Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Emily Betts Susanin: ‘You just have to be tenacious’

When Emily Betts Susanin moved back to Des Moines from Chicago, she wanted to reconnect with her community.

She’s now a project manager at the Iowa Center for Economic Success, which works with Iowans on business and financial planning. Strengthening communities by empowering small business owners has become her day-to-day.

“(The Iowa Center is) a nonprofit based around economic development. To develop an economy, you’re really building a community and that’s what I was looking to do in moving back to Des Moines,” she said.

This interview has been edited for conciseness.

C&M: What do you do at the Iowa Center for Economic Success?

EBS: In October I started at the Iowa Center as a project manager for our Women’s Business Center (WBC) and our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). It started as a client-facing role, but it’s also a planning role. So, I get to work with clients to help them start a business plan, but then I also get to work with our volunteer pool and recruit mentors and subject matter experts to help our clients. …

C&M: What keeps you motivated to pursue this work?

EBS: It’s the clients. It’s the community. It’s getting to hear people’s stories and what they want out of life or out of their idea. Making it possible and helping them to even sometimes change it. Because someone might come to us with one idea and as they go through writing a business plan or one of my classes, they pivot it and refocus and it becomes actually viable as opposed to just an idea.

C&M: Who do you consider to be a mentor?

EBS: My whole life I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by role models, both personally and professionally. The word mentor isn’t one that I use much in my vocabulary, so I can’t think of a single person that has guided me or “shown me the way” but rather, many people. From my professors in business school, to past and present employers and colleagues, to family members and friends. While part of me would like to be able to say, “Oh, Jim? He’s my mentor!” or “I owe it all to Susan Sarandon,” I think mentorship is a much more organic, living process of continuing to build strong, genuine relationships.

C&M: What excites you about living and working in Iowa?

EBS: So much. I think Iowa has so much growth potential and so much to offer, especially (for) a young-ish professional as I look to really get rooted here and make a difference and connect with the community. Iowa is really just the place. It’s easy living. It’s great living. There’s people here I consider to be lifelong friends.

I think there are low barriers to entry here. It just seems easy to get things done. You’re a part of different groups if you want to be, but the biggest one of being able to say “I’m an Iowan.” I love saying that. I love that ethos really. It’s something I feel really connected to.

C&M: What advice do you have for other people looking to get involved in Des Moines and build community?

EBS: I would say move here and do it. Move here and put yourself out there. I know a couple guys who just did that—Brad (Penna) and Nam (Ho) from Horizon Line Coffee. They seemed like they literally just moved to Des Moines and are starting something. I think you just have to be tenacious. From the advice side, there’s no better place to do it in my mind because of the cost of living, the places like Gravitate* that exist. That’s a place where there’s a community built in and people you can be around. I think as (that community) continues to grow, it will speak for itself.

C&M: How do you stay sane? What do you do outside of work?

EBS: I chose to start a gallery in my house. So that’s keeping me real sane. I have wanted to do that for a year though so I finally realized the time was now, and with enough people interested, did that recently.

About Emily Betts Susanin

Age: 27
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Iowa Center for Economics Success Twitter Handle: @TheIowaCenter

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

*Editor’s note: Gravitate founder Geoff Wood is a co-founder of Clay & Milk.

Emily Betts Susanin: 'You just have to be tenacious' | 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
This Pop-up Is Included in the Theme
Best Choice for Creatives
Purchase Now