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Ben Milne’s TECNA keynote focuses on building strong communities

Last week, the Technology Association of Iowa hosted the TECNA 2018 Summer Conference in Des Moines. To kickoff the event, Ben Milne, founder and CEO of Dwolla, delivered the keynote speech on Wednesday morning. He talked about his history as an entrepreneur, starting Dwolla and the important aspects of building communities. Here are some of the highlights from Milne’s speech:

Consider how communities function & interact with families

Milne: I think its important that as you build communities, you actually consider how they function and how they interact with families.

Because in the tech world, there’s a lot of places you can go where raising families is really fucking hard. It’s expensive. You’ve got to send your kids to private school. You actually got to politic just to get your kids into private school. And in a lot of the communities around here, you can actually just get your kids into a normal school that’s two miles away. It’s actually really good. There are really good school systems here.

Creativity is crucial to building good communities. 

Milne: Creativity manifests itself in surprising ways. Sometimes in ways that may not be clear or are clearly connected to the technical community. I’m going to give you an example that’s a little bit uncomfortable. This is an installation that my wife did of a bunch of hanging balloons. And the number of balloons represents the number of kids who were shot in school between the first of the year and when the installation went up.

An art installation by Jami Milne in response to the recent school shootings in the United States.

Milne: This has nothing to do with technology. But it does have a lot to do with considering what type of community we want to build. Because things like this, that seem totally abstract, actually start conversations and help us think not only about our technology community, but our school systems and how we think about security. And how we think about security and how we think about protecting one another and how to respect one another has a lot to do with where we choose to live.

And I assure you, where people choose to live in the technology community has a lot to do with where they’re going to be empowered. And that empowerment comes from the ability to create. And for people like me, creation is oxygen. We just have to do it. It’s not a choice for us, we have to do it. You take it way, we leave. So the more we can do it, the more we stay, the more we create, the more we build, the more we hire, the more we express ourselves. Sometimes in uncomfortable ways, like with balloons.

Ben Milne is a co-founder of Clay & Milk.

Ben Milne's TECNA keynote focuses on building strong communities | 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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