Kidcreate Studio owner Lindsay Sullivan
After 12 years as a stay-at-home mom and part-time nurse,  Lindsay Sullivan was ready for something else.

With her children - aged 6, 11 and 13 - all in school and knowing she wanted flexible hours and a reasonable work-life balance, she went  shopping for franchise opportunities. Working with a consultant, Ms. Sullivan stumbled upon Kidcreate Studio, a children's art studio specializing in art classes, camps, art-themed birthday parties and "on the go" activities partnering with schools and day cares for children ages 18 months and up.

"I decided the time had come to leave health care and find something where I'd be on my own time and could be flexible," said Ms. Sullivan, whose Cedar Rapids studio at 1121 Blairs Ferry Road NE, Ste. 300, will host a grand opening open house from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. March 9. "And with three kids myself, I wanted something where they could be involved and work alongside me."

The first Kidcreate Studio was founded in Twin Cities suburb Eden Prairie, Minnesota, by Lara Olson, who was frustrated by the limited art exposure her son was receiving at school. Ms. Olson, believing in "the power of art to teach, inspire and build self-esteem," opened the first studio in 2007 to make art learning fun. With the motto "making a mess is the best," that quickly grew to three Twin Cities locations and, in 2016, the company's first franchise location in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

"It's just taken off from there," said Ms. Sullivan, whose Cedar Rapids location will be the company's eighth franchise. "I was pretty confident about this [concept] to begin with - obviously, you're taking a risk anytime you start something new - but I've been blown away by the initial popularity."

Kidcreate Cedar Rapids has amassed more than 480 "likes" on Facebook since Ms. Sullivan launched the page three weeks ago as well as numerous excited comments and questions from parents, scouting groups and others.

"It feels like we have a strong following already," she said, adding that Kidcreate studios do best in communities with high percentages of college graduates earning a median income of $70,000 or above. "I've been blown away by the tremendous support already."

Classes ranging from a How to Draw Cartoons Mini-Camp to Gitter! Workshop kick off the week beginning March 11.
Para2RAYGUN 'doubling down, not cashing out' with equity sale
Mike Draper, shown on the cover of this week's CBJ.
Des Moines-based RAYGUN, which operates stores in both Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, has reported raising $582,000 in funding, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  
The chain, famous for its tongue-in-cheek, Midwest-themed slogans on t-shirts, postcards and other items, brings in about $4.3 million in annual revenue, according to corporate insight website  Crunchbase.

Reached by email, RAYGUN founder and owner Mike Draper said he raised the funds by selling company member units to "non-managing members" - mostly other business owners he's known for years, and most of whom are Iowans.

Mr. Draper stressed these members were not professional investors or venture capitalists, adding, "I did all one-on-one meetings, pitching individuals that I wanted to include." About $18,000 of the company's member units were set aside for employee ownership. 
"As we head into a new phase and slightly new structure, I wanted to make sure to include those who have been here a long time and give them some ownership as a sign of appreciation for everything they do," he said.

The company will remain an LLC with Mr. Draper continuing as the only managing member, although the new investors will act as a "cool, informal board."

"As we plan to grow into the future, I wanted to strengthen our balance sheet, as well as include some other great entrepreneurs," he added, underlining that he was "doubling down, not cashing out."

In a separate interview with the CBJ last week, Mr. Draper described how one early stumble helped the company grow from a single Des Moines shop to a small Midwest empire over 14 years. The Van Meter native, who returned to his parents' home in 2005 with the idea of launching a screen-printing operation, outlined several fumbles that almost put the fledgling company out of business - including an ill-fated venture into the jeans-making business that turned into a visionary moment. 

CBJ members can read the full feature in this week's edition of the CBJ.
Para3 Progressively Uptown showcases Marion's 'Main Street' 
To raise funds and highlight Uptown businesses, restaurants and entertainment options,  Uptown Marion will host Progressively Uptown - a night out on the town for a good cause - from 5:30-10 p.m. Feb. 21.

The progressive event begins at the  Uptown Snug for check-in and a beverage, then proceeds to two more locations with food and beverages. Ramsey's will be featuring new food items and adult beverage options and attendees will have a sneak peek at the newly renovated Court building featuring high-end condo living Uptown-style. 

From there, the party will move to The Giving Tree Theater for dessert and a full private preview showing of "Tiny Beautiful Things" set to debut on the following night. During the intermission, more than $800 in prizes from Uptown businesses will be given out. 

All proceeds benefit the ongoing revitalization and beautification efforts of Uptown Marion - A Main Street Iowa District.  Funding supports programs such as local sign grants, business workshops, historic preservation grants, community events and entertainment, beautification efforts, district promotions and holiday lighting.

Tickets are $50 per person, including tax, and will be available until Feb. 20. Ticket price includes one raffle entry, food and beverage at three locations, and dessert and private show at Giving Tree Theater.  Tickets are available here.
pitchValentine's Day no box of chocolates for restaurateurs

Valentine's Day might rake it in for Hallmark, but Iowa restaurants should probably temper their expectations when it comes to sales on the most romantic night of the year.

Today is unlikely to be a red-letter day for restaurants in Iowa, according to a new data analysis from Womply, a software company serving small businesses.

The Womply data science team analyzed transactions from 42,000 small, local restaurants on all 365 days of the 2018 calendar year to identify consumer spending patterns and behavior. Here's what they found for Iowa restaurants on V-day:
  • Valentine's Day is the 123rd-best sales day of the year, with a mere 1 percent increase in transaction volume and 9 percent lift in revenue compared to an average day.
  • Nationally, Valentine's Day is the 120th-best sales day of the year, with a 4 percent increase in transaction volume and 13 percent rise in revenue compared to an average day.
  • The good news for consumers: An average level of foot traffic at most Iowa restaurants means patrons should be more likely to find an open table at their favorite local restaurant.
  • For comparison, St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo are both better than Valentine's Day for restaurant sales in Iowa.
  • Iowa restaurants experience the 29th best Valentine's Day nationally.
Para5Consulting: The importance of growing our talent pool 
In this week's consulting spotlight, Jen Daly of ICR Iowa discusses the region's critical worker shortage and strategies ICR is implementing to grow the labor force.

Where can we find employees? It's a phrase our ICR Iowa team hears weekly from employers, large and small, throughout Iowa City-Cedar Rapids (ICR) region.

The strain on the pipeline is multi-faceted. We are fortunate to be one of the few Iowa regions that has seen population growth over the past decade, yet that growth cannot keep up with the needs of our employers. Unemployment is at an all-time low, at 1.5 percent in the Iowa City MSA, and 2.2 percent in the Cedar Rapids MSA. Most of the people in ICR seeking opportunities to work are already working.

We need a larger labor force - and growing our labor force isn't the only challenge. Alignment is also critical. We had 45,965 unique new job postings in ICR between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. Of those postings, the most critical needs included truck drivers, sales representatives, registered nurses, software developers, accountants, industrial engineers, teachers, lab technicians and systems engineers. We need more people in our region pursuing high-de­mand careers so we can match employment demand with the right supply.

ICR Iowa, along with dozens of partners, has strategies underway to support both challenges.  To grow our labor force, we recently launched a campaign to reach out to individuals who would like to come (or come back) to ICR for the right employment opportunity. The ICR Talent Hub has attracted 74 candidates to date and we hope to grow that number to 500 by the end of 2019.

A new campaign designed by local marketing firm Sculpt should help us boost qualified appli­cants for immediate job openings in 2019 while also building a larger labor force more likely to remain in ICR long term.

We are also pursuing a strategy to grow our workforce by increasing the retention of college graduates. Over the past decade, we have typical­ly retained around 800 each year. To keep more of these young professionals in ICR, we want to increase the number of local internships offered and help those interns see an exciting future for themselves in our region.

Read the full column at

CORRECTION: A Feb. 7 CBJ on Small Business item incorrectly spelled the names of Total Elite Soccer Training co-founders  Sanel Dzafic and Haris Hadzalic in several instances. The CBJ regrets the error.
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Short-Term Event Planner      

Feb. 18
Coralville Roundtable, by Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, noon-1 p.m., Backpocket Brewery, 903 Quarry Road, Coralville. Roundtables are social lunches over the noon hour. All are invited to network, keep up to date with chamber and community events and frequent a member restaurant or business. Free. Contact Emily at (319) 337-9637 or with questions.

Feb. 19
Iowa City Roundtable, by Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, noon-1 p.m., North Dodge Hy-Vee, 1125 N. Dodge St., Iowa City. Roundtables are social lunches over the noon hour. All are invited to network, keep up to date with chamber and community events and frequent a member restaurant or business. Free. Contact Emily at (319) 337-9637 or with questions.

Business Startup Basics, by SCORE of East Central Iowa and Kirkwood Community College, 6-8 p.m., Kirkwood Linn County Regional Center, 1770 Boyson Road, Hiawatha. This three-night series will explore the basic steps in starting a business. This night will cover marketing and securing business loans. Cost: $59, covers all three nights. To register, visit

Sustainable Business in Iowa, by Mount Mercy University, 6:30-7:45 p.m., MMU Basile Hall, Room 204, 1330 Elmhurst Drive NE, Cedar Rapids. Author and lecturer Adam Hammes will discuss what it means to be sustainable in business and how leading companies profit from environmental and social responsibility. Free.

Feb. 20
1 Million Cups, by 1MC Cedar Rapids, 8:15-9:15 a.m., Geonetric, 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids. Join for community connections, free coffee and presentations by entrepreneurs, established companies, experts and more. Free. For more information, visit

1 Million Cups, by 1MC Iowa City, 9-10 a.m., MERGE, 136 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City. Join for community connections, free coffee and presentations by entrepreneurs, established companies, experts and more. Free. For more information, visit

North Liberty Roundtable, by Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, noon-1 p.m., Zio Johno's, 780 Community Drive, Ste. 1, North Liberty. Roundtables are social lunches over the noon hour. All are invited to network, keep up to date with chamber and community events and frequent a member restaurant or business. Free. Contact Emily at (319) 337-9637 or with questions.
Headlines from CBS2/FOX 28 
These news items are provided by CBS2/FOX 28
An Iowa mail carrier is fine after a scary accident that left them in the Mississippi River.  Radio station  KBUR reports  that the driver of the truck lost control and slid off the road Wednesday. The driver managed to jump from the vehicle before it went into Bluff Harbor Marina.  The truck didn't sink because ice kept it afloat until it could be pulled from the water.

Step inside 91-year-old Beth and 89-year-old Bob Allsop's home at Cottage Grove Place, and you will see right away that their love is timeless.  "I think we just enjoyed each other and we grew together over the years," said Bob Allsop.  The National Center for Family and Marriage Research says only seven percent of current U.S. marriages will pass the 50-year mark.  Beth and Bob are lucky to say they beat that statistic. They will be married for 67 years this June.  "A friend of mine talked me into going with him, and so it was a blind date, and it was New Years Eve," said Beth.  That date was in 1950, when they danced the night away with their friends.  "When the guys got together, they said, how is she, and he said, 'oh she's okay, but I'll probably never see her again'," said Beth.  Bob took a chance anyways.  "I called, we repeated the same thing several weeks later," he said.   A year later, you might say their love hit a bump in the road. Read the full Valentine's Day story here.
T hese news items are provided by CBS2/FOX 28 
CBS2 Chief Meteorologist Terry Swails' Weather First Forecast

Cold air comes back in tonight and will hang tight through the weekend. Another chance for snow arrives Sunday.  Temperatures have been warming through the night and will hold steady in the low to mid-30s this afternoon. A cold front will move through the area and increase the winds this afternoon and bring cold air back. There may be a brief rain/snow shower, especially in the east. Otherwise, it will be mostly cloudy with wind gusts up to 30 mph at times. Some blowing and drifting snow will be possible in open and rural areas as the winds pick up today.  Skies will clear tonight and temperatures will drop down to near zero by tomorrow morning. It will remain breezy and wind chills will be around -10 to -20. High pressure will move in Friday and it will be mostly sunny. Temperatures will struggle to rise and just climb to near 10 in the afternoon.