North Iowa Businesses Compete in Venture School Launch Day

The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center hosted the University of Iowa Venture School Launch Day competition on Thursday April 11, 2024. The NIACC Spring 2024 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 selected First, Second, and Third Place winners. The judges were: Jordan Colby, Venture Analyst with Ag Ventures Alliance; Lindsay James, Executive Director of Visit Mason City and Main Street Mason City; and Rod Schlader, CEO (Retired) of MercyOne North Iowa.

First Place – Caleb Renner, Renner Ag Solutions, Klemme IA

Awarded $1500 prize. Renner Ag Solutions saves farmers their fingers and their lives with the AgriNet. The AgriNet is a safe, innovative alternative to grain bin sweeps.

Second Place – Sherri Stensrude, The PlayBarn, Joice IA

Awarded $1000 prize. The PlayBarn creates a secure, nurturing environment where kids can explore, learn, and push their boundaries safely. Not just a playground, The PlayBarn is also a space where parents can find community.

Third Place – Sarah Innis, Journey Wellness, Plymouth IA

Awarded $500 prize. Good health is a lifelong journey. Journey Wellness helps people get in tune with their bodies so they can feel good, have energy, and live their best lives by using holistic, natural tools.

Spring 2024 Cohort Teams

Eric Burt, EB Edits, Mason City IA

EB Edits helps real estate companies and business in North Iowa and Southern Minnesota who would like to showcase high-end properties or expand their company's vision by providing high-quality media solutions.

Virginia Hall, Hall's Homemade Kitchen, Hanlontown IA

Hall's Homemade Kitchen blends cherished family recipes with innovative creations. Their commitment to using only the freshest ingredients ensures that every bite is bursting with unforgettable flavor.

Eric Jellum, Jellum Geothermal, Osage IA

Jellum Geothermal is a grain drying system that taps into the vast pool of geothermal heat to help grain producers dry their grain safely at low temperatures while reducing or eliminating their reliance on fossil energy.

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 Venture School team is assigned a local entrepreneur as their coach. On Launch Day, participants compete for seed money. In addition, eligible teams may compete for cash awards at the state level during the University of Iowa Venture School Launch Day at EntreFEST in Cedar Rapids, IA on June 13-14, 2024. The cost for Venture School is $299. If you have questions about applying to Venture School or are interested in becoming a Venture School coach, please contact Ashley Page at To apply for the Fall 2024 cohort, visit and select the Mason City cohort in the dropdown menu.

The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is the expert in rural business innovation and success. In partnership with North Iowa’s Small Business Development Center, together we provide tools, support, and resources to Iowa’s entrepreneurs. We counsel both new and existing local businesses, from Main Street to industry leaders. We’re growing Iowa’s entrepreneurial culture through grade school initiatives, college and community programs, and business training and development. Contact the NIACC Pappajohn Center at 641-422-4111, or

Sarah Innis (Journey Wellness), Sherri Stensrude (The PlayBarn), and Caleb Renner (Renner Ag Solutions)

Eric Jellum (Jellum Geothermal), Sarah Innis (Journey Wellness), Eric Burt (EB Edits), Virginia Hall (Hall's Homemade Kitchen), Caleb Renner (Renner Ag Solutions), and Sherri Stensrude (The PlayBarn)

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