Growing Opportunities in North Iowa

March 16, 2018

Director’s Notes from Tim Putnam

This spring will see plenty of new or improved resources and opportunities available to North Iowa entrepreneurs, thanks in large part to our community partners. The North Iowa TechBrew is now run by its members with support from the NIACC Pappajohn Center and the North Iowa Corridor EDC. TechBrew is adding value by developing a series of TechTalks. Also coming up this spring are several venture competitions, offering the chance for startups and early stage businesses to win funding, access to investors, and other prizes.

TechBrew + TechTalk: Connecting the Community

Helping to connect the many aspects of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is an important endeavor to create a supportive environment for entrepreneurs. One of the goals of TechBrew + TechTalk is to convene a diverse group where entrepreneurs are at the center of the conversation, and to lead and craft the conversations of what their needs are in terms of a supportive infrastructure and environment. When this is accomplished, you have an entrepreneurial ecosystem which is run and controlled by no single person, group, or entity.

North Iowa partnered with the Technology Association of Iowa for nearly five years in delivering TechBrew as a means to network creatives who are involved in Technology, Entrepreneurship and Investing. The TechBrews have been very successful networking events that have led to companies hiring individuals they’ve meet at the events, developing partnerships to access overseas markets, and numerous other business dealings. We must also say that some of the finest North Iowa craft beers have been sampled from our two hosting breweries: Mason City Brewery and Lake Time Brewery.

For the February TechBrew, we launched the first ever TechTalk featuring two tech based entrepreneurs discussing their startups. The talk’s topics ranged from how do you decide to quit your day job, luck vs effort, securing funding to launch a business, and how do you determine what are the products and services that will truly impact your customers. Our first TechTalk speakers were Trace Steffens of HowFactory and Riley Dirksen of Goin’ Yumbo Games.

Trace Steffens talked about Customer Impact Canvas, a simple platform designed to help users better understand what their customers and stakeholders want, need, and will pay for. HowFactory is the past winner of Silicon Prairie News’ New Startup of the Year, winner of the 2015 Dream Big Grow Here awards, and the first Iowa company to take the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield.

Riley Dirksen talked about his path to starting a creative business, the things he’s learned, challenges, surprises, and the philosophy he followed while starting up Goin’ Yumbo Games. After almost 10 years of hobbyist game development, Riley is now a full-time solo game developer. His first game, Graveball, is a fast-paced combat sports game with a graveyard theme.

It was a great start to the new speaker series with the purpose to encourage, engage, and elevate technology in North Iowa.

If you have a technology opportunity or issue you’d like addressed, know of a great technology speaker, or would like to sponsor a TechBrew, please contact me and we’ll get you on the schedule.

New Venture Competitions: Finding the Next Big Thing

This year’s statewide John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Venture Competition will be awarding $100,000 in cash prizes – double the amount that the competition has awarded in the past thanks to a new partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA). This competition was founded by a contribution from John and Mary Pappajohn in an effort to support Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Iowa businesses are eligible to apply if they have been in operation for four years or less, or are not yet cash flow positive. This competition is open to businesses including (but not limited to) technology, bio-technology, green technologies, medical, advanced manufacturing, agriculture, engineering, and education industries.

Two other statewide competitions are being promoted by the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers this spring: the Pappajohn Student Entrepreneurial Venture Competition and the EntreFEST Pitch Competition. The Pappajohn student competition is now underway, with the regional competitions happening at the end of March. The competition has over $25,000 to be awarded to the best new ventures. For more information on the PSEVC, or to learn how to set up and conduct your own “Shark Tank” event or pitch competition, contact Kelley O’Rourke in the NAICC Pappajohn Center.

EntreFEST is a two day conference and is one of the largest celebrations of the Midwest’s entrepreneurial and innovation community. EntreFEST takes place in unique venues and settings and benefiting a variety of minds. The EntreFEST Conference will be held in Cedar Rapids, April 17-18, 2018. The EntreFEST Pitch Competition is open to startup and early stage businesses.

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