It was 2007 when Simeon Talley first visited Iowa, moving to Iowa City to help with the Obama Caucus campaign.
He had a plan to help with the campaign, finish his degree at the University of Iowa and then head back to Columbus, Ohio or a larger city.
A decade later, he’s still in Iowa City.
Talley, 33, is the founder of Flyover, an Iowa City-based fashion and culture company that organizes Flyover Fest, a festival in Iowa City on April 27-28 with fashion, art, performance and discussion. He’s the founder RADinc., a retail, art, design and community-driven incubator in downtown Iowa City and a co-host on the Political Party Live podcast.
“I have a few projects that I’m always working on at the same time and they all are tied together, in the community building space to bring people together,” Talley says. “Connecting entrepreneurs and artists to each other.”
Clay & Milk talked with Talley to learn more about his career path, how he benefited from the Iowa City startup ecosystem and why he hasn’t left Iowa City.
Our Q&A is below:
How did you get to this point in your career?
ST: There’s not a clear path or linear progression to my career and development. I came here to work in politics and finish my degree at the University of Iowa, I never thought I’d stay.
I always planned on.leaving and going back home or to a different state. But there was just a moment or period of time where I opened my eyes and saw there were a lot of really interesting, entrepreneurial, artistic things happening here that aligned very much with where I saw myself being at some point or the types of things I wanted to do. People were doing those things here.
ST: Producing events, bringing artists together, trying to transform or change a perception of a community.
I thought I would have to go to a bigger market to do that.
There’s a lot of energy for making Iowa an attractive place for young people and young entrepreneurs. For keeping that talent here and reversing that, “Brain drain” and just being an overall attractive place.
One of the ways we can do that is through creating cultural opportunities and having cool things for people to do.
I wanted to be someone creating cool, exciting projects and events for young people to do in the community that can help change the perception of a community to be more attractive.
I just saw a critical mass of people involved in that work here and when I saw that and was able to connect with those people, something just clicked.
Is this something you’ve been interested in even as a child?
ST: Not at all, I was heavy into athletics as a child. I wanted to be the next Michael Jordan but never grew past 5’11. But then I got involved in politics and thought about moving to D.C but I just found a real passion and a real ability to work with entrepreneurs and community building.
And the people here in Iowa City are incredibly accessible. So if there’s someone you want to connect with or reach out to, it’s incredibly easy to connect with that person. I benefited from that tremendously. I’ve never had a difficult time connecting with Iowans, especially the entrepreneurial community here, it’s so accessible and wants to be helpful.
I don’t think that’s something you find everywhere. But I don’t think if you move to a bigger market that your ability to enter a community like this would be easy or people would be so helpful.
Talk about what the Iowa City startup community is like…
ST: Relative to the size, there are lots of entrepreneurs whether they are working on traditional startups or working in the arts. There are lots of people building things here, and it’s cool to be around and invigorating to be around.
We are blessed because it’s a college town and the University has invested a lot into the entrepreneurial program, resources and events that help the community. Spaces like Merge exist and absolutely help.
But then you also have art institutions with people working there that are incredibly entrepreneurial and are connected to what’s next and pushing the community forward.
There are lots of really interesting, innovative, forward-looking things happening here and it’s a great place to build something. Then add on the fact that everyone is incredibly accessible as well.
How were you able to benefit from that type of Iowa City community?
ST: We started the Iowa Fashion Project which has become Flyover now and we are going into the third year of producing Flyover Fest. The whole notion that we would be able to produce a fashion festival in Iowa, four or five years ago you’d think that was incredible farfetched.
Now we’re going into our third year. But it’s because of the people in this community who tell you to trust your ideas. But it’s true and is something I take to heart. Even though it’s farfetched, there are lots of people who have done events and produced festivals who can point you in the right direction.
I can’t tell you if it will be successful…but I’ve seen that a lot during my time here.
What skills are most valuable to be successful?
ST: Generally, successful entrepreneurs to me are persistent, you really have to work hard over the course of a very long time to really achieve success and get to where you envision yourself being. It’s not for someone who can’t stick with it when times are tough.
I also think you have to be willing to fill your knowledge gap, educate yourself and be a curious active learner.
The third thing I’ve found, if you have an idea, don’t hold onto it until you get it right or it’s perfect. That’s the wrong way to go about it if you have an idea talk to as many people as you can about it.
Who can you have coffee with, who can you meet with, you will only benefit from getting it out that and having people interact with it.