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Technology Association of Iowa: Inclusion is a priority for 2018

The company that makes Blue Bunny Ice Cream—Wells Enterprises Inc. in LeMars—is a perfect representation of how much Iowa’s tech community has evolved in 2018.

And it’s an example of initiatives the Technology Association of Iowa is working on for the new year: Innovation and inclusion.

New board chairman Erin Rollenhagen said the Des Moines-based organization will be changing the conversation around diversity and inclusion, starting with their own programming.

“Helping people to understand technology really permeates in all businesses throughout our state and if you want to make a difference in the world in the future, technology is the quickest path to do that,” Rollenhagen says.

Brian Waller has been President of the Technology Association of Iowa for three and a half years and said this year, they are going to fundamentally change the way TAI talks about diversity and inclusion.

“We are going to be more purposeful and be more representative of the technology community here,” Waller says.

Leading the way

With parents who were entrepreneurs, Rollenhagen says she had no intentions of following in their footsteps.

Over a decade later, her company Entrepreneurial Technologies offers website design and software development services in Urbandale.

She says her company culture has an innovative mindset, a trait she shares with many others around Iowa.

“Things change rapidly in this industry,” Rollenhagen says. “It’s only accelerating.”

Keeping an innovative mindset, the Technology Association of Iowa will roll out two new storytelling methods in 2018. Both will start this month and profile the Iowa technology community. The “Catalyst” series will feature women in technology and “We are Iowa Tech” will be a web series on traditional and nontraditional tech companies in Iowa.

“The industry itself and the way the industry views itself has changed over the last five years to where every company is a tech company today,” Rollenhagen says. “Whereas five years ago you might have seen it more composed of a traditional tech company where technology is their product. Now we have a lot more representation from companies who use technology in a strategic way to improve their products.”

Just like Wells Enterprises Inc. and Blue Bunny Ice Cream.

“Technology is not their product but they use technology in their manufacturing,” she says.

Rollenhagen said the Catalyst series will conclude with an event featuring the series photography at the end of the year. There will be a different segment of the community selected in 2019 for Catalyst.

Representing the industry

Waller said Nick Donovan—Creative Director— will work on showcasing the technology Iowa companies are developing.

“Companies, banks, different industries are really adapting themselves as technology companies,” Waller says. “And because it’s gaining momentum, you see startups like Dwolla breakout or Higher Learning Technologies or Workiva.”

The programming offered by the Technology Association of Iowa—including TechBrew and the Prometheus Awards—will feature guests and honorees more representative of Iowa’s tech community.

“Too often probably we went with people who you know, that are sitting at the table already,” Waller says. “We need to be a little more discipline and look within our membership, if we look we can see amazing tech executives that are women.”

Waller said the Technology Association of Iowa is partnering with several other organizations to launch a database of ex-Iowans outside the state, called the, “Iowan Project.”

“We want to have a conversation and recruit them back to Iowa,” Waller said.

He said they are hosting a meetup in Denver and Chicago later this year.

“Just saying there’s awesome technology going on here and we just want you to know of the companies and opportunities,” Waller says. “Erin (Rollenhagen) has really challenged us to think differently and that’s exactly what technology is all about.”


Technology Association of Iowa: Inclusion is a priority for 2018 | 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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