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Milne: With Workiva, Iowa got a unicorn


It’s startup hyperbole and a label that the management at Workiva probably doesn’t covet or think about. Nonetheless, this is an important milestone for the community, let alone for Workiva.

A unicorn is a startup company valued at over a billion dollars. Some people probably wouldn’t call Workiva a startup but I’m going to for the sake of making my point. Also, someone else might say you have to be a private company to be a unicorn. I’m going to ignore that opinion too.

There will be no shortage of people discounting the importance of this milestone but I will not be one of them.

Let’s take a second and just appreciate this for a moment. We have a $1B company that was started, funded and built here in Iowa. Then, it went public here. This week Workiva passed the $1B market cap mark. A threshold that’s more psychological than it should be.

Now that we’ve taken that moment let’s take a few extra moments and think about what this means for founders locally.

  • Every time someone says you can’t build a $1B business in Iowa. You can disprove that instantly.
  • Every time someone says you can’t build a leadership team that builds scale in Iowa. No longer an argument that’s valid.
  • Every time someone says there isn’t enough tech talent to handle scaling cloud applications in Iowa. Well…Workiva.
  • Every time someone says the only way to make a business defensible in Iowa is to build its revenue base past $50M+ annually and that’s really hard to do. You can say… Yeah, I know but that’s actually how we build businesses in Iowa.
  • Every time you say “I want to build a company that goes public”, your so much less insane than you were yesterday. You’re still nuts but just slightly less so.

Workiva has dispelled so many myths about what it means to build a company in Iowa. They’ve changed the entire narrative around recruiting and fundraising for a generation of founders. What makes this valuation even better is that it’s not superfluous. It’s public market recognition of a strong business and growing revenue. It’s based on sound fundamentals that make a business actually worth a billion dollars. Our unicorn earned it even if you want to argue with whether or not that label is correctly applied.

Workiva’s market cap passing $1B doesn’t really matter financially to a large group of people but the psychological impact of breaking the barrier does.

Thanks Workiva. You’ve just made so many things so much easier. I appreciate you for it.

Also, congratulations.

Ben Milne is the founder of Dwolla and a co-founder of Clay & Milk. 

Milne: With Workiva, Iowa got a unicorn | 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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