The UNI team believed that a technology solution could be found to identify and attract entrepreneurs so that EDO’s could engage them over the life of their business and that such an approach could improve business owner access to resources and their peers. Building upon the premise that all entrepreneurs want to secure cash grants if possible, the Dream Big Grow Here contests were developed as an attractive cash competition to engage entrepreneurs online, where they could then be connected with resource providers in their home communities and online. As it was developed over the first two years, it also became a powerful tool to foster collaboration between existing service providers and a marvelous way to celebrate small business in the state.

We established multiple success measurements for DBGH:

  1. to connect small business and entrepreneurs with regional economic development organizations,
  2. to encourage small business owners to use technology and to interact with one another online,
  3. to leverage widespread marketing and positive publicity for small Iowa companies,
  4. to enhance the supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem in the state.

The use of an online contest to attract, learn about and engage large numbers of entrepreneurs is novel. Unlike business plan competitions which attract only small numbers of deeply committed entrepreneurs, Dream Big Grow Here attracts hundreds of entrepreneurs at different stages of business development and across many industries. The online pitches capture critical information about these entrepreneur’s plans for startup and growth which can be used by regional EDO’s to better serve them and others on an ongoing basis.

Recognition & Awards

  • Mid-America Economic Development Council's 2012 Annual Economic Development Award
  • University Economic Development Association Award of Excellence in Innovation & Entrepreneurship 2013

Last Year's Winners

Click below to choose a category of last year’s winners and entrants.


Hey what's cooking? This contest is for our Iowa restaurants and the wider hospitality industry!


Fresh Mediterranean Express - Waukee, Iowa!

Hassan Atarmal
Fresh Mediterranean Express, LLC
Waukee, IA
It's Fresh. It's Simple. Tasty food served with a smile. Help Fresh Mediterranean Express bring the flavors of the Mediterranean to more locations in Iowa!
About us:

Fresh Mediterranean Express is locally owned and operated by husband and wife team, Hassan Atarmal and Jeni Betts. Jeni is an Iowa native, graduating from UNI in 2003 & 2010. Hassan grew up in a rural Berber village in Central Morocco. After living in NYC for several years, he moved to Iowa where he graduated from UNI in 2010.

The dream of owning a Mediterranean café is something Hassan and Jeni share. As a child, Hassan was always in the kitchen with his mother, learning all he could about the flavorful dishes she would prepare daily from scratch for their family. He honed these skills working in NYC at a famous local deli on the Upper East Side. Hassan & Jeni are passionate about traveling and learning about foods from all different parts of the world. This passion inspired them to open Fresh Mediterranean Express.

About the café:

Fresh Mediterranean Express brings the flavors of the Mediterranean to the Greater Des Moines area in a casual café setting. The unique kitchen and dining room layout allows customers to experience the food preparation process while enjoying the lively international music and décor.

The café offers a fresh, flavorful menu filled with foods found in the Mediterranean, including gyros, kabobs, falafel, chicken shawarma, salads, soups, and baklava. Complementing the menu are the 10 different sauce and dip choices, including two flavors of hummus all made fresh in house.

Our Mission:

We are a restaurant with a conscience. We have a unique mission: To fight the vicious cycle of illiteracy and poverty by supporting community literacy programs at home and abroad.

Growing up in a berber village in Morocco, Hassan knows firsthand the struggles of life for children in these villages, many lacking access to education. Hassan and the Fresh Mediterranean Express team are dedicated to realizing their mission of fighting illiteracy by supporting literacy programs in the United States and abroad.

The market:

The Des Moines metro is growing quickly. With high employment levels and a low cost of living, it is the perfect place for young professionals. Waukee specifically is the fastest growing city in the State of Iowa.

The concept of casual Mediterranean cafe's is rising in popularity, and Fresh Mediterranean Express is the first of it's kind in Central Iowa.

Fresh Mediterranean Express has been operating at it's current location since May 2014.
We are excited about the opportunity to compete in Dream Big Grow Here. We believe in small business and supporting entrepreneurs in the great State of Iowa!

We're currently operating out of an 1,100 sq ft space, which is often seen with lines out the front door at lunch and on weekends. This tells us that there is a large demand for freshly prepared Mediterranean foods in Central Iowa.

We would use the grant proceeds to purchase a mobile unit, which would enable us to participate in more festivals, farmers markets, and special events - sharing our Mediterranean fare with more people in Iowa!

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We need to replace our oven because it is old enough to collect Social Security!

Tiffiny Meinert
Tiffiny's Tipton Bakery
Tipton, IA
Tiffiny's Tipton Bakery is a Full Service bakery including breads, donuts, cookies, customized cakes (sculpted, tiered, fondant, etc.) sandwiches, soups, pastries, etc. The Tipton Bakery was started in 1928 and the Meinert's purchased it 2 1/2 years ago changing the name to Tiffiny's Tipton Bakery.
The Hartog family introduced the Tipton Bakery Crescent TM over 85 years ago. The best way to describe the Crescent is a melt in your mouth confection with a white creamy filling topped with powdered sugar creating a little bit of heaven. People travel from all over or have Tipton Bakery Crescents TM shipped to them. We hear stories all the time about how customers would come to the bakery with their parent or grandparent when they were younger just for a Crescent. We started a map tracking how far people travel for a Tipton Bakery Crescent TM. Every state has been represented along with several countries. (See the map in the images section.)

The Tipton Bakery Crescent TM is such a signature item for our bakery that we started having a birthday celebration each year. We discount the price to the age of the Crescent. The first year was the 85th birthday and we sold over 4000 Crescents in a day and a half. This year the celebration is March 6th and 7th. We hope to see you there.

The Crescent may be most popular but it is not the only item on our menu. Our white and wheat breads are also original recipes from the Hartog family. Hamburger buns and dinner rolls are very popular during the holidays and for special events. We also offer other donuts and pastries, cookies, sandwiches, soup (seasonal), and cakes for all occasions including sculpted cakes and fondant or buttercream icings.

A true old fashion bakery is difficult to find in our rural area. The closest bakery (not in a grocery store) is 45 minutes away. There is very little competition with our Tipton Bakery Crescent TM. Our local grocery store carries something similar but customers tell us that there is no replacing the Tipton Bakery Crescent TM. Today I had a customer call from California requesting Crescents be shipped to her because she has looked the last 6 months she has been in California but cannot find anything similar. We have also had soldiers stop as soon as they get home just for a Tipton Bakery Crescent TM.

Graduation/Memorial Day weekend is our 2nd busiest weekend of the year. Last year over 22% of the Tipton graduating class had us make cake and/or buns for their parties. This was only roughly ½ of the cake/bun orders. Other areas orders came from include: North Cedar, Anamosa, West Branch, Durant, West Liberty, Muscatine, Rochester, Wilton, and University of Iowa.

Market analysis shows that we have an average sales volume compared to other small/family owned bakeries. Since purchasing the bakery 2 1/2 years ago we have more than doubled the sales volume from the previous management. There is definitely more business here but we need to be more efficient so we can produce more product at a lower cost to stay competitive with the larger chain store bakeries.
In order to make Tiffiny's Tipton Bakery and the Tipton Bakery Crescent TM a household name we need to expand and update our equipment. We have already done major repairs and upgrades including lighting, a new proofer (steam room), all new kitchen faucets, added a bathroom, a new furnace, etc.

Right now our biggest concern is a new oven. The oven was purchased in 1951. In the last 2 1/2 years we have had parts fabricated because parts are no longer available. We have also had 2 days without the oven due to repairs. We had to improvise to make our products without it each day. My fear is one day it will not light and will no longer be fixable.

When considering what type of new oven to purchase, we are looking toward our future of having a production facility in Tipton and distributing items throughout the Midwest. We currently distribute our products to Brother's Market in Lisbon and the I-80 Truckstop Restaurant. With larger distribution in mind we want to get a high tech oven with a price tag over $25,000.

Upgrading our website for online purchasing is also on our list. We currently have a very old register. It does not have many reporting capabilities. We have no way of following up with our customers unless we track sales information manually. There is a bakery specific software that is available and would give us the ability to not only track sold items and current stock levels but also give cost analysis and nutrition information.

Thank you!

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Help The Flour Mill better serve its community and southwest Iowa!

Tyler Morris
The Flour Mill
Elk Horn, IA
The Flour Mill would like to accomodate more guests and provide entertainment to southwest Iowa. By making our courtyard accessible from inside the restaurant, we can add outdoor seating and host concerts, a much-needed and wanted entertainment option for the surrounding area.
Our business model is simple. We saw a need and a want for more dining options in our town of Elk Horn, especially when it came to fresh, hand-tossed pizza. We felt that if we had great tasting food, wonderful service, and fair prices, we could be successful. Both Tyler and I (the owners) have ties to Elk Horn. Tyler Larsen grew up here and graduated high school from here, while I (Tyler Morris) taught elementary school here right out of college. This community is important to us and we take a lot of pride in the service we're providing. We're unique in our town and area for a number of reasons; we're open 6 days a week, including Sunday's and Monday's, we stay open all day, our menu features fresh, artisan pizzas along with appetizers, salads, hot hoagies and pasta dishes, and we have made-from-scratch baked goods as well. By building a menu unlike our competitors and giving careful consideration to our hours of operation, we have found our niche in southwest Iowa. The impact of winning this money would be felt in several ways; with outdoor seating we would have to add another server and help in the kitchen, thus creating jobs. More of our local dollars would stay here with the increased seating and the ability to host live music/pizza buffet nights. People would have more entertainment options besides going to Atlantic, Harlan, or the Council Bluffs/Omaha area. Tyler and I both have prior restaurant experience and are fortunate enough to have my in-laws (Tyler Larsen's future in-laws) as our building owners and advisors.
The Flour Mill is applying for this grant because we would like to expand and provide even more options for our community. Currently, we only have 12 tables in our dining room. We do, however, have a large courtyard that is inaccessible from inside the restaurant. A dream of ours is to put in a sliding glass door leading to the courtyard. We would then be able to accommodate more patrons during parts of the spring, summer, and fall by adding an outdoor seating area. Tyler and I also have a passion for live music and would like to host concerts in the courtyard, coupled with a pizza buffet night, once a month. I've had lots of conversations with patrons about our dreams for the courtyard and the pizza buffet/live music night idea has been met with great enthusiasm! In a small town like ours, people are desperate for entertainment. We love making people happy in our restaurant and this grant would allow us to continue doing that on a broader scale!

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Expanding Mud on Main

Jessica kannegieter
Mud on main
aurelia, IA
Mud on Main is a coffee shop in Aurelia, Iowa that offers specialty coffees, homemade goodies, smoothies, breakfast and a lunch menu. Mud on Main is on the verge of going mobile and expanding it's homemade chicken salad sales.
Mud on Main was started on a whim, and that makes it a great story. I want to take my coffee shop and make it mobile. Going to events and other businesses to offer my great coffee or lunch will be a great experience. Then the expansion of manufacturing my chicken salad will be an amazing chance to put Aurelia on the map and make a great living for my family and myself. Coffee shops are starting up all over in rural Iowa but, I have a uniqueness that brings people back. I buy only premium products to sell to my customers. The best roasted coffee beans for my coffees and specialty drinks and quality ingredients for my homemade goodies and lunches. I am always looking for better ways to serve my customers.
When I started 3 1/2 years ago the market size of my small rural town wasn't enough and I knew I would need to pull business from surrounding area. I have done just that especially with my drive thru window. I plan to market the same way with my mobile unit.
I'm applying for the chance to earn some great exposure and to help my financial backing. I understand it takes money to make money and this extra with help me in so many aspects. Expanding to a mobile unit or starting a manufacturing side for chicken salad will be an amazing chance for myself, family and Aurelia. Coming from a farming family I understand I need to work for what I want and Mud on Main is worth working for.

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Be the best venue in southeast Iowa for endless gatherings.

Debbie Sedrel
Debbie's Celebration Barn
Oskaloosa, IA
The Celebration Barn is one of the most extraordinary and romantic settings for a Midwest wedding or special event the barn has seats for three hundred but will hold up to 700 people. The structure is built on a hill over looking an open lawn. This type of barn is called a Quonset hut barn.
Once you have set the date we have a vendor list to help you find the perfect caterer, DJ's, photographer, cake decorator, our diverse vendor list we well find the perfect match. We are unique as we supply tables and chairs for 300, a stage, photo booth, sound system, rope lights already up, a burn pit and octagon with swings and a deck for more outside gathering.
We are applying as we need inside bathrooms. It is a must now that the barn is doing so well. Outside bathrooms have not been a hit. We have to have water to the barn and get on city water and away from the old septic system.

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Swedish bakery/coffee shop that features Swedish baked goods, Swedish gifts, and local art.

Jennifer Travis
The Twisted Swede
Red Oak, IA
Experience a taste of Sweden at The Twisted Swede, a new Swedish bakery and Swedish gift shop that will be located in the Swedish town of Stanton, IA. Customers can enjoy coffee and a Swedish treat while admiring the local art for sale that fills the walls of the store.
My dream is to have a successful FIKA/gift shop that features Swedish baked goods, gifts, and local artwork. FIKA (pronounced “fee-ka”) is coffee time in Sweden, where they share coffee, conversation, and baked treats with a friend. The Twisted Swede would offer Swedish rye bread, pies, and seven different Swedish baked treats (offering seven items is a FIKA tradition) every day. Customers could enjoy their baked items with coffee in the shop while appreciating the local works of art on the walls. The walls of the shop would be filled with local artwork for sale including my own (my designs are made from antique barbed wire).

The Twisted Swede is currently a part-time home-based business that specializes in Swedish rye bread and Swedish baked goods. The business began last summer from a desire to carry on the traditions of my Swedish heritage and my passion for baking. I live in an area that was settled by Swedes and is still predominately Swedish.

The demand for my product was much higher than expected at local farmers’ markets. My first experience was at the Red Oak Farmers’ Market, where I sold out of Swedish rye bread week after week within an hour. There is a high demand for this specialty bread because fewer people are baking bread at home and this bread is not available commercially. Customers waited at my stand to buy bread before the opening bell and often bought two or three loaves at a time. The bread was a hit for non-Swedes too as eight out of ten people who tasted a sample of the rye bread purchased the bread.

In the Swedish tradition of FIKA (coffee time in Sweden), The Twisted Swede would offer a choice of seven Swedish baked goods such as cinnamon rolls, Spritz cookies, Swedish Kringle, Swedish spice cookies (pepparkakor), and tea rings. Because the only bakery in this area is the local Hy-Vee store, homemade pies will be offered as the store becomes established.

In addition to selling Swedish baked goods, a portion of the shop would have Swedish gifts for sale.
There used to be four to five stores that sold Swedish gifts in southwest Iowa, now there are none as the last store closed in 2014. The closest store that sells Scandinavian gifts is in Elkhorn, NE.

The shop would be located in Stanton, Iowa, home of the Swedish Heritage and Cultural Center. The Twisted Swede would be a destination place for visitors, a place where they could experience a different culture, enjoy great food, and purchase local art. It would also be a social gathering place for locals and a place where they could purchase traditional Swedish foods and gifts. Like many small towns in rural Iowa, Stanton has much to offer but it has been stagnant in growth. This shop would help invigorate this small town by giving people another reason to visit and experience its remarkable Swedish culture and traditions.
Customers want freshly baked bread, which means I need to sell my bread within 48 hours of baking.
To meet the demand of my product and expand my business, I need to increase my baking capacity by purchasing a commercial mixer, a commercial oven, and a proofer. With a standard oven and a 7 quart mixer, I cannot make bread fast enough to make the current demand.

Baking bread with yeast is a longer process as the dough has to rise twice. Plus, the air temperature and humidity affect rising time of the bread. Having a higher capacity mixer and oven would enable me to bake more loaves at the same time. A proofer provides a more consistent environment for the bread to rise, which would lessen the guesswork of when the bread is ready to bake.

I plan to purchase the commercial mixer, oven, and proofer used. New commercial baking equipment is very expensive. With the amount of restaurant auctions, I feel I could find some good, used models to start my business.

If I were to win the grand prize, I will use that money to secure a building for my business and go from being a part-time business to a full-time bakery/gift shop. Currently, there are a number of stores for sale in Stanton. Winning this money would not only help me reach my dream of owning a Swedish bake/gift shop, it would be an investment in a great small town community.

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Al Dente Toffee: Let us put something amazing in your mouth!

John Romano
Al Dente Toffee
Adel, IA
Al Dente Toffee is Iowa only Toffee Shop. Located on the Historic Square of Adel, Iowa. We opened in 2013 in a 120 year old building. We make over 13 varieties of toffee and ship worldwide. We are making toffee new and exciting
Al Dente Toffee is unique, and we claim to be Iowa's only Toffee shop. We currently have direct retail sales, wholesale sales, in stores like Hy-Vee and Fareway, farmer's markets and Internet sales via website. The confectionery market is $8 billion in the US. Our competitors like Engstrom's; Nashville Toffee, and Elaine's are good companies who produce a familiar style of toffee. If your lucky you can choose between milk chocolate and dark chocolate on your toffee. We differentiate ourselves by producing small batch fresh toffee that is easy to bite which is why we call it Al Dente Toffee. We have taken the platform of English Toffee and developed varieties that have never been done like: Pumpkin Pie Pecan, Maple Bacon, Apple Pie Al Mode, Coconut Dark Chocolate, Orange Dark Chocolate, Bourbon Pecan, Triple Espresso, Double Dark Chocolate, Sweet Corn Toffee, Ginger Snap Toffee, Chipolte, Classic Almond, Pure Bacon Toffee and we have more on the way.
Our business plan is to grow the toffee business out of the current location into a dedicated production facility so we can handle larger retail customers and also capitalize of the power of the internet with direct website sales.
We have put every dollar earned back into the business to increase capacity and generate the catalogs and professional photography needed to get to the next level.
Our growth strategy is based on self-funding the growth. So we invest only when we have available funds to invest. Our first year we took several unexpected hits from a historical grant that was short funded to the need for additional air conditioning to cool the building during production. Our second year we invested into capacity; taking our capacity from 240 lbs per day to 600 lbs per day. This year we are investing into a toffee catalog with professional photos. Our next major investment is for an e-commerce site to drive individual and corporate orders and to hire a social media experts to drive awareness and sales. This grant will allow us to grow faster, hire more people and position us for huge expansion.

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Country Cabins Glamour Camping - It's Not Just For the Birds!

Nick Cattell
Country Cabins Motel
Chariton, IA
Our Dream big idea is to expand our business by creating a bird and wildlife watching refuge and venue to be used by not only our patrons but also by the general public and students. Bird and wildlife watching is quickly becoming the number one past time in the United States.
Country Cabins is a very unique business and we are on the cutting edge of not only Glamour Camping but also the fact that we are a small botique property which is also growing in popularity with the general public. Travelers are wanting more than just the simple cookie-cutter accommodations and we are here to fill that need. We offer many things that an average motel does not such as kitchen suites, 2-3 bedroom units for families, reception hall, outdoor decks, fire pits, gas grills, RV and tent sites, trails for hiking and direct lake access for water sports. Within our first year of operation, we are the top rated motel in Chariton and have excellent reviews from our guests that have returned time and again. Even though we only have 10 current rental units they contain over 35 beds so we can accommodate quite a few people. Being so unique, we have had numerous articles and news reports done on us since we opened last year, including the Des Moines Register and WHO TV 13. We have had hundreds of people come for tours after all the publicity. We work hand-in-hand with the Frontier Trading Post right next door and promote each other every day through customers and all social media that we publish. We are working on our 2nd annual Glamour Camping Weekend to be held the first weekend in June and draw a lot of people from out-of-state and around the State of Iowa. We feel our expansion into constructing a birding and wildlife sanctuary will provide just one more new avenue for growth and potential to draw many thousands of visitors to Iowa and Lucas County. Being not your typical motel property and with about 20 acres to expand on, not including the hundreds of acres of public lands that join us, this is just one small thing that will add to our ability to keep growing. We also plan on several new RV, tent and tipi sites and expanding our trails to extend to and join planned trails by the City of Chariton and then joining existing trails in the State Park. We plan on having events based on the bird and wildlife watching and offering classes and tours to anyone that is interested. Building additional ponds and planting trees and habitat we will not only be enhancing the beauty of the area but will also be improving water quality of the City of Chariton's water supply in Lake Ellis that joins our property. Besides benefiting declining bird populations, creating Bird Conservation Areas in Iowa also provides an economic boost for the state. Bird watching is one of the fastest growing pastimes in North America, with an estimated 77 million wildlife watchers in the United States. According to a recent U.S Fish and Wildlife Survey, wildlife watchers in Iowa, alone, now spend up to $318 million each year in pursuit of this very rewarding hobby.
We are applying to expand our business into the surrounding outdoor areas and attract all kinds of birds and wildlife by installing bird feeders, bird houses, viewing stations, water features and enhancing the habitat needed to maintain those animals. We would use the funds to help establish trails, build bird houses for bats, ducks, geese and songbirds of all types. We would also construct a new pond to attract wildlife and plant food plots and numerous varieties of trees, shrubs and flowers to supply needed food and shelter for birds. We plan to offer tours and classes to anyone interested in wildlife and bird watching and provide hands-on projects throughout the year. This is a 365 day-a-year and 24 hour a day opportunity for anyone that wants to participate as various birds and wildlife have both daytime and nocturnal activities. This will also have a direct economic impact on our County as guests and tourists travel to our area to enjoy the great outdoors. We are located in the heart of one of the best locations for this type of venture and wildlife and birds of many varieties inhabit the hundreds of acres that surround our property. The land that surrounds us is all State or City owned public access property so visitors are free to roam and these areas are already well established and maintained for public use. We feel this is just a natural fit into our already very unique and growing business. You will be able to watch birds and wildlife without ever leaving the comfort of your room, cabin or camper as we are nestled right in the middle of the great Lucas County outdoors. We will provide spotting scopes and binoculars and have feeding stations positioned so they can be viewed from indoor locations. Trail cameras and live video feeds will also be made available on our web site and Face book site. We also have plans for actual tree house cabins to be built right out in the middle of the timber and close to the lake so you will be able to be right in the middle of the action. So whether it is a bobcat, mountain lion, deer or any of the 425 species of birds you will have a front row seat. Spend the night inside the viewing cabin for the full experience. You can't get any closer to nature than this! If you are into photography, painting or illustrating, writing, bird or wildlife watching, hiking, exploring or just want to spend some quiet time getting back to nature, this will be an experience like nothing else offered in Iowa and we are so excited to be able to offer it to everyone!

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Baked Goodness to Support the Community and Grow the 100 Block of Council Bluffs

Mathew or Karris Mattox
Mad Ox Bakery
Council Bluffs, IA
At Mad Ox Bakery our passion is baking. We use this passion to help philanthropic groups, grow the 100 block of Council Bluffs into more of a destination, and provide a unique place for friends to meet, hang out, and enjoy different flavors that are not available elsewhere.
The Council Bluffs area had been without a boutique bakery for many years. This caused many people to go to Omaha to find custom wedding cakes, and special requests. We are now filling that need and saving people time, money and providing a business that cares about the community so that local dollars can help out local philanthropic groups.

With fourteen years of experience each, our passion is baking. We use this passion to provide a great place for friends to gather and produce some of the most unique flavors and products in the Council Bluffs area at Mad Ox Bakery. The name is a play on the last name of owners, a husband and wife team, Mathew and Karris Mattox. We opened the doors on September 20, 2013 and have been baking up the Mad Ox Goodness ever since. We want you to feel like this is a place where you can hang out and relax with your friends and family. You may notice that each table is different from the colorful bottle cap table to the nickel and penny tables and superhero posters cover the walls. There are numerous card and board games to play, or you can relax with a good book or use the free wi-fi.

One of the reasons we wanted to open our own bakery is so we could share some of the unique and delicious ideas we had for baked goods! We make stuffed croissants fresh everyday in a variety of savory and sweet flavors. We don't stop there, because at the Mad Ox Bakery you will find fresh breads, cookies, donuts, cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, gourmet bars, homemade Scraper's turtles, mini cheesecakes, and many other items. We also have great lunch specials each day.

The Mad Ox Bakery loves to make any event extra sweet with a specialty cake. From a simple sheet cake, 3-D sculpted cakes, or a custom wedding cake that will wow your guest. You can get it all from Mad Ox Bakery.

One item that is special to our heart is the Scraper's turtle. It is a turtle candy with our homemade caramel and it is unique because all of the profits from Scraper's turtle sales are donated to cancer research, which has totaled over $1700 so far. Mathew's father was known as "Scraper" on the fire department, but sadly he passed away from cancer before getting to enjoy retirement. This is a reason that we opened our bakery, we wanted to do something we enjoy now rather than wait until retirement because you never know what the future holds.

The retail baking industry is showing growth over two percent every year for the past five years. There are many reasons driving this such as popular bakery-centric television shows. In Council Bluffs this segment of the market was very under served. There were limited options for custom wedding cakes, special occasion cakes, and boutique baked goods. Many people in Council Bluffs travel to Omaha to get these services, but would shop in Council Bluffs if the quality and service they are looking for were available.
Our customers have three different profiles. They will be getting married and looking for a wedding cake, or picking up something convenient before work or lunch, or the casual shopper looking to enjoy some baked goods. The surrounding area of the 100 Block includes
Population Med. HHI # of HH
1-mile 13,185 $42,489 5,406
3-mile 54,229 $48,811 21,698
5-mile 84,242 $47,915 33,130
According to the UNI Small Business Center the market size for bakeries in Council Bluffs is $2.5 million, but is comprised mostly of commercial bakeries and a few small home bakeries, but no boutique retail bakeries until we opened. As the area grows with industries that are bringing in jobs this niche of the market needs to be serviced and we are positioning our business to fill the need.
We have poured our time and money into the success of Mad Ox Bakery, and with the help of the UNI Small Business Center we are already profitable and growing. We would love to first, expand our product line, and replace equipment that we have outgrown, like a larger proofer (makes the bread rise), as well as upgrade equipment that would help us make our already unrivaled products a step above. Finally, we would like to set up a space where local music acts can play and this would give our space the ability to have charity and fundraising events at Mad Ox Bakery. The community sharing in music and great baked goods for a cause is our dream, so help us make the dream come true.

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Sugar Mama Sweet Shop Store Front

Dejah Jansen
Sugar Mama Sweet Shop
Sergeant Bluff, IA
Sugar Mama Sweet Shop is a home-based bakery offering custom designed confections. Business has grown tremendously since opening in early 2014, and production is limited based on space and available equipment. I dream of a store front to increase capacity and sweetly serve the community!
Sugar Mama Sweet Shop is unique in providing custom-designed sweets made with quality ingredients and unique artwork. Sugar Mama can do everything from cake pops to large, tiered wedding cakes. Few bakeries in the area provide custom designed cakes, and fewer still offer not only buttercream frosting, but also fondant covered cakes, edible sugar flowers, and molded chocolate pieces.

Prices for the sweet treats are based on a combination of cost of goods and the cost of custom artwork. Although the confections I provide cost more than twice what local grocery stores list for similar number of servings, customers continue to come back and also spread the word to their friends because they are so happy my customer service and with the taste and appearance of their special sweets.

The market for Sugar Mama Sweet Shop is largely untapped, because word of mouth is the main source of advertising. Most customers are in the Sergeant Bluff area, but Sugar Mama can easily expand into the Siouxland metro area with investments in additional advertising.
Sugar Mama Sweet Shop is a home-based bakery using my family kitchen. I currently only take custom orders and do not keep product on hand to sell. Since I am using my home kitchen, health department regulations limit what I can sell to only non-perishable foods. I also am limited to only $20,000.00 in sales per year before I can no longer use my home kitchen for my business. I could easily surpass that sales number, however I don't have the funding to equip a separate kitchen, and I don't have enough business history to secure a loan to pay for a store front while I get things up and running.

If I won the Dream Big Grow Here contest, I would use the money toward getting and equipping a store front. With a store front, I would add to the items that I offer to include things like cheese cake and ice cream cakes which are commonly requested by my customers, but I can't sell based on regulations for home-based kitchens. I also could take my love of cooking (and excellent recipes!) and expand into full catering for weddings and other events where I am already providing cake.

I can see my business continuing to grow into a small café/coffee shop, employing additional people and serving breakfast and lunch several days of the week.

A store front would also allow me to have a seating area and products on hand for walk-in customers to sit down and enjoy. This would allow me to increase my sales and be able to satisfy the needs of even last-minute customers.

I know that the money won't cover all the costs of getting and equipping a store front, but it is the jump-start I need to see my dream become a reality!

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Thorp Family Fun wants to sell food or purchase new equipment - you decide

Sharon Thorp
Thorp Family Fun
Waterloo, IA
Thorp Family Fun would like to add sinks and a grease trap to be able to sell food. If we are not lucky to be the big winner, we will purchase equipment for the indoor fun center.
Thorp Family Fun is an indoor fun center and a rental company. Our units are for all ages. We purchase units that have characters so kids enjoy them more.
We have 2 rooms that are utilized for birthday parties, company picnics, end of year celebrations and other get togethers. We also have princess parties where they come and perform for the children.
By adding sinks, we will be able to help families with busy schedules. The family will be able to play and eat at the same time. By adding sinks, we will be able to employ 2-4 employees.
If we are not the big winners of the $10,000, and we are the winners of the $5,000, we will purchase more equipment for the fun center. This way we will be able to switch out the equipment more often.
We are applying to help obtain funds to pay for sinks and a grease trap. If the sinks cost more than what we are awarded, we will purchase equipment for the fun center. We will let the public help pick what we purchase.

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From the "Stone age" to the "Millennium age"

Amy Strouth
Prairie Queen Bakery & Restaurant
Sheldon, IA
Bringing our business into the Millennium age incorporating technology and getting rid of the mountains of paperwork and pencil pushing trying to figure out the bottom line. Making our business more competitive, efficient and profitable.
We are a family owned and operated business. I purchased the bakery almost 11 years ago. Weathered many obstacles with economic challenges and commodity spikes that were out of control. We relocated from an old building to a modern facility almost doubling our space. We take pride in the fact that we make all our food whether it is our breads, buns, cakes, pastries to our soups, sandwiches and many other homemade dishes all from scratch with little to no extra preservatives. This is unique to our industry because businesses like mine are closing more and more everyday due to the competition with the Walmarts, the Superstores and many others that include the one stop features. What people don't realize is most of those items are brought in frozen, thawed and put out for sale. They have a lot of preservatives so they can be put on the shelf and last for a week or two. My products will mold in 5 to 7 days. They are healthier due to the fact that we make them from scratch.
By modernizing and adding technology we can reach the younger generation and teach them about us and how we stand out above the rest of the cookie cutter superstores. However, if we do not add technology and continue to try to run our business like the old "Mom and Pop" businesses we to will be closing our doors because we cannot stay on top on what is selling and what is not. What our labor costs are doing on a daily basis not a monthly basis when it is too late to make adjustments. We need to be able to communicate with the young future buyers and the only way to get their attention is through technology. My passion is to be able to provide a service to the community and surrounding communities that is "just like mom or grandma" use to make. Have healthier choices of the good old fashioned goodies. Growing up I watch my mother and grandmother bake, can, cook and make healthy food. They were my inspiration and the reason I want my business to succeed. My mother baked special cakes for each of us growing up and the feeling of having that special cake and party was so special. I want to do the same for the busy mothers of today. We just took it a few steps further by going from just a small bakery to a full line bakery, restaurant and catering service. We want people to know that we will stand out from the rest because our product is not being dumped out of a box and mixed and served.
We need to get rid of the "stone age idea" and modernize. Adding a Point of Sale system to track everything from sales, to labor, to cost of goods. Then to modernize or menu with digital signage. Having the ability to go on a computer and make changes instead of spending $500.00 every time I need to reprint our menu boards. We need to add a security system to keep the employees honest. We have had a lot of inventory discrepancies but without some sort of device installed their is not way to prove whether it is being stolen. We also need to be able to use social media to promote our business and attract the youth of today. I recently learned that you can create an app to attract new and keep existing customers coming back. To be able to communicate the specials of the week. Adding a bar coding system to make checking out a customer go more efficiently instead of having pages and pages of price lists.

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Making Events Unforgettable!!!

Silicia Boutchee
Eventfully Yours
Des Moines, IA
Eventfully Yours is a decor rental and event design business. We offer a wide variety of inventory to make special events unforgettable. We create events to dream about from shabby chic to classic. Going beyond the expected. Our products enhance any event, elegant, casual, formal, or corporate.
Eventfully Yours ("EY") mission is to bring beautiful and innovative decor solutions to customers decorating events, productions, functions and small gatherings. EY is a retail establishment focused on event rentals, event planning and design services.
Rental Products & Design Services and Planning
EY inventory is constantly expanding and developing with the latest trend and standards in the industry. We can create elegant centerpieces and lavish interior decor.
Our inventory consist of; Linens, Centerpieces, Tables & Chairs, Table Settings, Candle Related Items, Arches, Backdrops, Columns, Plants, Misc. *Variety of Colors Available - over 150 shades available
Wedding Planning & Design Services (includes the following, but limited to)
• Anniversary
• Birthdays
• Holiday Parties
• Social Mixers
• Networking Events
• Cocktail Parties
• Theme Parties
• Corporate
• Fundraising
• Appreciation Events & Banquets

EY specializes in making sure events are unforgettable. EY is a decor specialty shop, which offers private consultation with an experienced event planner and a professional decorator. These services as well as our teams combined experience of over 25 years makes us unique and very competitive. Our services also can include full set up and tear down. Planning the perfect celebration can be stressful. We want all of our client’s worries to fall on us and take the stress out of their planning. In an ever-changing, fast-paced world, success is determined by good choices for lasting effects. Communication is essential. EY strives to be the best choice for clients by helping to ease their event planning burden. Through consistent, predictable professionalism, EY will ensure a hassle-free event at a reasonable yet competitive price. This is what makes us profitable!
EY has preferred clients - hotels, casinos, country clubs and religious and exclusive membership organizational venues. We work a lot with caterers who rent products from our vast inventory. Currently, we have thousand of items in our inventory. We are growing and expanding every day. This is also what makes us profitable!
EY knows what the latest trends are and understands the needs of the market. EY utilizes the latest technology and styles available while ensuring their clients receive the individual attention they deserve.

Our business concept is unlike other event décor shops. With EY, clients don’t feel like their renting from a warehouse or forced into a sell they are not comfortable with. Our showroom gives our guest the reassurance that EY has the abilities to make there event a success and within their budget. EY will provide modern services to all sizes of events, offering the best quality and experience for customers and their guest.

EY is positioned to become the preferred provider of special events in the central Iowa area. Our goal is to continue to expand our inventory as well as additional event services, such as catering, and transportation.

The idea for the business was the result of Ms. Boutchee’ s previous experience in trying to find a centralized location that could provide all the accommodations most people need while hosting an event. Two years ago, Ms. Boutchee realized the scantiness of finding these kinds of services. Ms. Boutchee started writing her business plan, but was put on hold due to our challenging economy. Although Ms. Boutchee DREAMS were put on hold, she recognized that the trouble times didn’t stop families, individuals and businesses from gathering and hosting events. (This is why we will always be profitable . . .) The only dilemma was financing. While saving for a down payment, Ms. Boutchee continued to learn more about her competition and learn more about what her customers are looking for when hosting an event.

Our key to success includes the commitment to quality by every team member. EY will be responsible to reach a higher level of professionalism in five areas:
1. Consistent and accurate fulfillment of services.

2. Competitive pricing for quality events.

3. Set the highest standards in the industry for excellence.

4. Offer modern and unique experiences. (This also makes us OHHHH SOOO UNIQUE!!!)

5. Make significant profit on each planned event.

Company Ownership
Ey is a women-owned business, founded originally on a part-time basis in 2013. The founder, Ms. Silicia Boutchee has been working the industry has a hobby for the past ten years. Over the past four years, Ms. Boutchee has also been working at Iowa Event Center (Des Moines largest event center) as a VIP Host and VIP Bartender. EY's team of professionals has over 25 years of industry experience.
Ms. Boutchee experience in providing event planning services to residents and businesses in the area gives her the insight to understand the needs for individuals to customize their own events. Working with the community for many years, Ms. Boutchee realizes how important it is to pay attention to detail and network with potential clients to run a successful business. Her experience, knowledge and education are key attributes that have attracted a favorable response.
Ms. Boutchee has developed strong leadership and management skills by performing many of the tasks required to run an event planning business and décor shop, including: handling all financial transactions, arranging advertising, employee or member recruitment and involvement, public relations, conducting inventory, and ordering of products and supplies. Ms. Boutchee has received many letters of recommendations and compliments from her current clientele and community, which are available upon request.

Company Location and Facilities
EY is leasing a facility conveniently located just minutes away from I-80/35, at 3929 E 14th St, Des Moines, Iowa 50313. This facility consists of 2,608sf of store, including a magnificent showroom. EY is busting at the seams and looks forward to expanding to a larger facility in the future.

EY offers products and services to aid our customers in planning the event themselves. The following products and services are used inside our operation for the best possible results.
• Rental of Equipment - A variety of equipment is available for rent: Linens, décor, table settings, chair covers, etc.
• Event Planner – The event planner creates programs that address the purpose, message or impression that an organization or client is trying to communicate.
• Professional Decorator – The professional decorator will help you eagerly, not only by suggesting the appropriate decor according to your desires and needs, but also by giving advice on the best colors, themes, and lighting to magnify your presentation.
• Set Up and Tear Down - Services can be provided to set up and tear down event.
• Resource Manual – This valuable guide acts as a review of all the resources located in the surrounding area. A ranking is given to various services, such a caterers, disc jockeys, bands, and facilities. This manual gives the client the freedom to make a choice based on experience.

Competitive Comparison
EY, although young, draws from the age-old tradition of going above and beyond what is expected, every time. Our store has the latest trends while still providing traditional appeal. Our system for event planning has been drawn up, evaluated, practiced, worked, and reworked to ensure the maximum efficiency while minimizing the possibility of error. We contract local vendors who have the same desire to be the best at what they do, while providing unmatched services, thus giving back to the community by providing jobs outside of our organization. We encourage new and upcoming small businesses that provide a service within our need base to step up to the challenge of being the best through their contract with EY. (THIS TOO... IS WHAT MAKES US UNIQUE)
Competitive Analysis
EY has a few competitors in the area, but none of them provide the level of services and modern amenities. EY is known as the first to offer these unique and progressive services locally.
Service Business Analysis
EY is in a unique position of competition. We compete against hotels with conference facilities, conference centers, other décor shops, both on the large and small scale, persons with an organization who are assigned event organization, and people who wish to organize their own events without the benefit of assistance. The benefits and drawbacks of each of our competitors as compared with the service we offer are hardly matched in quality and price.
• Bella Flora
• I E Innovative Events
• Betts Bridal Accessories
• A to Z Rental
• Beyond Elegance
• Des Moines Rental
• Classic Events & Parties (partner)
• Event Decorators of Iowa (partner)
• Celebrations Party & rental Store (partner)
EY is the preferred vendor in all area of needs. If we don’t have it, we will find it and assure a hassle free process.

The breakdown of the market for event planning falls in a wide, very diverse grouping. Individuals and organizations demand the services we provide. In order to provide the greatest depth of information, the market segments have been broken down into private and public organizations and age groups.
1. Private Organizations and Businesses
Private organizations make up the single largest portion of the EY's clients base. Private organizations such as businesses, corporations, and political parties host the most events on the largest scales; therefore, these events generate larger revenues per event. The majority of large-scale holiday functions will fall under this segment.
2. Public Organizations
Government agencies host many events every year. EY hopes to alleviate the pressure of event planning for public employees. The second single largest segment, the public sector, can save money and give back to it community at the same time. These events are moderate in scale with middle to low revenues generated. Emphasis is placed on the visibility of the event for public viewing. The majority of organizational family functions fall under this segment.
3. Individual / Family
Under 24: Persons under the age of twenty–four (24). We hope to tap the early college graduates who have begun their professional careers, but have not yet started families. These events will focus mainly on themes with moderate, to high-energy appeal. The revenues generated will range from moderate to high, depending on the event. The majority of weddings fall into this segment.
Age 25-55: The persons that fall into this age group are employees, middle to upper-middle class families. They choose event planners because they are too busy to do it themselves. Therefore, EY will be on hand for questions and contact will be moderate in length, but occur regularly so as not to disturb the daily life of the families. These events will generate moderate revenues, with a few generating low revenues. The majority of special occasion planning will occur in this market segment.
Age 56 and above: Persons over the age of 55 have reached a turning point of life. Many are retiring, others are celebrating anniversaries of significant years, and still others are taking care of their children’s special events. These events will generate moderate to high revenues depending upon the income level of the family (direct correlation to social status). Most holiday parties and other special occasions, such as anniversaries and reunions, will occur in this market segment.
Target Market Segment Strategy
Our target markets are middle to upper class families, couples, individuals or private and public organizations. Concentration will be placed on women between the age of 25-55 that live in Polk and Dallas County. We chose these groups because they are most able to afford event planners, and have the least amount of time to spare for event planning. Families demand attention, employees are overburdened, and the overwhelming details needed to plan large events are too large of a constraint to place on people not trained in the area of event planning.
The fast pace world we live in leaves little time for extra things we would like to do, like plan events, parties, and social get-togethers. EY fills the need by being available to take the burden of planning, decorating, and clean up, so people can spend time on more important things like family and friends. The demand for this service is expected to increase considering the rise in incomes, populations, and need for interpersonal relations in the workplace.

Wedding Statistics
June is the most popular month for weddings, then August, followed by September October and May
• Every year an average of 2.4 million weddings are performed in the U.S.
• The Wedding Industry is a 50 billion dollar a year industry
• Average age for first-time brides is 25 years, for grooms it's 27.5
• 175 guests are invited to an average wedding
• One third of engaged couples retain a Wedding Consultant
• The average household income of a newly married couple is $60,000/year
• Average size of wedding party: 12
• Most brides (30%) plan their weddings for 7 to 12 months
• 30% of receptions are held in churches; 20% in hotels; 20% in country clubs; and 10% each in fraternal halls, private homes, and other locations.
Cost Statics
• $22,000 is the average amount spent on a traditional American wedding
• A total of $72 billion is spent on weddings annually in the U.S.
• Reception 28.3%
• Consultant 15.0% (if hired)
***Source: Association of Bridal Consultants* Greeting Card Association *National Association of Wedding Ministers
EY is working diligently on becoming Iowa peferred decor rental shop. EY plans on using the funds from DreamBigGrowHere on the following:

1. Inventory – (Linens, table décor, and drapery)
2. Equipment - (Steamer & Presser)
2. Vehicle - (Repairs Needed)
3. Marketing - (Signage, Branding & Targeted Marketing)

Thank you for believing in EY, let us make your event unforgettable!!!!

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Iowa City's Leaf Kitchen Invites the World to Our Table

Harriet Woodford
Leaf Kitchen
Iowa City, IA
Eight years ago, two Iowa women had an idea: Why not bring the world’s best flavors to one of the world’s best towns. Harriet Woodford and Masae Judge, launched Leaf Kitchen in 2007, and have lived up to their motto “Global flavors; local ingredients” ever since. Now they’re “dreaming big".
Harriet and Masae started out selling savory tarts and their signature green-tea, ginger, mocha and lavender cookies at the Iowa City Farmers’ Market in 2006. They hoped to open a tea and coffee shop but that dream soon expanded to a full-service restaurant offering breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, special-event dinners and full-service catering. Leaf’s cookies, sold in beautiful, hand-designed bunches of five, are now sold in a number of local venues.
Leaf’s business model has evolved over time. But with every step Harriet and Masae have strived to maintain their commitment to the freshest ingredients and the local farmers who produce them. They’re also committed to the community as a whole. Leaf prides itself on good food from around the globe served with love. We know our customers’ tastes and expectations not from some market survey, but because we know them personally, and we know what they value and love. What’s the best quality control in the world? Caring about your customers and never serving them something you don’t love yourself.
We grew into a full-service restaurant because our customers asked for it. Since we started out with a stand at our local farmers’ market, we made connections to local farmers and ranchers and continue to buy from them when possible. For example, sweet potato pancakes are available now because Karen Wasson’s farm in Conesville had a bumper crop. We buy only the freshest ingredients, so our menu changes often. As much as we value our bottom line, we support our small, local farmers, for that makes a stronger community. We also know they must compete with larger, corporate farms just like we must compete with restaurant franchises.
Our restaurant truly represents the world’s table. Masae, Leaf’s executive chef and co-owner, was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, before studying in Europe and eventually moving to Iowa. Harriet, Leaf’s business manager and co-owner, was born in Seoul, Korea, raised in the Midwest and received her degree from the University of Iowa. Every meal at Leaf Kitchen is a cross cultural experience and every person a welcome guest. Leaf Kitchen has been named Iowa City’s best breakfast by the local newspaper, The Press Citizen, best new chef and restaurant by Edible Iowa, and Best in America breakfast by Playboy magazine.
Leaf is green. We have reclaimed most of our seating, dishware and decorations choosing to repurpose tables, plates and even grandma’s aprons. We balance serving fine food with composting, recycling, rain-water collection, green space gardening, caring well for staff, honoring community artists, and inspiring customers to dream of better food which leads to better living.
Leaf Kitchen also supports the artist in us all by displaying local artists’ work, providing hospitality to local music and poetry groups, and volunteering at local art venues. Our staff maintains room in their lives to care for family and friends. We try to live whole, balanced lives, and this allows us to better serve our community.
Leaf often gets calls from companies like Yelp and Google saying “you have 47 five star ratings which is superior for your area why don’t you advertise with us.” Up to now, we have done very little advertising, relying on word of mouth to attract customers. But now we want to expand our invitation to dine with us and to enjoy our food wherever you are. We have shipped our cookies nationally and even internationally, but have a limited website with no ordering options.
Our dream now is to expand our website for more online orders and expand our social-media presence to attract more customers and stay better connected with our loyal customer base. We also would love to improve the restaurant’s interior. We started out on such a shoe-string budget we still have an old concrete floor! We want to keep people better informed about seasonal dishes showing up on our table. We also hope to launch our first-ever strategic marketing campaign so that we might better invite people to dine with us. We especially want to begin marketing Leaf cookies worldwide, and filling orders online, whether they come from Des Moines, Paris or Beijing. We dream of providing benefits to our devoted staff of 10 employees, and hiring more people as we expand and fill new demand. We are doing all we can to “Dream Big, Grow Here” and invite the world to our table.

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Our dream is to add a coffee shop to go along with our Christian bookstore

Pam Magnuson
Harbor House Christian Store
Chariton, IA
The coffee shop would be open from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. We would serve simple healthy breakfast options along with carmel rolls and juices and coffee. For lunch we would have soups and salads and simple healthy sandwich options along with juices, milk, smoothies and coffee
The coffee shop would be located right next to the bookstore, so people could use the shop as a place to read or gather with friends to have a Bible study or group book discussion. We would also use the location on Friday nights to have live music and speakers. It would have a coffee house atmosphere with lamps on the tables rather than overhead lights. We would make money by selling our food and drink items. We would also like to try having a gourmet meal served one time a month. We have a gourmet cook in the family and she would prepare a menu that we would advertise and present. For that meal we would set the tables with tableclothes and fancy china and silverware.
During the day our shop would be unique in that once a customer had finished dining he/she could move right over to the book and gift store without leaving the building. We will also have a special room in the back to encourage meetings which we would cater. There are few cafes in the area and even fewer that have room for business meetings or gatherings.
We've been in business now for five years and are beginning to experience a steady flow of customers. It's time to expand. Expansion requires money and we know that we can borrow using a small business loan, but the less debt we have the better. So, we are applying for the money.
We would use the money to buy a new building and remodel it since most of the buildings on the Chariton Square are in need of updating. Our dream is that the store and coffee shop will look and feel brand new and people won't feel a need to travel to DesMoines to find a nice place to eat and shop.

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Professional Hotel & Cruise Site Selection Support for Start-up and Independent Event Planners

Michelle DeClerck
Conference Event Management
West Des Moines, IA
Conference Event Management (CEM) is nationally recognized in providing professional event solutions for a wide array of clientele. Owner, Michelle DeClerck, focuses her energy advancing young women’s careers, & intends to build a sourcing division catering to these independent meeting planners.
CEM is in a position to build a sourcing division that caters to both start-up event management and independent meeting planners / business owners (traditionally who are mostly women), allowing them to focus on event details while providing recommendations and booking services for the appropriate hotel and cruise venues. Presently, many independents struggle with being profitable as they lack professional hotel and cruise site selection (also called sourcing) services, and are overwhelmed with planning details, often lacking the time to do proper venue research (site selection/sourcing).

CEM is a woman-owned organization that is actively involved in women initiatives on a statewide level and would be in a great position to provide this level of professional support. CEM President, Michelle DeClerck, has great passion for women’s advancement. She’s been involved with National Association of Women Business Owners – Iowa Chapter (NAWBO) for several years and was honored in 2011 as Woman Business Owner of Year. Currently she serves on the board as the Secretary and National Liaison spreading the message of NAWBO to potential new members, and has worked to practice, innovate, and effect change by supporting and advocating for women business owners in Iowa.

Michelle is involved in many other women’s initiatives including serving on the Steering Committee for Iowa Women Lead Change (IWLC) and supports their annual event with consulting and logistical services. In addition, Michelle is working on a presentation for ISED Women’s Business Center, under the US Small Business administration, on building a sustainable business practice which will help Iowa women business owners as they launch and grow their businesses.

Most recently, Michelle launched Mentor Tank, an effort inspired by Iowa’s involvement in the national initiative of Million Women Mentors. Million Women Mentors (MWM) is a national initiative with aims of developing confidence in girls and young women to pursue courses, degrees and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) related fields as well as increasing the representation of women in these fields. As a frequently requested mentor, and with 11 years of leading an all-women team at her company, Michelle is committed to advancing women in their pursuit for rewarding career opportunities. She supports MWM-IA by serving on the Executive Council and representing NAWBO.

Mentor Tank is the first of its kind in Iowa and is a gathering for young women to connect with DeClerck and other professional women to learn about issues affecting women in today’s workforce, including the event planning and hospitality industry, career skills, women business ownership, and strategies for fulfilling career and mentoring opportunities. Mentor Tank™ involves women professionals from numerous industries as panelists to speak on their respective fields and will include professionals in STEM positions. The inaugural Mentor Tank took place on in November with emphasis on advancing women’s careers, supporting predominately woman-based new event start-up businesses.

CEM endeavors to support start-ups with site selection services that will allow more of those businesses to be more profitable, to stay in business, and to provide professional recommendations that result in offering their clientele better concessions, date availability and rates at preferred hotels or on the appropriate cruises with CEM’s volume buying power and industry relationships. The challenge for these start-ups is that sometimes they aren’t in a position to know, recommend and contract with the best properties which could potentially put their client's events at risk through poorly-drawn up contracts and poor recommendations. As many of these businesses will remain solo operations, being able to receive support from a division within CEM dedicated to their success will also position them for a better proportioned work-life opportunity, building in time to be with their families.

CEM is unique in that it is a considerable force in the community. Michelle serves as President on the Board for Opportunity on Deck providing year-round free athletic programming to underserved children in Iowa, and as the co-chair for Matthew 25 to address hunger and homelessness issues locally and abroad. This spring she also founded the West Des Moines Hotel Donation Network to rescue food and unused hotel items and repurpose them to needy Central Iowans. Quarterly, the CEM Community Outreach team volunteers around the city doing activities like bell ringing, packaging meals, and this year the team looks forward to helping Dorothy’s House (a shelter for women and girls coming out of human trafficking situations) with home improvements.

CEM is also very unique in how it prices its products for its clients – using a different strategy than most competitors, and in its approach to customer service and event ownership.

CEM is compensated for its NO COST site selection services by the hotels and cruises which does not adversely affect its clients’ rates. A la carte event planning services clients choose to hire CEM for are paid for based on a fair market assessment. CEM utilizes many of the hospitality industry’s top partners, allowing the company to provide the best services, at lower cost and with minimal overhead, which benefits all clientele. CEM is also one of the few companies that chooses not to own its own air ticketing systems which allows CEM independent access to one of the largest and most reputable players in the industry, with today’s most advanced air transportation tools. CEM’s headquarters houses CEM’s lead meeting team while its core areas of operations for the Group Air Division, Cruise Division, Leisure Division and the Proprietary Web Design are all in separate offices. These services support the West Des Moines headquarters, along with the freelance trip directors who are utilized to manage CEM’s events on site in various world-wide destinations.

This business model allows CEM to offer continuous employment and CEM is extremely proud to be one of the very few mid-sized event planning companies to survive the most recent economic downturn without laying off any staff.
At this week’s National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) board meeting, this contest was brought up and member companies were encouraged to apply. CEM’s growth strategy to focus on it's site selection division and revenue in the next two years, and with a new emphasis on increasing company awareness and market share in Iowa, positions CEM to be able to continue offering among the world’s finest event management service offerings from right here in Iowa. This will also create new jobs, support worthwhile charities, further involvement in advancing women’s careers, and support other event management start-ups and independent meeting planners with their own success stories.

This recognition would hold CEM accountable for starting this division and offering other businesses with a support platform they currently do not have, allowing many more businesses to succeed as a result of a partnership with CEM, and to share in the site selection profitability. Funds would go toward marketing this business divisions’ business plan to the right audience and setting up the systems at CEM to fully support this endeavor in a relatively short period of time.

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