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Wood: 5 questions for Gov. Reynolds on Iowa’s entrepreneurial community

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds

Earlier this week the organizers behind 1 Million Cups Des Moines—a showcase/pitch event that meets each Wednesday morning—announced that Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds would take their stage on March 14th to deliver a presentation on “the state of entrepreneurship in Iowa,” then take questions in a fireside chat-style interview from 1 Million Cups organizer Ben McDougal.

McDougal asked the community to suggest questions for that interview on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #1MCDSM.

I do a fair amount of thinking about how all sorts of players—including the State of Iowa—can help improve our startup community, so I was happy to oblige. Since Gov. Reynolds won’t be taking direct questions from the attendees at 1 Million Cups, I thought it would be good to get the discussion started ahead of time.

This is a real opportunity for the Iowa startup community to talk about what’s going well in Iowa and what needs to be improved for new and emerging businesses. There’s so much work to be done and I applaud Gov. Reynolds for her willingness to meet with us.

Here are my five questions for Gov. Reynolds:

  • The need to pay down student loan debt is one of the biggest things hindering Iowans from starting companies, how do we solve that? Isn’t the rising tuitions at our regents universities compounding this problem?
  • As carriers have left the healthcare exchange available to Iowans, prices have risen dramatically while options have simultaneously decreased. How do we ensure that affordable coverage is available to everyone and eliminate the barrier of would-be entrepreneurs staying “job-locked” into their positions at established companies?
  • How long can the critical state-backed funding programs for early stage tech companies (Proof of Commercial Relevance, Demonstration Fund, Iowa Acceleration Fund, etc.) survive with the state budgeting shortfalls we’ve been experiencing over the last two years?
  • We can all agree that we need more people in Iowa. We have tremendously low unemployment, that leads to a tremendous number of job openings and makes it harder for startups to compete with established companies for talent. How do we make Iowa a more attractive and inviting place to all types of new people? (Specifically I’m thinking about the LGBTQ community, immigrants, communities of color, refugees and people from other parts of the country who don’t have family ties to Iowa)
  • Iowa certainly understands how to attract data center projects but how do we attract software development teams from the same big tech companies to locate here? These are the type of employees/jobs with potential to spin out/create new startups.

Quick note, these questions were intended to be non-partisan and (hopefully) non-political. They all speak to issues that exist for entrepreneurs in Iowa today and are all things that the State—under Gov. Reynolds’ leadership—can help solve.

Geoff Wood is the co-founder of Clay & Milk and the founder of Gravitate, a coworking community and entrepreneurial support organization in Des Moines. He’s been telling the story of the Iowa startup community since 2009.


  • Ben Milne (@bpmilne)
    Posted February 16, 2018 at 8:37 am

    ” but how do we attract software development teams from the same big tech companies to locate here? These are the type of employees/jobs with potential to spin out/create new startups.”

    I wonder if the question should really be about job creation targets. I think some of this is already actually happening.

  • Todd R Kielkopf
    Posted February 17, 2018 at 10:57 am

    A question about the future of non-tuition based state funding (i.e. continued support for capacity-builders like the Iowa Innovation Corp.) to get more regent-based R&D to commercialization could be a piggy-back question to the continued need for incentive/startup funding. Not sure political leaders maintain awareness that cutting regent funding over time puts the fate of outreach programs up to the universities to decide, when we really should be doubling down on it at the state level to grow.

  • Diana Wright (@InkedByDW)
    Posted February 21, 2018 at 10:33 am

    Glad to see your first question about student debt + entrepreneurship on here. Last year, I read a NYT article about how millennials could be the lost generation of entrepreneurs due to increasing student debt.

    I wrote a follow-up article here: Young Entrepreneurs + Student Debt Trap,

    Another angle which is interesting – Yale allows students to defer their student loan payments for the first 2 years after graduation. The school pays the interest accruing on the loans (up to $7K/yr). Would just need to figure where the support comes from for regent universities in Iowa, as they keep receiving cuts.

  • Ben McDougal
    Posted February 27, 2018 at 9:48 am

    Thanks for sharing these suggestions Geoff! As a long-time community builder, I definitely look forward to talking through this with you and making sure we use this opportunity to make an impact.

    I also appreciate the follow up thoughts by Ben, Todd and Diane. Please wrap your thoughts into a question/topic and send it our way by using #1MCDSM on Twitter or on our Facebook event page. Thanks!

Comments are closed.

Wood: 5 questions for Gov. Reynolds on Iowa's entrepreneurial community | 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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