New team wants to continue EntreFEST’s past momentum

The new team behind EntreFEST wants to pick up where the event left off, even after a one-year hiatus.

“We are really excited about being able to take the event, continue from right where it left off, (and) continue with that momentum (from 2015) to bring it back for 2017 to really continue to foster the ecosystem that we have here in Iowa,” said Jill Wilkins, events director for NewBoCo.

A Cedar Rapids nonprofit that acts as an umbrella for a number of entrepreneurial programs, NewBoCo took on EntreFEST as another one last year.

Tagged as the largest gathering of Iowa’s entrepreneurial community, the University of Northern Iowa previously led the organization of EntreFEST. The event hit a new high in 2015, bringing together about 1,000 people in Iowa City over three days for breakout sessions, a fashion show and multiple keynotes.

EntreFEST is slated to return to Iowa City on May 4 and 5.

“We want to be able to really come back strong. We know that people have missed this … it’s a shorter time frame for planning and promotion, so we don’t necessarily expect to get to (the 2015) number, but certainly (we are making) every effort to get to that level,” Wilkins said.

The 2015 event had so much to do, emcees at the time argued, that attendees had to set aside worries about FOMO, or “the fear of missing out.”

UNI cancelled the 2016 EntreFEST in part due to concern over the growing amount of resources needed to throw such a large event. NewBoCo and the Cedar Rapids Economic Alliance have joined forces to manage it this year.

Wilkins said organizers recognize the momentum behind EntreFEST may have been hindered by the one-year gap, but they’ve been encouraged by responses when seeking feedback.

Attendees, she said, should expect a similar format to the 2015 event, even if it’s a bit smaller due to a shorter time period and NewBoCo’s first time hosting EntreFEST. The event is still going after a core audience of business owners, startup founders, corporate innovators and community builders.

“We want them to certainly leave with energy …” Wilkins said. “We want them to have made really strong and significant connections with others who have attended that can help continue to learn or advance their business in one way, shape or form.”

NewBoCo is also hoping to attract those who may not have attended previously. For instance, EntreFEST will be held earlier in May compared to 2015. That, Wilkins said, may allow university students who otherwise would have finished the school year to attend.

The full details of EntreFEST 2017 have yet to be publicly announced, such as a formal schedule and keynote speakers. Wilkins said organizers want to bring attendees together two to three times for keynotes.

NewBoCo has released its first set of speakers, though. They include Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit co-founder Ying Sa, Workhound co-founder Max Farrell, Emerging Prairie’s Annie Wood and Econic CEO Brian Ardinger (former NMotion managing director), among others.

Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at