New Maquoketa entrepreneurship hub to offer high school internships

MAQUOKETA, Iowa — A new Maquoketa entrepreneurship hub and coworking space will first interact with the community this summer by offering internship opportunities to Jackson County high schoolers.

Robert Abbott, a Maquoketa native, will be opening Innovate 120 later this year in the former U.S. Bank space at 120 S. Main St. It will function as a coworking space, as well as a place for entrepreneurs and business owners to learn more about the tools needed to be successful.

“I’ve been working in entrepreneurship spaces for a while, and I’ve always been interested in ways I could become involved again in my hometown,” Abbott said.

He added that Innovation 120 has also been discussing a collaboration with Dubuque’s Creative Adventure Lab, since the two entities share the same mission.

To kick off his new venture, Abbott will offer 12 county high schoolers a six-week internship opportunity to work with large companies and help them problem-solve ways to better engage a young demographic. The paid internships are funded through a $30,390 grant through Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Future Ready Iowa Summer Youth Internship Pilot Program.

“Through this program, part of it is exposing these students to a particular career path they may not be aware of, but more importantly expose them to a problem solving process they can use in any career path they go on,” Abbott said.

The internship applications will be going out to Jackson County high schoolers soon, he added. The interns will focus on User Experience Design, a process used to create branding and products that best serve consumers.

Abbott said the students will be working on digital programs and designs to engage a younger audience for several companies, including Scotts Miracle-Gro and manufacturing company GAF. Abbott already has an established relationship with these companies as founder and senior partner of Context Digital, which is based out of Ohio and also focuses on digital strategies and designs.

“At the end of this, students will be doing some real work,” Abbott said. “It’ll be a crash course for them to get up to speed, and at the end of this they’ll present their ideas to these companies.”

Jackson County Economic Alliance Director Nic Hockenberry said his office has wanted to find new ways to support Jackson County entrepreneurs for a while, and Abbott’s idea for Innovate 120 fit that need perfectly. The Innovate 120 internships also fit the goal, he said.

“In our opinion, there’s no reason why a lot of these tech jobs can’t be done in rural communities, since so much of software development is done virtually,” Hockenberry said. “…One of the priorities that jumped to the top of my list was connecting with youth and giving them an opportunity to see an entry into the world of tech careers.”