Robert Sales is no stranger to the limelight at the University of Northern Iowa. The Communication major was a fixture at UNI Panther football and basketball games selling doughnuts from his year-round concession stand, Rob’s Mini Donuts and in the halls mentoring other entrepreneurial students in the UNI John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (UNI JPEC).
As a student entrepreneur, Sales has been recognized with several awards including the MAC Impact Student Business of the Year for 2020. But his greatest recognition to date occurred this fall. On Oct. 9, Sales won the regional Entrepreneurs’ Organization Global Student Entrepreneur Award (GSEA), which includes competitors from all over the Midwest.
As part of the award, Sales will receive a package of business tools worth $23,500, including a $1,500 cash prize, an all-expenses-paid trip to the national competition and thousands of dollars worth of time with consultants, accountants and other business trainers.
The GSEA is a global competition for students who own and operate a business while attending college. Nominees compete against their peers from around the world in a series of local and national competitions in hopes to qualify for GSEA Finals. From here, Sales will now compete in a national competition.
UNI JPEC Associate Director Laurie Watje noted, "I was confident that Rob would do well at the competition because he is willing to put forth the time and effort to succeed, which is evident in his business evolution this past year."
Sales got his start in the food industry about eight years ago at various restaurants and in dining services at Central College, where he worked as a high school student.
He started with a food truck but then upgraded his doughnut-making machine just before the fall semester in 2019. That doubled his capacity, allowing him to make about 2,400 of his trademark cinnamon-and-sugar doughnuts per hour, and equipped him for a year-round stand in the concessions industry.
Sales said working with UNI JPEC helped him walk through the steps more clearly before jumping into the business.
"I wouldn’t be here without the key mentors I have at UNI’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and other students and entrepreneurs who engaged in conversations that challenged my thinking,” said Sales. “My success was not overnight, there are stories to tell about that, it was just a little better than before. This is only the beginning of what is to come."