North Iowa entrepreneur takes home win from 2023 Venture School Launch Day Competition

Mary Jo Vrba of Mason City, IA, took home Third Place at the 2023 University of Iowa Venture School Launch Day which was held Thursday, June 8, 2023. Eleven teams from across the state of Iowa competed in the event which was held at EntreFEST, a two-day entrepreneurial conference in Iowa City, IA.

Mary Jo Vrba won the Third Place prize of $5,000 for her business, Mags & Lu, which provides full-service dog boarding and daycare. First place and $15,000 was won by SimplSupport (Lori Palmer); Second place and $10,000 was won by Autistic & Loved (Dr. Kit Evans-Ford). There were two finalists, Portico (Brian Nigg) and Jolt Education (Jade Peterson), and six semifinalists, that received $1,000 each. The semi-finalists were Retrofit Electric (Oscar Madong of Mason City), A Kneaded Break (Britt Bock of Charles City), Akademi Arts Progress (Alan Murdock), Level Up Bouldering (Paul Altaver), Rose and Oak Athletics (Ellen Franklin), Payroll Vault (Aaron Bontrager).

Mary Jo Vrba and semi-finalists Oscar Madong and Britt Bock are graduates of the Venture School program at the NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. The NIACC Pappajohn Center Venture School program is led by Candi Karsjens, Director of the Pappajohn Center and certified NSF i-Corps instructor. Candi Karsjens, Director of the NIACC Pappajohn Center, said, “EntreFest is such a great culminating event to celebrate the best Venture School graduates from across Iowa and really celebrates the spirit and culture of entrepreneurship in Iowa. Our participants did a fantastic job pitching their business ideas and representing North Iowa and the culture of entrepreneurship of our region.”

North Iowa entrepreneurs continue to perform well at the statewide competition. In 2021, Zach Smith of The Stock Cropper took home First Place, and Nate Julseth of Nate’s Powder Coating took home First Runner-Up. In 2022, Billie Asmus of Silicone Studios won Third Place, while Dr. Tara Nichols of Maters of Comfort and Josh Jeske of Terraform Tillage both won Honorable Mentions.

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