1 Million Cups: Talking entrepreneurship in Iowa with Gov. Reynolds

1 Million Cups Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (right) talks with Ben McDougal Wednesday morning at 1 Million Cups Des Moines.

For the first time in the six-year history of 1 Million Cups Des Moines, the Governor of Iowa was the featured presenter.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds presented on entrepreneurship and the resources that are available to entrepreneurs interested in starting a business or for existing startups and small businesses.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it and I think that certainly speaks to something Iowans overall—especially those of you in this room—are good at,” Reynolds said. “Creating…it’s something that I truly believe is in our DNA and it’s who we are as Iowans.”

Over 80 people attended the presentation Wednesday morning at the Science Center in downtown Des Moines.

“This is a great time for startup companies to grow and thrive in the state of Iowa,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds would go on to discuss various state programs that are aimed at helping and building Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem such as the Innovation Fund and Angel Investor Tax Credits and various other resources through the Iowa Economic Development Authority. 

The governor also referenced Iowa’s recent first-place ranking as the best state in America.

Other statistics from Reynolds presentation were:

  • Iowa is sixth in Main Street Entrepreneurship among small states
  • Over half of Iowa’s businesses remain in operation after their first five years
  • More than two-thirds of Iowa businesses employ less than 50 people
  • Since 2011, the Iowa Economic Development Authority has invested more than $24 million in 219 different projects.

After her presentation, she joined 1 Million Cups host Ben McDougal for a 30-minute fireside chat that discussed building a talent pipeline, expanding broadband in rural Iowa, healthcare for small businesses and more.

To view all of Reynolds presentation and the Q&A, click here.

Their Q&A is below and has been edited for consciousness:

When you give that presentation, what are some of the biggest takeaways?

KR – We work every day to put an entrepreneurial ecosystem in place, we don’t know all the answers. We want you to continue to be part of the process, let us know if we hit the mark and where we are not hitting the mark. We are only as good as what you need and when I say we want to be a partner, we want to be a partner. We don’t want to be a barrier.

We can’t do it all but there is a role for us to play to help in order to be successful. If I leave nothing else, don’t hesitate to contact us and help us, help you be successful. Because that will help Iowans and the state overall.

Talk about your vision for how to engage younger entrepreneurs

KR – As Lt. Governor, one of my main initiatives was STEM and the Governor STEM Advisory Council with a whole host of stakeholders. We are not only a national leader but an international leader in that program. The legislature has been tremendously supportive, it’s a bipartisan issue and anytime we can say that, that’s great.

It’s just because we know how important it is to really get those opportunities in front of our young people sooner rather than later.

We’ve invested $37 million in STEM which has been supplemented by the private sector to reach over 400,000 students. What I love about it is they are sooner rather than later to be creative and think outside the box. It’s helping to build confidence and show them that if you don’t get it right the first time, you can go back and do it again.

We’ve got Scale-Up programs that we help provide to not only teachers but after school programs or libraries, wherever we can get in front of kids. And with a real focus on the underrepresented and underserved because we believe that by opening the door and having these skills, kids can do whatever they want to do and be whatever they want to be.

That’s the kind of pipeline we want to develop in the state of Iowa, every day we are seeing it grow.

And then Future Ready Iowa is kind of the next step, building on helping Iowans to see the opportunities that exist within our state. There are multiple different paths for different careers, and again a bunch of stakeholders came together to work on this. It passed the floor of the House yesterday 98-0. So it is an exciting thing for Iowans.

It’s interesting that you hit all 99 counties in the state, talk about what you see from an entrepreneurial perspective throughout Iowa

KR – That’s where you start to connect the dots and see the ecosystem that we have in place. Right here in the metro area, we’ve got great things going on, but when I can go to Emmetsburg or Pocahontas and they have spaces for entrepreneurs to work together, bouncing ideas off each other, I continue to see that happening all across the state in small and larger communities. It’s really important to make that environment accessible to Iowans no matter where they live.

And also we need to know what’s not working. I was telling them, I’m not here just to hear the good stuff. I need to know if something is not working because collectively we can’t fix it if we don’t know where the problems are.

What are some of those areas we can improve on?

KR – We can’t become complacent and can’t be satisfied with the status quo. We’ve worked on regulatory environment, we’re working on supporting the innovative and entrepreneurial system. Our tax structure is probably the next thing we need to take a look at.

This is an opportunity to address that in a reasonable and sustainable manner to make us more competitive. And then broadband, we are not where we need to be and if we want young people to stay in our communities, you have to have the connectivity to do that. That’s something we need to enhance.

Any examples?

KR – As small businesses and startups, I’m sure you are always worried about having the employees that you need to continue to grow and expand. That’s how Future Ready Iowa fits into that, to ensure we have a pipeline of talent ready to meet your needs.

Health insurance is something that we are working on with the legislature and with Congress.

Small business owners are struggling with workforce and then when you compound that with the escalating cost of healthcare, they want to provide that for employees but they just can’t. So that tends to exasperate the situation because they are not competitive. So that’s another area we need to work on.

It’s killing small businesses and startups. The legislature is working on an association plan that would group different companies and industries and help make healthcare more affordable.

And I said in the Condition of the State address that healthcare is something Washington needs to fix, regardless of what that looks like. It’s not working right now but we can’t wait. It’s hard enough to find workers right now, and when you can’t be competitive in providing them the benefits that they need, it’s another disadvantage for some of our small businesses and startups.

How can we continue to bring the sharpest minds our way here in Iowa?

KR – I think we have them and the more we can expose them. We talk about the skills gap and being willing to take the risk to invest and start a new business, it’s also a people problem. That’s one of the benefits of the number one state ranking. It says to all of the country that we are a great place to live, work and raise a family.

What are some of the areas I can go make an impact to fuel this rural revitalization?

KR – It’s really important to see growth in every corner of our state, we can’t just have it in pockets, that’s not really growing the state. We have amazing things happening in our Capitol City and the communities that surround us, but we want to have that same kind of dynamic energy and growth all over.

I’ve tasked the Lt. Governor with really leading and strengthing the Rural Iowa Initiative to bring entrepreneurs and people from all over the state to figure out what we need to do to drive investment in rural Iowa.

I talked about broadband connectivity and that’s another big piece of that. But really a big piece that I see in communities that are successful is the leadership. We want to make sure we are building that next generation of leaders in communities all across the state. We need to have the infrastructure in place to give them the confidence and ability to take an idea and turn it into a successful business.

How do you connect them all and keep resources flowing between them?

KR – It’s important to have them all at the table and really part of the dialogue first of all because they all bring a different perspective and are very valuable parts of the conversation.

The thing we need to be careful about is, we tend to have an idea and we fund that. Then somebody has another idea, and we fund that. And pretty soon we’ve taken our limited resources and scattered them across so many areas we can’t collectively have an impact and make a difference.

So even with Future Ready Iowa, this is not some new program, we’ve looked at all the existing programs and identified programs that were working and are going to take those, enhance or tweak them, then scale them.

That’s something we need to be careful about because anytime you are spread so thin, a lot of times you have duplication. And when you have duplication you are not really utilizing limited resources in the most efficient manner.

And the other thing that is so critical, is the public/private partnerships. Not just about money but businesses need equipment, visiting the classroom, helping educators find what the workforce needs to look like. Sometimes teachers have never been in the work side of it, they’ve only been in academia. So getting teachers in your business come back into that classroom energized and passionate about what that looks like to help kids be ready for it.

How have you viewed your career with a taste of entrepreneurship?

KR – I take a risk every day too, you think you have a good idea and sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not. That’s just part of what I do each day.

I worked in a County Treasurers office and come from the private sector and I am a little bit of a change agent. I like looking at how we can do things differently. And I spent a lot of time sharing those ideas with my husband. The current treasurer decided not to run and I was sharing that with my husband. And he said, ‘Well Kim, either you run for office and implement all those ideas you’ve been sharing with me or I do not want to hear another word.’

I just thought what a great opportunity to take those ideas and put them into action. Good or bad at least I was trying it. It was rewarding.

And someday, I hope I get to own my own business. I don’t know what industry, I have to find a problem and solve it that’s what I have to do first but both of my brothers are small business owners. I really just have a lot of respect, I’ve seen their business grow and go through hard times. I would just like to do that with my three daughters, I think that would be really neat to either kill each other or be successful.

That would be fun.

What do you read and what would be your theme song?

KR – I don’t read anything fun, there’s a lot of information I read to understand the tax code. But for a theme song, Carrie Underwood just came out with a new song and in the video, it has the University of Iowa and the wave with the Children’s Hospital.

It basically is just a motivational song to keep going and not be held back.

We had a bunch of young people with us and they played that song. I said to those 19 year-olds that it’s like the song by Helen Reddy I am women and they all asked who was that.

So I have to up my game.

What are some new technologies that you find interesting?

KR – One of the things they talked about at the National Governors Association came together, they talked a lot about AI and about blockchain.

I’m really fascinated about learning more on that and think it will really have an impact. That’s something I want to learn more about and maybe it can be an area we can lead.

Share a few closing remarks and something that inspires you to move people through the rest of the week

KR – You guys are inspiring, so thanks for being who you are and doing what you do. I mean that…It drives my passion and inspires me.

Please, we want to be a partner. Don’t hesitate to reach out and help us be better.