By planting the foundation for their business through their involvement with the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC), Amanda Gustafson and Aunica Harvey followed their passion and opened Premiere Dance Project in June 2018, just a month after they graduated.
Located in Waukee, Iowa, the dance company takes pride in nurturing relationships between instructors and members by hosting competitive and recreational dancers. The studio offers classes for students eighteen months and up in ballet, tap, jazz, acro, hip hop, lyrical, contemporary, pointe and modern dance. Premiere also uniquely offers personal dance training classes, infusing traditional dance training with athletic training principles.
Both Iowa natives, Gustafson earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in dance and entrepreneurial management in 2018 and grew up in Elk Horn, while Harvey earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in dance and business administration in 2018 and is from Corning.
“We have been dancing our whole lives and have never imagined ourselves doing anything different so it felt right to create this business together,” Gustafson and Harvey say.
While attending UI, both Gustafson and Harvey got connected with Iowa JPEC’s Founders Club, a student business incubator open to all UI students. The program allowed the duo to tap into resources that helped them launch their business including access to seed funding, co-working space, and even setting them up with a successful professional mentor. Harvey had heard about this club from one of her instructors at the time, and the two decided they had nothing to lose and would pursue bringing their studio idea to life.
“The most valuable thing that the Founders Club gave us was our mentor, Leslie Nolte. She was always there to answer our millions of questions and provide us with feedback on our ideas,” Gustafson says.
Nolte, a fellow UI grad, is the founder and artistic director of the Coralville-based Nolte Academy, an innovative dance school and performing arts preschool.
It wasn’t long after joining the Founders Club that Premiere Dance Project was named one of the UI’s Student Startups of the Year in 2018. This award annually honors two deserving UI student startups for their outstanding passion, devotion, and success with their startup.
The co-founders were also finalists in the statewide Pappajohn Student Venture Competition, and placed in the Iowa JPEC spring 2018 Business Model competition. They used their seed funding from these competitions to grow their marketing efforts and engage more with the community around them.
“Iowa JPEC has given us the opportunity and resources to meet so many people and hear their ideas. From all of the events we participated in and the mentorship that we received, we were able to be fully prepared by the time that we opened our doors on June 3 of 2018,” Harvey says.