Linda Niehm, a professor in apparel, events, and hospitality management, plans to extend opportunities in entrepreneurship as the new Dean’s Faculty Fellow in the College of Human Sciences. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Fellowship to expand opportunities in entrepreneurship

A prestigious College of Human Sciences fellowship will soon be used to develop entrepreneurship opportunities for both Iowa State University students and underserved populations in rural Iowa.

Linda Niehm, a professor in apparel, events, and hospitality management, is the second faculty member named a Dean’s Faculty Fellow, an honor made possible by an anonymous gift to the College of Human Sciences.

As part of the fellowship, Niehm will receive $30,000 a year for two years to extend her well-known work in expanding entrepreneurship among students and helping rural, community-based, and family-owned businesses.

Helping underserved rural populations

Niehm will extend her research in developing entrepreneurship opportunities for underserved rural populations including women, people of color, and “encore entrepreneurs” ages 50 and older.

“I will grow this research stream beginning with a needs assessment in Iowa, a state which has observed low numbers of business start-ups by these groups,” she said. “This state-level study would provide preliminary data for a planned larger external grant focused on identifying barriers, opportunities, and facilitators to rural entrepreneurship development in a multi-state region.”

As part of her research, Niehm has planned visits to Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio this fall to visit business incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurial learning centers there. Ultimately, four faculty members from Iowa State and two from the University of Arkansas will collaborate on national research looking at barriers to and opportunities in entrepreneurship.

Niehm is no stranger to Main Street. Since 2004, she and Ann Marie Fiore, a professor in apparel, events, and hospitality management, have led College of Human Sciences students and faculty members in doing “makeover marathons” for small businesses in more than 30 Iowa communities.coffee7

Three years ago, Iowa State took that outreach to the next level. Working with associate professor Jessica Hurst, Niehm became a leader of the Iowa Retail Initiative, which provides a single point of contact for rural communities and retailers seeking help.

Since August 2013, the initiative has worked with 154 retailers in 31 communities across the state — including West Branch, Tipton, Spencer, Waukon, Red Oak, Clarinda, Shenandoah, Story County, and Humboldt County — and provided 530 students with real-world learning experiences. The effort is financed by the vice president for ISU Extension and Outreach in collaboration with the College of Human Sciences and College of Design.

“Rural businesses face population challenges and competition from large chain stores and the Internet,” Niehm said. “They can’t compete with Walmart on price, but they can create unique experiences and services that Walmart can’t provide. The personality and charm of Main Street can offer something of authentic value to the consumer.”

Expanding entrepreneurship research abroad

As a Dean’s Faculty Fellow, Niehm will also expand her entrepreneurship research to an international level. This will be done through a partnership with Gerrie DuRand, a senior lecturer in hospitality management at the Universitygerrie-durand of Pretoria in South Africa, where Iowa State is working to help drive economic development.

Niehm’s plans include conducting a cross-cultural comparative study of small business owners’ use of entrepreneurial marketing strategies, and conducting seminars with students at the University of Pretoria on developing entrepreneurship education opportunities and programming for underserved populations.

The Dean’s Faculty Fellow award, funded by the College of Human Sciences’ Dean’s Chair, rewards exceptional scholarly work and potential in research, teaching, or extension and outreach. It is designed to reward a faculty member who has had a recent significant achievement or to enhance the work of a high-potential faculty member.

Niehm’s two-year fellowship will extend from fiscal years 2017 to 2018.

The first to receive the Dean’s Faculty Fellowship was Byron Brehm-Stecher, an associate professor in food science and human nutrition who researches ways to better detect and eliminate foodborne pathogens like salmonella and listeria. He began his two-year term in July 2015.

Two faculty members will hold Dean’s Faculty Fellowships each year, with a new fellow being named each year. Nominations are due Dec. 15 for a start date of July 1 the following year.