As Laird Hedlund-Nossuli told me during our interview for, Dad’s business evolves with daughter, son-in-law behind the keyboard, being an entrepreneur isn’t for everybody.
“It’s not for people who can’t just put their head down and say this is where I’m going,” she explains. “You either get there on your own or with somebody else and their help. But be prepared to recognize your mistakes really fast.”
Laird estimated three of every four decisions she’s made have been considered bad.
And Mike Colwell, Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives for the Des Moines Partnership, said numbers show most startups don’t last.
“And sometimes the best thing is they don’t make it,” Colwell says. “Because a lot of things separate an idea from a valuable company.
But resources are available to give companies a chance, if those involved have an idea, plan and are willing to work.
Figure it out faster
Following in a global trend Iowa was introduced to accelerators with the Iowa Startup Accelerator in 2013 and again in 2015 with the Global Insurance Accelerator.
Colwell explained that an accelerator is meant to grow the size and value of a company in a short period of time. It forms when investors provide seed money to entrepreneurs, who then participate in an intensive mentoring environment for nearly 100 days.
He stresses the importance of the mentoring, which is led by local industry leaders. Over 200 mentors from Des Moines particapte in the Global Insurance Accelerator with various professional backgrounds.
“In your first three weeks, you have over 100 meetings with mentors. You pitch and get feedback in what we call mentor speed dating,” Colwell explains. “In that time alone you will build a contact database of people from that industry trying to sell to your customers and telling you how to make your product better.”
In the three years of the Global Insurance Accelerator, 18 companies have graduated.
“The idea is to take that feedback and build those contacts so eventually you can get to market faster,” he says. “Because you can talk all day long about clicks and likes and whatever. But unless someone buys your product it’s bullshit.”
Each year the graduates of the Global Insurance Accelerator give their pitches to the 550 executives at the Global Insurance Symposium in Des Moines.
Colwell said the first-ever Iowa Ag Tech Accelerator starts July 17 and its graduates will pitch at the World Food Prize during the Borlaug symposium in front of a thousand people.
Iowa-based companies for at least one year can apply through VentureNet Iowa and the Iowa Economic Development Authority to potentially receive matching grants from $25,000 to $500,000 in the business areas of:
• Advanced manufacturing
• Value-added agriculture
• Information technology.
Adrienne Greenwald, Communications and Public Relations Director of VentureNet Iowa said they accept applications on a bi-monthly basis and that she visits with companies at the GIA to explain what they offer.
To decide yes or no for the grants the state of Iowa has a Technology Commercialization Committee. Their decisions are based on focus groups organized by VentureNet Iowa that evaluate each company and project applying to the state. Companies fill out an application that includes a business plan then pitch to a focus group and have a question and answer session.
“It’s not the technology specifically,” Greenwald explains. “It’s about the commercialization strategy to build a business, so it’s a sustainable business in Iowa that’s creating high quality jobs.”
The latest application deadline just passed and eight companies were selected for the process to possibly receive funding; Greenwald says they can take up to 12 each application deadline.
Greenwald says the entrepreneurial scene has grown in the last five years and points to SquareOne DSM who helps raise capital for entrepreneurs, the Iowa Startup Accelerator, GIA, Venture School at the University of Iowa and the Iowa State University Startup Factory, as key reasons why.
“It’s a very collaborative environment,” Greenwald says. “There are a lot of resources out there for entrepreneurs.”
Greenwald says people who tend to be successful may not be experts at everything.
“Clearly they know what they are doing but they also realize they don’t know everything,” Greenwald explains. “Successful people listen to advice. A lot of times people are so focused on what they’ve developed and making it better that they get on a path and put blinders on.
“Surround yourself with people who want to help and want to see you succeed, then listen to those people.”