North Iowa Businesses Compete in Spring 2023 Venture School Launch Day

The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center hosted the Venture School Launch Day competition on Wednesday April 12, 2023. The Spring 2023 Venture School cohort competed in person after attending classes virtually for 7 weeks of training, customer discovery, and developing their business model alongside local entrepreneur coaches. A panel of judges [Stacy Doughan, Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce; Natalie Plagge, Clear Lake Bank & Trust; Zack Smith, The Stock Cropper] selected First, Second, and Third Place winners, and one Honorable Mention award.

First Place – Molly Angstman, Three Bells Books, Mason City IA. Awarded $2000 prize. Three Bells Books is a community-focused indie bookshop-in-planning located in downtown Mason City.

Second Place – Mary Jo Vrba, Mags & Lu, Mason City IA. Awarded $1500 prize. Mags & Lu is a pet service business including pet boarding, dog daycare, and other additional services.

Third Place – Retrofit Electric, Oscar Madong, Lake Mills IA. Awarded $1000 prize. Retrofit Electric is a company that retrofits existing gasoline vehicles to electric ones.

Honorable Mention – Dustin Buck, Buck Wild Racing, Forest City IA. Awarded $500 prize. Buck Wild Racing manufactures kart components for both consumers and businesses for the go-kart racing industry.

The University of Iowa Venture School is a premier statewide program for entrepreneurs and is built from a streamlined curriculum developed by the National Science Foundation I-Corps at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. Venture School emphasizes real-world entrepreneurship and innovation based on leading edge curriculum. Teams will accelerate the startup process by testing their business model hypotheses immediately. They get out of the building to talk to customers, partners, and competitors, rather than relying on statistics and secondhand market research.

Each team is assigned a local entrepreneur as their coach. On Launch Day, participants compete for seed money with the top team winning $2000. In addition, eligible teams may compete for cash awards at the state level during the Venture School Launch Day at EntreFEST in Iowa City on June 8-9, 2023. The cost for the course is $299. Contact Mary Spitz at with questions. If you are a local entrepreneur interested in becoming a Venture School coach, please contact Ashley Page at To apply for the Fall 2023 cohort, visit and select the Mason City cohort in the dropdown menu.

From left: Zack Smith; Oscar Madong; Molly Angstman; Mary Jo Vrba, Dustin Buck; Stacy Doughan; Natalie Plagge.

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