Startup Accelerator teams in Cedar Rapids work against the clock
They have access to financing, mentors, valuable feedback
George C. Ford
With a digital display counting down the days, hours and minutes, six startup teams are participating in an intensive 95-day program at the Iowa Startup Accelerator in Cedar Rapids that concludes with a launch event on Nov. 3.
Each startup team, selected from more than 200 applications, has been matched with mentors. They also have received $20,000 each in seed funding and development expertise to take them from concept to successful launch.
In what might be described as journalistic “speed dating,” The Gazette spoke briefly with each team’s leadership about their business and what they hope to achieve.
AMP’d Cycles of Cedar Rapids
“Our concept is to eventually build a bicycle that will incorporate safety features to make the bike help the rider be safer on roadways,” said Kyle Gatzmeyer, CEO and co-founder. "We are trying to incorporate things such as turn signals, intuitive brake lighting and theft and wreck detection.”
Gatzmeyer said the latter will be linked with a smartphone app to allow a rider to get medical help in the event of an accident or track the location of a stolen bicycle.
AMP’d Cycles expects to initially create a prototype that will strap on a bicycle. The company hopes to eventually build its own frames in Cedar Rapids incorporating the technology.
Gatzmeyer said the spur for AMP’d Cycles was riding with a friend on RAGBRAI four years ago.
“We noticed that people were putting more gadgets and gizmos on their bicycles,” he said. “Mostly it was front and rear lighting, but as smartphones were becoming more a part of everyday lifestyle, people were strapping them to their bikes along with speakers and other things.
”We decided that with technology getting pared down in size, why couldn’t we incorporate things into a bicycle.”
Gatzmeyer, a 26-year U.S. Navy veteran who retired with the rank of captain, bought a mountain bike in 2000. His team for the accelerator includes Bruce Lehrman, CEO of Involta in Marion, who has been a friend since their college days at Iowa State University.
AssetRover of Cedar Rapids
“We help investors who are strapped for time and overwhelmed with the complexities of residential real estate investing,” CEO Jeri Frank said. “We are focused on people who are buying houses to hold them over a period of time.
“They are renting these properties so they can achieve some passive income and equity, and leverage the equity they are building to buy additional properties.”
Chief Technology Officer Uriel Barillas said AssetRover provides a process from beginning to end by giving investors additional tools and services.
“We have created a system where you can own properties, make a cash flow from them and get ready for retirement,” Barillas said. “We started doing the research two years ago. During our time in the accelerator, we are trying to talk with more customers and find the real ‘pinch points’ that people are encountering.”
Frank said the online training will provide a step-by-step process that will enable investors to hold and build a portfolio of properties.
“It will take them through a very guided path so they understand the steps they need to take and the decision points along that path,” she said.
Bill Kearney, AssetRover chief financial officer, said AssetRover incorporates the backward math to determine if a property will be a good investment.
“It helps you determine the offering price for a particular property to get the cash flow or return on investment that you want,” Kearney said. “It also will provide the questions you should ask when you’re looking for a good property manager or other members of your (investment) team.”
Girls With Ideas of Iowa City
“We offer interactive leadership programming for girls ages 9 to 13 to help them become creative, competent leaders,” said Allison Poss, founder and CEO. “We have a curriculum we wrote that anyone can purchase and do with a group of girls to help them learn vital leadership skills.
“We’re also working on building an online store with other products, and we’ve just finished running summer camps in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and North Liberty.”
Girls With Ideas raised $22,000 with a Kickstarter campaign in March to publish its curriculum, which is covered in 20 lessons. Abbie Schneider, director of organizational development, said final editing of the curriculum is occurring and it will be available next month.
Poss, a licensed school psychologist, said two statistics make a strong argument for providing leadership development skills to young girls.
“Women make up 52 percent of the work force, but only hold 15 percent of leadership roles,” Poss said. “That’s referred to as the ‘gender-leadership gap.’
“We’ve also come to learn that while 92 percent of girls say they believe anyone can be a leader, only 21 percent believe they have the leadership skills to be a leader.”
Poss, also an academic researcher, is hoping to learn how to run a business during her brief time in the Iowa Startup Accelerator cohort. She also believes the ISA will provide the tools to help Girls With Ideas make money as it expands the women’s leadership development movement.
Hang of Des Moines
“Hang is a mobile app that increases your awareness of gatherings, hangouts and local events,” said Dalton Viggers, co-founder and CEO. “It makes it easier to get together with friends.”
Austin Benson, chief technology officer, said there are a lot tools to know what happened yesterday, such as Facebook and Instagram, but there are not many to find out what you can do now.
“If I want to play golf, I post the time I want to go and send it to whoever I want to golf with,” he said. “They will all receive a notification and if they want to join me, they indicate it. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t have to join me.
“It makes it easy to invite a bunch of people or know what other people are doing and join them.”
Viggers said the Hang app is necessary to send invitations, but all that is required to receive them is a phone that accepts text messages. He said Hang makes money by including Fandango movie tickets as part of the app.
“We can see that ‘Jason Bourne’ is playing at 7 p.m. at a theater in Cedar Rapids,” Viggers said. “We hit the time, post that to our friends and there’s a ‘Get Ticket’ button in the message field that links to Fandango.
“We get 10 percent of that transaction. We’re also working on a partnership with Uber, so if someone needs a ride to the theater, they will tap a button and we will get a portion of the Uber fare.”
Benson and Viggers like the small size of the 2016 Iowa Startup Accelerator cohort, enabling them to get a lot of valuable feedback on their business plan and create a structure to get things done. They said a session on customer interviews will help them learn what people really want from their app.
“The mentors we have at the ISA aren’t necessarily here to pat us on the back, but to challenge us as we go forward,” Viggers said. “That will help us more than having cheerleaders telling us what we are doing right.”
Streamweaver of Iowa City
“We help brands connect with people of influence on e-sports or competitive video gaming,” said Keevin O’Rourke, CEO and co-founder. “At the epicenter of the world of competitive video gaming is a site called Twitch, where anybody in the world can broadcast themselves playing video games live to an audience of thousands.
“These people, called streamers, have a massive following with a loyal fan base that loves them and takes in the content they produce. We are helping brands leverage that audience of primarily tech savvy 18- to 24-year-olds to promote products and services.”
Streamers have a camera focused on them as they play a game. That image is displayed in a small box within the overall screen showing the game as it progresses.
Streamers make money — and sometimes enough to develop a full-time occupation — by promoting products and services as well as getting donations from viewers as they play video games for hours.
Wes Merrill, co-founder and chief operating officer, said Streamweaver works with streamers to weave a brand’s message into a shoutout or narrative about a particular brand.
“Influencer marketing is a growing trend,” he said. “There are several companies that help brands connect with YouTube, Instagram and Twitter stars who get paid to promote content to their audience.
“About 70 percent of Twitch’s audience has AdBlock enabled. This a way for the influencer and the brand to bypass the AdBlock filter in the form of shoutouts and promoted posts.
“We’re really trying to get into storytelling advertising that is integrated seamlessly into the individual stream.” Viggers said the Iowa Startup Accelerator cohort is providing funding to pay the bills, knowledgeable mentors, valuable feedback and dedicated office space.
“We’re hoping to develop enough deals or transactions between brands and streamers to justify taking the next step,” Viggers said. “We also need to develop a shorter pitch to explain what we can do.”
Written Apparel of Cedar Rapids
“We are working to develop a globally desired and respected fashion brand from Iowa,” said Emily Carlson, founder and CEO. “We specialize in luxury pencil skirts.”
Carlson said the company’s core values are centered on high quality, unique designs and luxury fabrics. Written Apparel plans to have all of its products manufactured in the United States, she said.
“There’s higher costs and expenses doing that. but from a startup perspective it’s also an easier way to supervise the whole production process and make sure we are putting out a high quality product,” Carlson said. “We have a manufacturer in Los Angeles that we are working with, a company that has been very nurturing and willing to work with a startup brand.”
Carlson said Written Apparel is focused 80 percent on direct-to-consumer sales through online and 20 percent on boutiques.
“Our website doesn’t have a ton of traffic right now, so maybe we will partner with other e-tailers to draw traffic, drive sales and raise brand awareness,” Carlson said. “From the boutique owners’ side, when they are looking at a new brand, we are a risk to them.
“Opening pop-up shops or consigning is a way we can see if this is good working relationship for us.”
Carlson said Written Apparel is developing its leadership team, looking for people who are interested in developing a fashion label.
“It’s been great to learn through all the mentorship,” she said. “I don’t think I would be where I’m at with the business at this point if I did not have the resources the entrepreneurial community has provided.”