 2010 — dream to launch their own business.
“There is increased interest among students,” Tominsky said. “I have been very much inspired by students on campus.”
That burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit was on display last year for the inaugural Kohawk Startup, where Coe students worked in teams to transform ideas into business plans — with winners landing cash prizes of up to $10,000.
Tominsky expects participation in the Nov. 8 and 9 event to grow from last year’s 30 to 50 or even 75. Students will start by pitching ideas — although not everyone has to come with an idea, as those leading the event will help cluster participants into teams around the most promising pitches.
Through the event — and as Tominsky continues to develop and define his role on campus — he plans to differentiate the Coe model from other startup accelerators by pressing students to consider the social good of their prospective businesses.
“What we want to be focused on is what are the big problems in the world and how can we solve them?” he said. “What can we do that is unique and better than some of the alternatives?”
He plans to continue asking students those important questions — can we clarify the idea and the problem it’s solving? — as he looks to help students start both for-profit and nonprofit companies.
“It feels so much more now than 10 years ago that people are looking at that social impact piece,” he said.
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None of Coe’s new entrepreneurship offerings will offer credit, according to Barb Tupper, Coe’s director of external partnerships and annual giving. They are just available resources for anyone with an idea — whether they’re a business major or not.
“The cool thing is it’s not just for those (business) majors,” she said. “We really think that students in every major can be change makers.”
In helping those students launch their ideas, Tupper said she also foresees benefits for the community and state — in economic terms and in sustaining its workforce.
“We are always concerned about keeping students here and keeping graduates here and showing them all the ways they can live and work here.”
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