Startup Stories: Megan Vollstedt of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator Megan Vollstedt (right) talks with Mike Colwell of the Greater Des Moines Partnership Wednesday during a live recording of the Startup Stories podcast.

 

As a student at Iowa State University, Megan Vollstedt needed to meet an internship requirement. As she looked for opportunities, an Ames-based company Web Filings had a simple application process, only asking for a resume.

“So I thought that’s simple, I will throw my resume at that one,” Vollstedt says. “I got the interview the next week and walked out with an offer, so that started my internship.”

Vollstedt would spend over six years at Workiva before being named the Executive Director of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator last June. On Wednesday, she was a guest on the Startup Stories podcast with Mike Colwell of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. There are two new Startup Stories podcasts released each month; one is recorded live on the third Wednesday of every month.

Vollstedt and Colwell spoke for nearly 25 minutes on the start of her career, being part of the growth at Workiva, leadership and transitioning to the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator. Then they took questions from the audience for another 15 minutes.

The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator will launch its second cohort on May 29.

Their conversation is below, and has been edited for conciseness:

You were one of the first 100 people at Web Filings, now Workiva has 1,300 employees. How did you originally find Workiva?

MV: I was a junior at Iowa State starting to look for internships and I was searching for something that was communications, writing, editing, advertising, marketing, applying to a lot that required cover letters and samples of your writing and references.

I happened to stumble upon one that only wanted a resume so I thought that’s simple I will throw my resume at that one. It was Web Filings for an internal communications intern. I got the interview the next week and walked out with an offer, so that started my internship.

I was looking for an opportunity to develop my practical skills and my talents in writing and communications. That fit the bill and happened to be good timing for them.

What did you find out about Workiva when you got there?

MV: A lot of it was the responsibility I was given, that was thrilling. And I think that in a startup you experience that, where you wear many hats and have a lot of responsibility. For the role I was hired for, I was the only person working on that area. I was developing the content for the intranet and building the internal communications processes.

I had internal teams to rely on but it was just me and I really loved that responsibility.

Workiva grew rapidly in your six years, what was the culture like and how did it change?

MV: The culture is still the number one priority for Workiva, that is a huge piece of working there and a benefit. When I joined we had nerf wars, there were rubber duckies everywhere and you would do all employee company lunches and meetings.

Did you manage others?

MV: I did, I had interns, full-timers, small-scale but I did manage and also went through the employee lifecycle to hiring, managing and firing.

It is such a very self-aware experience, you learn a lot about yourself managing anybody of course, I think it’s a great experience for people to have because you learn so much about yourself and how you can help others.

How did you go from corporate communications to director of an accelerator?

MV: I spent a good amount of time being introspective my last year at Workiva and as in most cases, I had good timing and good luck to find my next step.

I was looking for a challenge, I’m a lifelong learner and I was not done being challenged professionally. I wanted to continue to grow so I decided to spend some time to look for very meaningful work and what I could use my abilities to help others.

My original connection was through Megan Brandt at the Global Insurance Accelerator. She’s a good friend of mine and I worked with her at Workiva. I got to know a lot about how an accelerator works and working with startups at an early stage. I also got to know Brian Hemesath that way too.

Once the AgriTech Accelerator advertised for an executive director I began to look at what that would take. Having some extra knowledge about what it was going to look like, I could consider it a lot more and it really fit the bill for what I was looking for.

You and Megan worked together at Workiva, let’s here the story about,“The Megan’s”

MV: We were on the communications team and were dubbed “The Megan’s” at Workiva. We also had our own email address, it was a joint email address megans@workiva.com and often it was a lot more convenient that way so nobody had to figure out which Megan did this and which one did that.

You are currently selecting the 2018 class, how’s it going?

MV: We’ve had a very good range. In AgTech it’s interesting because it can be livestock, new tractors, software, aquaculture, something in oil refinement process, it’s so broad. So it’s fascinating to see what the applicants are and what they are working on and then learn about that. The interview process is great too because we have the outside perspective of our board of directors and seven investor companies. Understanding what they think is valuable and what they think we can do for these teams in 100 days.

What will you take from 2017 that you will apply to 2018 and what will you leave behind?

MV: 2017 was definitely a building year for us, we needed to have that baseline then grow.

2018 we will just grow. I’m adding more content, we will have a better curriculum, I have more farmers as customer discovery contacts. I saw different gaps last year in our mentor pool and resources that we needed to provide, so I worked this offseason to make sure we have that.

2018 is going to be more, efficient and exciting still.

Previous Startup Stories Coverage

Startup Stories: FarrPro CEO Amos Peterson on saving baby pigs – March 22, 2018

Powerpollen: An AgTech startup turning a problem into a solution – Jan. 22, 2018

Startup Stories: Buying and selling land through Terva.Ag – Nov. 21, 2017