CEDAR RAPIDS — Remember when you were a kid and anything seemed possible?
That was Program Manager David Tominsky's question Thursday as the Iowa Startup Accelerator, the first 90-day, intensive business development program in Iowa, celebrated its launch day.
And the 10 teams, who came from around the world to build their high-tech, high-growth start-ups in Iowa, responded with a resounding “yes” as they pitched to the sold-out crowd of nearly 900 people at the DoubleTree by Hilton, including busloads from Des Moines and Cedar Falls.
Since the program kicked off on Aug. 4, all of the business ideas have evolved. Some teams came in with nothing more than a Facebook page, but by the time they took the stage Thursday, all had grown into serious businesses.
Many of the companies are already generating revenue, and some secured funding from local angel investors on the spot. The start-ups hope to disrupt major sectors of the economy, including wind energy, student loans, manufacturing procedures and local food production.
“It shows the sophistication that we have, the world class facilities, the world-class programs,” said Amanda West, the ISA's education director and a co-founder of Seed Here Studio, which focuses on building startup communities. “This is the future of Iowa.”
More coverage via We Create Here: Reintroducing the 10 teams of the Iowa Startup Accelerator // Built By Iowa makes a bet on community, collaboration at ISA Launch Day // Support the Iowa Startup Accelerator teams by using their products and services // Gallery: Photos from Launch Day
Trace Steffen, co-founder of Cedar Falls-based HowFactory, kicked off the evening with a high-energy pitch about the future of standard operating procedures. In the world of the ISA, those two things aren't mutually exclusive.
Steffen also ended the show when HowFactory received a surprise $50,000 investment from Built By Iowa, an Iowa City-based fund for early-stage companies.
“We're completely overwhelmed right now, and grateful is the top thing. We're just grateful for the amazing entrepreneurs we've been surrounded with,” Steffen said. “By the time I walked onto that stage, it was utter confidence because of how hard that we worked, to do what we need to do to execute, it was just a matter of me keeping the emotion and the adrenaline from overwhelming me.”
Built By Iowa had previously committed $50,000 to LendEDU, a startup founded by University of Delaware students that aims to simplify and consolidate the process of applying for private student loans. At the end of the launch event, Built By Iowa co-founders Adam Ingersoll and Ravi Patel committed an additional $50,000 to be split among the remaining companies. Dreamfield Ventures, another Iowa City-based fund, also committed to invest in at least one ISA company.
“Adam and I are far from the norm of what normal investors look like — we're slightly cowboys,” said Patel, who is also the president of Hawkeye Hotels. “We'll look at deals, and if we like the people, if we like the business, and if we see that it can enhance the community and what we're trying to create here, we'll dive into that, where someone else might not.
“We honestly believe the Midwest can be the innovation engine of America,” he said.
Teams who came to the ISA from more established startup hubs, including San Francisco, New York City and Austin, Texas, agreed — many of them are planning to remain in Eastern Iowa.
Ben Picard, co-founder of Punctil, is one example. He grew up in southeast Iowa and has spent most of his career on the coasts, never imagining he'd return to Iowa to launch a tech startup. But now that the ISA is over, he plans to stay.
“I think there's a lot more authenticity here. There's a lot more focus on building intrinsic value, rather than valuation multiples,” Picard said. “That's what I was missing in the Valley.”
And for the ISA's founders and staff, the people are what make the program work.
“These are authentic people, who are really passionate about what they're working on, and I think you can really feel it,” Tominsky said. “It takes a lot to be an entrepreneur, to trust your crazy ideas, but when you're around other people who are just energized, when you create that density, something magical happens.”
MEET THE TEAMS
- ClikHome, from New York City: An online home rental matching service
- HowFactory, from Cedar Falls: Changing how companies create, use and update work instructions
- Kids Calendar, from Lawrence, Kansas: A marketing tool to help local businesses connect to parents
- LendEDU, from Delaware: A marketplace for private student loans and student loan refinancing
- ProduceRun, from Australia: Crowdfunding for farmers, allowing them to connect directly to consumers
- Punctil, from San Francisco: Eliminates waiting at the doctor's office by filling no-shows with standby appointments
- Re-APP, from Iowa City: A mobile app that rewards users for recycling
- SwarmBuild, from Israel: A digital marketplace for DIY manufacturing, connecting designers, engineers and machine shops
- VenueFox, from Des Moines: A digital concierge for event planning, with an emphasis on corporate events
- Vinveli, from Austin, Texas: Using drone technology to visually inspect wind turbines
Find full coverage of the Iowa Startup Accelerator, including weekly video updates, on wecreatehere.net
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