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HowFactory: Changing how organizations store and distribute knowledge

In 2014, Trace Steffen saw a market for streamlining the way companies create, store, and document their company’s standard operating procedures and training materials when he began to notice the absurd amount of binders and filing cabinets that were bulging with paper documents.

After sitting on the problem for a while, he decided to start HowFactory.

Headquartered in Cedar Falls, Iowa, HowFactory is a software as a service company that provides a cloud-based app which gives users the tools they need to create, store, and document their company’s standard operating procedures and training materials.

HowFactory’s web app simplifies document creation by using technologies like drag-and-drop and speech-to-text. The apps also gives employees the tools to collaborate on procedures allowing companies better capture and use the specific knowledge that the front-line manufacturing workers have.

Starting out strong

 2015 was a big year for HowFactory.

After participating in the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s inaugural cohort, HowFactory was awarded a $50,000 investment from Built by Iowa on launch day because of their excellent launch day presentation.

They followed that up by being the first ever Iowa company to be accepted into the Tech Crunch’s Startup Battlefield in New York City in 2015.

They swept the awards at EntreFest, beating out over 100 startups the Dream Big, Grove Here competition.

And then they won Silicon Prairie News ‘New Startup of the Year’ award that same year.

Within that same year, HowFactory went from 0 to 5 employees and having no software to a web app in the market. It was a busy year to say the least.

Executing on delivering the product

“After that we went quiet and started building our product,” said Steffen, CEO and co-founder of HowFactory. “And that’s really when things started to click for us. We knew we were on the right track because of the attention we were grabbing, but at that point it was an execution game and we had to figure out how to execute. That’s really what 2016 and 2017 were all about for us.”

HowFactory now has active users in 139 cities across the United States.

“We’re at this really neat point where we’re really proud of what we’ve done and things are really on a nice curve for us,” said Steffen. “We’re extremely excited about the next 3-4 years of HowFactory and seeing what opportunities present themselves to us.”

HowFactory: Changing how organizations store and distribute knowledge | 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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