University of Northern Iowa

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Empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.

Early Founders Program

2021 Early Founders Program Applications Are Now Open


The JPEC team is currently accepting applications for the 2021 Early Founders program. The eight week program will begin on June 7 and end on July 30, with an extended weekend break for the Fourth of July holiday from July 2 through July 5. 

The summer program will be a hybrid model offering both virtual and in-person sessions. Founders are expected to commit to working on their business 5-10 hours every week, attend all scheduled workshop and speaker events, and meet weekly with an assigned mentor.  Upon successful completion of the program, founders will receive a $1,000 scholarship. For more details on the program, visit
Application deadline is March 31st, acceptance emails will be sent by April 16. Please click here to apply now!


The 2020 Early Founders Program students and their businesses:


EFP 2020


The UNI John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center held their second annual Early Founders Accelerator Program this summer as a virtual offering due to the pandemic. A total of fourteen student entrepreneurs participated in the eight-week virtual program with a focus on solidifying their business model by identifying the riskiest assumption and creating tests to validate those assumptions with customers. The Early Founders formed a solid connection through mentor meetings, CEO Roundtables, Mastermind Sessions, and weekly workshops. Keep reading to learn about the 14 Early Founders and their experience through the program!


Aleah Vaske – Custom Bra Co. 

Business Management and Marketing

"The Early Founder's Program allowed me to take a step back from working on the day-to-day tasks of my business and really focus on what I want to accomplish and what my business means to me. Some of the most valuable things I learned about myself and my business during the early founder's program were how to make sure my business is a "high-vibe business." That means to align what I'm passionate about, good at, what the world needs, and what a business can profit off of."


Facebook: Custom Bra Co.


Austin Reding - AJ's Garage

Bachelor of Liberal Sciences

“During the founder's program I was able to make AJ's Garage a reality as I learned and battled through the fluent model. It taught me how to let go of expectations and perfectionism in my business and to just go for it! It taught me so many valuable things that I hope to express in my company in the future as it continues to grow more and more!”

YouTube Channel


Brett Biermann - Climbing Gym

Computer Science

“I really enjoyed this summer's experience with the JPEC. I was able to sit down and focus on my ideas I have been having about opening a climbing gym, and make a list of everything I do know about what it would take and everything I still need to learn about.”

Email: criaclimbing@gmail


Cheick Bally - Sport Agency Program

Masters in Business Administration

"I am looking forward to applying the skills I have been learning this summer to my business. This is my first entrepreneur workshop, so I am very excited about it."


Eliot Barker - Wof Coffee

Marketing Management

"The Early Founders Program reassured me not only that my idea was possible, but encouraged me in the fact that it's something I can pursue right now. It challenged me to examine my market more critically and aggressively, giving me the confidence to keep moving forward."


Facebook: Wof Coffee Roasters

Instagram: @wofcoffeeroasters


Emma Slagle - Honor + Respect

Communications / Entrepreneurship Minor

“Through the Early Founder's Program, I experienced growth within my business and also within myself. Our Instagram page gained 200+ new followers throughout the summer and we were able to establish 6 new partnerships with organizations that share a similar mission as ours. We also received our first of ten shoe stands that we will be placing in the Cedar Rapids area. I gained confidence this summer and discovered my true role within our business, and I am very thankful for the experience.”


Facebook: Honor and Respect LLC

Instagram: @honor.respect


Grace Hartnett - Darlene Grace Creative Co. 

Marketing: Advertising & Digital Media

“Getting involved with the Early Founders Program gave me the opportunity to learn from both my mentors and my peers. Having the resources and support from everyone involved was such an amazing experience. Without the program I wouldn’t have got the push I needed to start up my own business.”

Online Shop: Darlene Grace Creative Co.

Facebook: Darlene Grace Creative Co.

Instagram: @darlenegracecreativeco


Isaac Hackman - Isaac Hackman Photography, LLC

Marketing: Advertising & Digital Media and Interactive Digital Studies / Entrepreneurship Minor

“My involvement in the Early Founders Program provided me with the resources and accountability to explore the future sustainability of my business. I enjoyed and benefited from taking the time to speak with real world professionals and my potential consumers, and compiling research together to create findings that I can use now as I move forward. Having a team of fellow entrepreneurial students and leaders excited for my discoveries and rooting for me was a positive way to spend an otherwise odd summer!”




Jack Kester - Pikatea

Manufacturing Engineering


Maddie Palmersheim - The Karmic Co. 

Digital Advertising and Communications

“The founders program allowed me to question and view my business from a strategic standpoint that considered both the current and future value of my company. My mentors and peers pushed me to ask the right questions, focus on the right problems, and do both of these things at a fast pace. Through completing weekly FLEX planners, I was able to finish the summer with a clearer vision of what my company was going to look like in a month, 6 months, and a year.”


Parkes Wilterdink - MotoPro HQ

Construction Management


Robert Sales - Rob's Mini Donuts


“The Early Founders program this year was a great and unforgettable experience. Learning how to effectively do micro experiments to help further my business ideas and hypothesis.  The eight-week program set the foundation for the expansion and innovation that my business uses today. One example is the helpful and rapidly growing consulting/advising service that I created over the summer, which was formed because of the success of multiple of the micro experiments that I conducted.”


Facebook: Rob's Mini Donuts


Sam Friedrich - Salty Dogs Fundraising

Marketing: Sales Management / Entrepreneurship Minor

“I had a great time being a part of the Early Founders Program this summer. It taught me many things and allowed me the platform and network to push my business to new heights. I was able to exceed both my goals and expectations!”


Facebook: Salty Dogs Fundraising


Ryan Van Maanen - Event Space

Organizational Leadership and Marketing: Advertising & Digital Media

“Over the 8 weeks in the Early Founder Program, I was able to learn so much about the event space industry and the managerial aspects of operating them. I now have a much better understanding of what processes are necessary for starting a business which requires a physical location. I intend to bring the concept into reality someday when I have the capacity to do so!”