Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

McNeal Media: Blending hope with truth

Vanessa McNeal

As a freshman at Iowa State University, that’s when Vanessa McNeal realized there were other survivors of sexual child abuse.

It was during a human sexuality class, when the professor said that she was a victim of sexual child abuse and put words to what Vanessa experienced as a child.

Fast forward to 2018 and it’s McNeal doing the speaking. She started McNeal Media in April of 2017 and works as a public speaker and documentarian, traveling the country speaking to survivors but also colleges, universities, businesses and nonprofit organizations, sharing her story.

“I had to know that I could create a better life for myself and that I didn’t have to be a reflection of what happened to me,” McNeal says. “My story isn’t rare but my outcome is. You can’t just sit and wait for people to invest in you. You have to show people that there’s an investment to be made and that you mean something.”

McNeal is part a series of stories this month focusing on the diversity in Iowa’s tech, startup and art communities.

Here’s her story:

Growing up

In her first documentary “The Voiceless,” McNeal created an hour-long documentary that features the stories of male survivors of sexual violence. She said it was difficult at times to talk with survivors and have them open up with their stories.

But being able to relate helped.

“I’m a survivor of child abuse,” McNeal says. “Specifically neglect and then childhood sexual abuse. Then when I was 15 I was sexually assaulted in a college prep program that I was involved in.”

And because she thought nobody else had experienced childhood sexual abuse, she kept it to herself. Until that professor at Iowa State University…

“It planted a seed in me because I knew that I wasn’t the only one,” McNeal says. “People suffer in silence because they think it’s only happening to them, but she changed it for me. 15 years after it happened to me I was finally able to tell my family.”

Public speaking

Vanessa McNeal
Vanessa McNeal is a national speaker, film producer and business owner.

McNeal says she’s spoken all across Iowa and as far as Massachuttes, Wisconsin and New Jersey.

But regardless of where she is, her preparation remains the same.

“I always prepare the night before,” McNeal says laughing. “If I do it earlier then I psych myself out. Even though I’m a national speaker, I’m just as nervous.”

Her talks can range from 15 minutes to an hour at colleges/universities, businesses and nonprofit organizations.

“I try to talk about finding purpose and meaning in their obstacles because that’s what I do each day,” McNeal says. “There are always people willing to help, but you can’t just sit and wait for people to invest in you. You have to show people that there’s an investment to be made and that you mean something.”


Her second documentary titled, “Gridshock” examines the current sex trafficking industry in Iowa.

“Because people don’t believe sex trafficking happens here,” McNeal says. “people are bought and sold, there are elementary, middle and high school kids going to school during the day and coming home and being sold by their parents or people in their neighborhood.

“But their life looks normal.”

McNeal said they are fundraising the project. As of Monday they have raised $29,000 of their $35,000 goal that must be met by Feb. 9.


McNeal Media: Blending hope with truth | 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
This Pop-up Is Included in the Theme
Best Choice for Creatives
Purchase Now