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Singh: I miss Iowa

Paul Singh

I’ve spent the last year driving nearly 40,000 miles and visiting 51 cities over the past 59 weeks — and that includes Des Moines. Twice.

My goal is to invest my own money in the best entrepreneurs regardless of where they live and do it all with Dana, my better half and my business partner, as we live full-time in our Airstream travel trailer. (In case you’re curious, we tend to invest in entrepreneurs that are focused on their customers. It really is that simple.)

As Dana and I wrapped up our latest visit– where Geoff was kind enough to let us park our Airstream in front of his new Gravitate location in Valley Junction – I had a couple of thoughts rolling through my head:

  • Everyone should have a friend in Iowa. It seems to me that there are a lot of other Midwestern cities that are trying to position themselves as the next startup hub. (Seriously, when’s the last time the phrase “you know, I’m not going to start something because I’m not in [insert wannabe startup hub]!” stopped an entrepreneur from building something great?) Iowans don’t seem to care where they’re located, they just get shit done… and they’re incredibly nice about it in the process.
  • If you can’t build a company in Iowa, you can’t build it anywhere. Building a company is hard regardless of location. One of the most common myths is that starting in Silicon Valley or NYC would make it easier but that’s just not true. The fact of the matter is that your business’ break-even point is much, much, much higher on the coasts — you’re better off staying in the Midwest.
  • There are so many resources to start a company, but few resources to grow a company. This is something Geoff and I have talked about for a while and it’s true everywhere across the Midwest. 99% of the information you need to start a business is simply a Google search away from you. Once you’ve started, it’s an entirely different ballgame unless you have an entrepreneurial circle of friends or are a member of your local coworking space. If you’re building your own company — regardless of whether it’s your side hustle or your full time gig — the best thing you can do for yourself is to curate your network.
  • Ambition and talent is equally distributed around the country. If I had a magic wand (read: unlimited budget), I’d bring more Iowa-based entrepreneurs with me along the tour so they could see that they’re just as smart and talented as their peers across the country. And so that their peers could see the same thing too.

We’re going to keep driving around for the rest of 2017 and you’re more than welcome to come with us to see if all for yourself. Whether you’re reading this from your cubicle or a smartphone in your truck, you’re an entrepreneur now — whether you like it or not.

Paul Singh is a a dad, entrepreneur, speaker, investor and Airstreamer. Previously he was the Managing Director at 1776, the Founder of DisruptionCorp (acquired by 1776), a Partner at 500Startups, and the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at USCIS / DHS. You can find him on Twitter and AngelList.

Singh: I miss 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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