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Simeon Talley: A serial entrepreneur for fashion, culture in Iowa City

Simeon Talley

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.

Like what?

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.

Simeon Talley: A serial entrepreneur for fashion, culture in Iowa City | 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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