The summer cohort of Builders and Backers in Iowa City is winding down, and local entrepreneurs are getting ready to test their ideas. It is the second group of entrepreneurs to go through the Builders and Backers program in the Corridor, a 90-day Idea Accelerator cohort in partnership with Heartland Forward, where experts help aspiring […]
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The summer cohort of Builders and Backers in Iowa City is winding down, and local entrepreneurs are getting ready to test their ideas.
It is the second group of entrepreneurs to go through the Builders and Backers program in the Corridor, a 90-day Idea Accelerator cohort in partnership with Heartland Forward, where experts help aspiring business owners break down problems and apply them on a larger scale.
Individuals in this cohort are tackling big problems with ocean wave energy, customizable diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) tools and expo events. The final wrap-up banquet will take place Sept.. 21. Here are a few ideas developed during the summer cohort:
Kimberly Fitten, principal of Northwest Junior High School in the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD), and Laura Gray, ICCSD executive director of diversity and cultural responsiveness, are passionate in helping companies achieve more success through diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives — so much so they decided to join forces.
“We realized we both have companies that are doing similar work and we decided to partner,” said Ms. Gray, saying they decided to create the R&R Equity Concierge Collaborative. “We have a network of trainers that can help companies with whatever culture and climate needs they have.”
Through the Equity Concierge Collaborative, companies can assess their culture and climate strengths and weaknesses through a “kind of calculator” to find professional development opportunities, Ms. Gray said.
While most diversity and equity audits require an outside consultant to come in and diagnose the problem, the Iowa City duo says their idea is to have more of a prescribed approach.
“Normally, when businesses ask for an audit, they don’t really know what they need,” Ms. Fitten said. “What we’ve created allows the company to take control, so the organization knows exactly what their outcomes might be. So (based on) their answers to the questions, they will be recommended professional development opportunities that they might take the opportunity to grow by learning.”
The hope is that this approach will help a company dig deeper into a workplace issue, such as employee retention, to see the definitive root cause of the problem. Companies will also receive a culture and climate score based on their answers, similar to a Blue Book score.
“We believe that any organization can benefit from [our services], because all organizations should care about the culture and the climate, whether or not staff feels welcome, safe and included,” Ms. Gray said.
On Sept. 22, the two founders will invite area businesses to an in-person event with refreshments where they can receive an assessment and score on-site. Interested companies can then receive access to more information to tackle the issues they find.
Expos for artists
Erika Christiansen’s main goal through Builders and Backers was to help local, underrepresented artists by connecting area businesses to their products.
This passion stemmed from her pandemic experience, where she began making and selling concrete candles for vaccine awareness after applying for an artist grant.
Her experience — from making 100 candles in her house to learning how to sell as an established vendor (her company is called Tura Lura) in local stores and at the South District Diversity Market — led her to realize it’s difficult for local makers to survive in a wholesale environment.
“A lot of people feel the same challenges,” she explained. “How do I start a website? How do I start selling directly to consumers or to other businesses? There’s a lot of platforms, like Etsy and Shopify, that I would say are saturated and really hard to break into. For people who do want to share their art with others, what is some hub of resources that you can explore?”
To solve this problem, Ms. Christiansen will invite area buyers who are looking to purchase unique, local items to a Local + Good Mini Expo on Sept. 26 at MERGE in Iowa City. The event will introduce 10 local artists interested in selling wholesale in the Corridor.
Ms. Christiansen will also run a social media campaign over the holiday season where she will share products people can buy from local makers. If she finds success with this and the expo events, she hopes to do more expos in the Corridor in the future.