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Antoinette Stevens: ‘We all have that part of us that just wants to be Superman’

Since moving to Des Moines in 2013, Antoinette Stevens has become deeply involved in the city’s technology community. Recently named the 2016 Diversity Champion at the Technology Association of Iowa’s Iowa Women of Innovation Awards, the 23-year-old from Georgia is passionate about finding ways to share her love of technology with new audiences.

By day, Stevens works as a network security analyst for Principal Financial Group. After hours she is building Reboot Iowa, a nonprofit dedicated to helping adults learn web development and understand emerging technologies.

This interview has been edited for conciseness.

C&M: What are you working on right now?

AS: I founded and run a nonprofit called Reboot Iowa. It has two pillars — the first being teaching computer programming to adults and the second one being doing more general tech literacy courses for adults.

Our main goal there is to just create a more tech-savvy community, but also, there are people here who deserve a second chance, people who work minimum wage jobs, but can’t afford to save up money to go back to school. We want to provide them the opportunity to learn a new skill and hopefully get another job without going into debt. People deserve that chance if that’s what they want to be dedicated to and we want to be there to help them without charging them $20,000 like a university or $5,000 like a code school would.

Plus, I believe that you can learn it on your own. You just need accountability. We provide that. You shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for accountability.

C&M: What keeps you motivated to pursue your goals for Reboot Iowa?

AS: I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately. There’s a quote that I heard a long time ago: the story goes that there is a professor talking to his class and he says, “We all have a little ‘Save the World’ in us.”

We all have that part of us that just wants to be Superman, and I think that might be what’s making me want to do this. I want to be the type of person people see and say “I can do it too.” I want to give people the same feeling that I got when I saw Hidden Figures. I guess that’s what keeps me going — the idea that one day someone will look at me and go “I can do this too.” That would be worth it.

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

AS: When I came here for the first time in 2013 for my internship for Principal and we went to StartupCity for the Do More in the City event from the series that the Greater Des Moines Partnership did. Someone there … described Des Moines as being a clean slate. It’s large enough where the things you do matter, but small enough where you can do almost anything and it will take off. I really like that idea because it’s the city you go to to try out your idea and see if it’ll do well. That really appealed to me.

C&M: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

AS: Don’t move back to Georgia. I really think it is. It came from my high school economics teacher who I’m still close with. When I first moved here I wasn’t doing so well. That first six months is just really hard when you’re alone. So, I was talking to him and I was like “I don’t know. I think I might just come back and go to school.” I was considering just starting my PhD early and going. His response was, “Don’t you dare come back here.” His reasoning was that once you come back it’ll be even harder to leave again because you’re going back to what’s familiar.

What I took away from that is to just keep moving forward. I know it’s time for me to move when I start to feel more comfortable. I should always just be uncomfortable, which is also advice I’ve gotten here from Heather Schott our diversity and inclusion director at Principal. She always says something like “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

C&M: What is your advice for others hoping to teach or learn programming?

AS: If it seems hard, it’s probably worth it. I think that’s what keeps me going. Anything that seems too easy is probably just not going to be worth it. You have to be the type of person who is able to challenge yourself and the type of person who is able to get out of bed on those days where it feels like too much and you’d rather quit it all. You have to decide that you’re still going to get up and go because you’ve made promises.

About Antoinette Stevens

Age: 23
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Twitter Handle: @_theycallmetoni

Antoinette Stevens: 'We all have that part of us that just wants to be Superman' | 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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