Catching the entrepreneurship bug at Iowa State
For a young man who grew up dairy farming, Geert Boelen has found a novel way to diversify his future farm business.
Boelen may have come a long way from his childhood home, but farming has been a constant. Eight years ago, he and his family relocated from a dairy farm in the Netherlands to one in Brooklyn, Iowa. With his agricultural focus, he decided Iowa State was the perfect place to pursue a higher education.
Besides his major in agricultural business, Boelen is taking advantage of the university’s unique minor in entrepreneurship – and participating in Iowa State’s Agriculture Entrepreneurship Initiative, created in 2005 to inspire students to think outside the box as they envision careers in agriculture. At the initiative’s core is the student incubator program, which provides resources and mentoring for around 15 students each semester as they develop business plans and concept pitches.
As a participant, Boelen alighted on the tasty idea of cricket-farming after hearing a podcast titled “Are edible insects the future of food?” He is now in the research and development stage of a business cleverly called “One Hop Shop,” which raises crickets for human consumption. He and his co-founder, Darian Davis (at left in photo), have a business goal to provide restaurants in Ames and beyond with specialty-flavored whole crickets, and ultimately to become the most efficient and sustainable cricket farming operation in the United States.
Boelen’s idea is one of many incubating in the multi-pronged Agriculture Entrepreneurship Initiative, in which students network with entrepreneurs; pursue coursework, workshops and internships related to entrepreneurship; and work toward graduating with viable business plans. The program is focused as much on generating new ideas as on teaching entrepreneurial thinking, whether graduates seek to initiate startups or simply bring a fresh perspective to existing businesses. Boelen said, “I have been very fortunate to participate in the Student Incubator program. Being in the same room with like-minded people and getting immediate feedback on new ideas helps me tremendously.”
The potential for the Agriculture Entrepreneurship Initiative to diversify and grow Iowa’s economy is not lost on organizations such as the Iowa Farm Bureau, which is the largest source of private support for the program. Since many of the students are preparing to return to family farms and agribusinesses, the initiative can help re-energize rural Iowa – and the state’s economy – by infusing farming operations and agribusinesses with entrepreneurial energy, knowledge, and leadership.
For the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Agriculture Entrepreneurship Initiative is among its key priorities for the Forever True, For Iowa State campaign, reflecting an entrepreneurial energy that is widespread across campus. For example, the Ivy College of Business not only offers its minor, but the college has also established the first entrepreneurship major in the state and the eighth entrepreneurship doctoral degree in the nation. Initiatives such as the CYstarters Summer Accelerator in the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and CyBIZ in the Ivy College of Business are also winning the university a national reputation for educating future innovators.
Such programs are preparing a whole new generation of professionals ready to hit the ground running – or at least hopping, in the case of Boelen. “The mentors I have through this program have helped me immensely during the semester,” he said. “They’ve supported me and questioned me to better myself as an entrepreneur and as a person.”
Story: Betsy S. Hickok
Photo: Paul Gates
I have been a student at Iowa State University since the fall of 2016, after graduating from Southwestern Community College with an Associate of Arts Degree. The first club I became involved with was the Agricultural Business Club. Within the club, I have been on the Recruitment and Social Committee. I took an introductory course with fellow transfer student Tyson Lamb who introduced me to Clayton Mooney in the AgEI office, as I had an idea for an app. I joined the AgEI Student Incubator group shortly after. I met a lot of great people, who have helped me personally and professionally.
Attending events such as Young Entrepreneur Convention, EntreFest, Entrepreneur Roundtables, ISU innovation Prize, Agricultural Entrepreneurial week, pitch competitions, and various other socials, has introduced me to a lot of excellent individuals. I am part of the Student Leadership Team for the AgEI office. I also still participate in the Student Incubator program.
Last summer, I ran across an interesting opportunity to do an internship in Hawaii. I pursued the chance, but not before I lined up an internship with Gross-Wen Technologies for summer of 2018. I left Iowa in January, and spent ten weeks in Hawaii on a permaculture farm on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island.