The business of a 2014 Nevada High School graduate is the only one from Iowa that is in the running for the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge’s investment prize. A winning company or companies, could receive up to $250,000 in investment funds for their new business undertakings.
Kyle Coogler, now a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, where he is majoring in public relations with a minor in digital journalism, has always been an aspiring entrepreneur — even during high school, when he ran an auto detailing business. His business aspirations didn’t change when he got to college.
At UNI, he started a company called Creo.
“I have had an office space in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) on UNI’s campus for a little over a year now,” Coogler said. He explained that the JPEC is a student business incubator program located on UNI’s campus. “They help student entrepreneurs like myself get better connected in the community to business leaders, gain access to a 24-hour office space and learn about various opportunities for our businesses. These are completely free services to students at UNI aspiring to become an entrepreneur and follow their passions.”
Creo, Coogler explained, is a web application that streamlines the recruiting process for persons with disabilities. “Think of us as the eHarmony for job seekers and employers. We compare the three key components that are at the core of what makes a great job opportunity — skills, culture and community.”
Presently, he continued, “We (himself and his Creo team) are working toward partnering with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Community Rehabilitation Programs from across the state to develop Creo 2.0. We are working with three community programs from across the state. They are helping us to discover ways we can make the overall job search process more effective for not only job seekers with disabilities, but for employers as well.”
Prior to the opportunities he’s found at the JPEC, Coogler served as the UNI Entrepreneurs Club president and was an adviser for the Dean of the College of Business, helping with the betterment of students studying business and entrepreneurship at the university. These undertakings, he shared, earned him the 2017 UNI JPEC’s College of Business Administration Student Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Now he’s hoping to add another big award to his accomplishments.
To be selected as one of the top 25 national finalists for the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge, which is sponsored by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas and EIX.org, a nonprofit online platform for entrepreneurship education, Coogler turned in a pitch deck and a video. A panel of 40 judges narrowed down all the companies who submitted to the top 25.
Being officially in that top 25 finalists, Coogler said, was half the battle. Other finalists are from colleges and universities in California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin.
On April 12 through the 14th, Coogler and his team will travel to e-Fest to pitch Creo to a panel of judges in hopes of “wowing” them enough to award them a substantial investment. “There is a total of $250,000 being awarded to student teams at the competition, but Creo would max out right around $120,000,” he said. “If we were to win the prize money, it would help propel our second stage development much faster than it’s currently operating at, and we would be able to obtain protected servers for our customers’ data that is protected under HIPAA law.”
Winners will be announced on April 14 and then, Coogler said, on the following day winners will stick around for a news conference to talk about their experiences at e-Fest and how the prize money will affect their dream for the better!
“This is only the second year that this competition has been around, but from its nationwide popularity, I would assume there will be some high-caliber teams there, as well as some of my generation’s brightest entrepreneurs with the ideas of tomorrow,” Coogler said. “I haven’t had a chance to check out the competition yet, but I do know that there is a team from Drexel University. Their entrepreneurial programs are very well known, as well as some that are out on the West Coast.”
Coogler plans to graduate from UNI this May, and he hopes that Creo will be part of his future. Building his own business, he said, “it is definitely a passion of mine. I have always been entrepreneurial and have always had a hard time taking orders from someone. If all the dominoes I have set up right now fall down in the correct way, I will have a set path moving forward with the company as a full-time gig after college.
“In my life, I want to change perceptions,” he continued. “Regardless of what I do, if I can help people understand the other side of an argument and act upon it, I believe I have won. Creo is only the beginning.”