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ISA’s Molly Monk: ‘It’s easy to matter in Iowa’

Iowa Startup Accelerator Program Manager Molly Monk likes that “it’s easy to matter in Iowa.”

After graduating from Simpson College last year, she made the decision to remain in Iowa to help build the entrepreneurial community in Cedar Rapids.

“Everyone in Iowa in general is excited about people, and excited to be in Iowa. I like that people aren’t buying into the myth that this is a place you need to escape from.”

How did you get involved with the Iowa Startup Accelerator?

My friend Jessalynn (Holdcraft) is the Director of Marketing at NewBoCo. My senior year of college she invited me to Cedar Rapids to do a Startup Weekend. I was on spring break and I’m from Minnesota so I didn’t want to go home and get snowed in, which is normally what would have happened. So, we started a Startup Weekend team and ended up getting second place. I loved the energy and I met so many new people with inspiring ideas.

Then, after graduation, when I saw the Program Manager job open up at the Iowa Startup Accelerator, I realized that this is something I really wanted to be a part of. I didn’t have a huge amount of experience in this field but lots of enthusiasm for the work and Cedar Rapids. So, really, it was Startup Weekend that propelled me into this community.

Who do you consider to be a mentor? Who do you look to for advice?

Eric Engelmann, the executive director of NewBoCo, is definitely someone I look up to for the way he has helped change company culture and the way he leads our company. I feel excited and blessed to work with him. Not only is he full of crazy ideas and great at making things work, he makes sure that people are allowed to be people at work. He makes it so my co-workers can do things like bring their kids into the office. We have great sick policies and everything so if you have an illness or are dealing with the death of a loved one you’re supported through that. I look up to that and think we need more business owners like him.

Lisa Spellman was a mentor in our network. She’s such a driven person. She’s funny and exciting and really dedicated to helping people out so I look up to her too.

What excites you most about working and living in Iowa?

I grew up mostly in Minnesota, and I never thought Iowa would be a place that I fell in love with. It’s the people that excite me about Iowa and Cedar Rapids specifically. I had been working at NewBoCo a few months when the flood scare happened, and after going through that experience, I knew this was the community I wanted to be in for a while.

Bosses were telling their employees to take the day off to help out with preparations for the flood. Everyone was constantly present making sure people they didn’t know were protected. Everyone was so dedicated to protecting not only the community, but also the idea of community as well. I thought ‘these are people I want to be around for a while.’ I feel so lucky that this is the community I get to build in and create a better economic future for.

It’s also fun. I love the people I work with and the energy they bring to the office every day. Seeing startups grow and change is so wonderful.

Overall, Iowa is nice. There’s a low cost of living so I can have a comfortable life, and I’m surrounded by the best people on Earth. I’m totally not over loving that yet. Here it’s possible at 22 (years old) to be someone who can help influence the world for the better.

What has been an unexpected source of inspiration for your work?

Honestly, the flood was unexpected source of inspiration. I didn’t think watching the almost natural disaster would be so inspiring. But afterwards I started looking at how governments are using innovation and entrepreneurship to change and grow. Whether that’s working with better data collection, contracting with startups to change more quickly, or considering the Internet of Things for public infrastructure.

Watching the almost flood made me start thinking about all of the things we could do in the future when it comes to dealing with natural disasters. It’s inspiring to be part of a resilient and thriving city, and I think the flood sparked a lot of ideas around what we could be doing better to innovate as a community.

What’s the best piece of advice you received?

The best piece of advice I’ve received is to show up and be present. Honestly, a lot of working with or being an entrepreneur is being ready to get your hands dirty, being present in the moment, and looking for a solution when you’re aware enough to notice there’s a problem that needs to be solved.

What advice would you have for other recent graduates?

Some general advice would be: NewBoCo has got a lot going on and we would love to help you.

For recent grads, in general, though: there’s more happening in Iowa than you might expect, and looking closer to home could be great for you. My advice would be to give Iowa a try.

About Molly Monk

Age: 22
Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Twitter handle: @actuallymolly

Megan Bannister is a freelance writer based in Des Moines and a regular contributor to Clay & Milk.

Correction: This article has been changed to correct Molly Monk’s title.

ISA's Molly Monk: 'It's easy to matter in Iowa' | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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