Young Entrepreneur Convention inspires young business owners

One of the poster-boards set up inside the Student Innovation Center during the convention.

Jack Mcclellan

Young people and students from around Iowa gathered at the Student Innovation Center for the Young Entrepreneurs Convention. The event included presentations and talks from successful entrepreneurs as well as a pitch competition with lucrative opportunities and prizes for the finalists. 

The event, lasted throughout the day and included five separate speakers, a founders panel and networking opportunities such as a lunch service and a post-event social. The post-event social offered audience members to talk and connect the speakers and organizers of the event, over refreshments and cotton candy. One speaker even opened a tab for all the participants of the convention, freeing everyone up to get in on the fun.

During their presentations, speakers told stories of their own entrepreneurial paths and shared the defining decisions and actions of their careers. Many of the speakers were involved in start up accelerator programs, like Eric Engelmann who has founded several businesses, including an Iowa-based venture fund, ISA Ventures. 

Engelmann’s presentations included real-world anecdotes and solutions to problems people may encounter while attempting to do build a business. Engelmann also spoke on some of the opportunities available to startups through services like ISA Ventures, which works to build programming and a good ecosystem for startups in Iowa.

The presentation highlighted the extensive efforts to build programming and a good ecosystem for startups in Iowa. Engelmann explained a little bit behind venture funds and the work they hope to accomplish.

“Some [investors] don’t care anything about [the business], they want the money,” said Engelmann. “They’re in it for the money, which is fine and as long as that everybody’s aligned on what the goal is, that’s fine. Other people, they’re investing because they really care about their community and they want to see you know, smart people build things and and that’s fine.”

One member from the audience, James Welbes, who works to help businesses manage their brands, offered his take on some of the presentations.

“I feel like I … was inspired more accurately by a lot of the things that were said.” said Welbes. “It’s really cool to come see, you know, that it’s possible to be a successful business owner in Iowa.”

The convention also featured a pitch competition, in which participants were allotted 90 seconds to pitch a business idea or current project to a panel of judges. The judges were then given time to ask questions on the business idea before scoring the pitch. Out of the pool of participants, three finalists were selected to give their pitches a second time, but in front of the convention audience.

The finalists’s pitches were scored by the judges and ranked as first, second and third. Each finalist received an IP package from Zarlan Law Firm, a sponsor of the Young Entrepreneurs Convention and a copy of the book “You Don’t Need this Book” courtesy of author Ben McDougal. Each of the finalists also received a cash prize and trophy, sponsored by Iowa State. First place cash prize was $3,000, with $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place.

Coming in first place was Julien Duhautois, an entrepreneur and data specialist, who pitched a mobile app he has been developing to track tennis balls during a match and keep track of where the ball hits. In second place was Holly Bennett, a graduate from the University of Iowa who is working to develop agricultural sprayers that reduce waste by only targeting the necessary plants. Finally in third was Jay Amin, an Iowa State alumni who pitched an app that would streamline ways to keep track of your personal health.

Duhautois shared his experience in the pitch competition.

“I came in this morning, and I thought it was gonna be a three minute pitch and then I had this whole three minute pitch ready,” said Duhautois. “I practiced this morning and shower and it was two minutes and 40 seconds.”

Upon his arrival, Duhautois realized that the pitch competition only allotted participants 90 seconds to deliver their pitch.

“Two hours prior, I’m in front of a building in the cold outside just rehearsing, trying to trim it down to a minute 30,” said Duhautois. “I honestly didn’t think I was gonna make it through the first round. So I was very surprised to hear my name and getting a second chance on that second chance worked well, so I’m pretty happy about it.”

More information on the Young Entrepreneurs Convention can be found at