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Design Mill Inc. is virtually connecting Fortune 500 companies

Design Mill Inc.

Teleportation exists…

Kind of

Over a dozen Fortune 500 companies are using the Dubuque-based company Design Mill Inc. because they take laser scans of facilities or properties and convert them into desktop or virtual reality viewing. Then they integrate technology that helps visualize that data in virtual reality, in real time.

Some of their clients are in the commercial real estate, technology and manufacturing industries.

“If you are sitting in your office in Des Moines and have 100 locations you are responsible, you would have a laser scan of each facility that’s been converted to virtual reality,” Nathan Greiner, President and Chief Technology Officer, explains. “So it has real-time sensor data attached to it. You just pop on your glasses and teleport yourself to that location.”

Greiner says colleagues from other parts of the world can be part of the virtual meetings.

Product—not location—matter

The original Design Mill Inc. started in 2004 and this year merged with II2A to form DMI.

David Proctor—Chief Operating Officer—says they now have about a dozen clients mostly from the Fortune 500.

“We have multiple instances of companies that recognize the power of virtual reality,” Proctor says. “It’s allowing you to, when we add our content to the environment, we can do anything with it.”

Design Mill Inc.
David Proctor, Chief Operating Officer of Design Mill Inc. demonstrates how to use the virtual reality headset. Photo Courtesy of Design Mill Inc.

Greiner says it’s been challenging but after winning the Intel Innovator Award in 2015 and 2016 he feels like the world is starting to recognize them.

“That accolade from the largest chip maker in the world that we’re doing innovation has given us some credentials” Greiner says. “So it doesn’t really matter where you are if you have the talent and the capability. Why not do it where you want to do it?”

Midwest Bias

Because a tech company had Midwestern roots, Greiner says he felt the company was overlooked at times because they were based out of Dubuque.

“What they don’t understand is that we keep our heads down and nail it time and time again,” Greiner says. “It’s great sometimes to be underestimated because when you nail it you blow everybody out of the water.”

But because of the cutting-edge subject matter they don’t have a hard time finding people to work for them.

“It’s easy for us to get young, budding programmers to come work for us,” Greiner said.

Proctor says they’ve partnered with the engineering program at Iowa State University on multiple projects.

They have interns this summer from Iowa State University.

“It’s interesting because many of those folks that know us and have met us, would gladly come and work for us over moving to California and getting caught up in Silicon Valley,” Proctor says. “We’ve had a lot of favorable comments.”


Design Mill Inc. is virtually connecting Fortune 500 companies | 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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