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Ben Milne’s 2019 Forecast


Hopes for our community in 2019

This year was a bit of a blur. Many of you likely feel the same way. Looking back at that blur, reflection can be quite difficult. Looking forward, thinking about how we improve can also be somewhat exhausting at times. Our community did a lot right in 2018 and I also think we’re entering a new, more mature, phase.

Jake asked me to write a bit about hopes that I had for the community in 2019 and it took a while to get enough headspace to consider the question. These types of blogs can be self-serving and feel a bit like someone shouting from a soapbox.

Saying a thing doesn’t mean much. Doing a thing though, can mean everything. The humbling part about trying so hard to be a part of a growing a community is accepting that doing a thing doesn’t really mean it’ll work. Doing a new thing is the risk we take in hopes that it’ll create value.

This article is me doing a thing. Sharing where I hope we go next year, together.

More connectivity

We need to increase the number of our connections. Inside and outside of our communities.

While Dwolla has continued to push on Monetery for this purpose. It’s not enough, and I’m grateful for the events TAI and the DSM Partnership have continued. One of these days maybe we can even convince Dare Mighty Things to bring an event here. These events draw incredible attention to the community but more importantly it creates connections that give folks here opportunities they never would have had otherwise.

I met a number of people who helped change my trajectory in the early Dwolla days through SPN focused events and serendipitous moments. This stuff is happening all over the state. From Entrefest to R3. We need more of it and while I recognize there is a critical mass to events that create connectivity, I don’t think we’ve hit the apex yet.

Less barriers

Everywhere you can, remove a barrier. Everywhere you can, don’t ask yourself what would make a team feel good but what information they need to have to do their job better.

Knowledge barriers and knowing what’s next in a deal, or anything else, can hold people and ideas back. We need to work more openly together to continually remove barriers for teams in the community, no matter what they are working on. A great example of the impact this can have is happening in Ames. Company after company is now coming out of Ames, building teams, earning customers, and paving their own way.

My contribution to this lately has been The One Page Term Sheet. This was a bit of a challenge to myself to consider what barrier I could help remove. I’m working on a deal right now and I’m going to use the one page term sheet. There are hundreds of similar items that I’m hopeful our community will learn to give away, so to speak.

Giving the thing away helps remove barriers for others. Removing barriers for others helps us all grow and iterate faster. In some cases that means fail faster and that’s ok. As long as what we learn is also distributed back into the community, we all get better.

When knowledge is hoarded it might benefit 1-2 people, but we need far more than 1-2 people to do really well so our community can grow. We need entire teams and towns to grow.

More giving

I always bite myself with this because I end up actually taking on more than I can handle when I jump into time with the community. I’ve always struggled with too much or too little but I’ll keep struggling with it this year because I know it’s important.

It’s always a fine line but I’d just encourage everyone to give first. To give an hour to mentor someone who isn’t paying you. To give feedback to a peer in another organization that will benefit them, but not you.

Taking time to elevate others when you have the opportunity to bring people together does more than you can imagine for those who you elevate. No matter how high you climb, you’re always chasing someone or something and we all need a little help once in a while.

Our community is going to grow, and I can’t help but feel as though the leaders who also act as teachers in the community are going to benefit the greater good.  

More Reporting

One of the reasons this organization was created was to cover stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told. It’s absolutely imperative that it continues, with other news outlets like the newly created Innovation Iowa newsletter at the Business Record, to ensure that the greatest discoveries our community has can be discovered by those outside of the community.

The media is the megaphone that shares what’s best about our communities. I’m hopeful we’ll see more from the Des Moines Register this year in terms of tech coverage. Not only because people want to read it but it brings jobs to our communities and those jobs result in readers.

I helped start Clay & Milk and will continue to send it early news and share stories I think are meaningful. I do this because I think the community is still underserved. There are still great technology stories going untold and I’m hopeful we will start seeing more localized publications pop up in IC/Ames/CF this year. More innovations being shared, wherever they are, make it more likely they’ll be discovered.

For example, if the events leading to Banno’s sale were more widely and locally reported from founding to exit, there would have been a lot of learning lessons for the rest of us. First things first though, someone has to report on what is going.

If/when great innovations are discovered, they might grow. If they grow, they create jobs. If they can learn to do that outside of city centers maybe we start moving the needle on some of the issues with job growth in rural communities right now.

More early stage deal flow

This is one I struggle with but I’d be really excited if someone did the following… I see a constant gap in process/funding between post accelerator and $1M in ARR. For companies who don’t have family money to pull from, it’s often the gap that requires them to leave the state.

In an ideal world, we’d see this solved through a $10M seed fund that deploys $1-$2M per year, not solely focused on Iowa but based here. This means it’s a 5 year fund and likely would do $50K-$100K checks to anchor a round. The fund would also likely standardize the paper for deals that happen later. And yes, that’s not a big enough fund to warrant a big management fee so you’d have to have an operator who cares deeply about the community and making sure the terms and companies are right. That’s a very special person.

While I lack the funds and the time to pull something like that off, I’m hopeful someone locally runs with it and enjoys tremendous returns.

The confidence to celebrate one anothers wins.

Small communities come with odd things. Sometimes petty things. We forget to celebrate our peers and get eager about competing with one another rather than helping one another. That inward focus and competition can be as unhealthy in communities as it can be at home.

This manifests itself in really unhealthy ways and I’m hopeful in 2019 we can all work to be honest with one another to celebrate the wins and learn from the losses together.

At some point we’ll feel like we’re celebrating too much and that’s a good indication we’re succeeding together. The parties will get paired back so we don’t miss the next quarter.

I’d like to give some special kudos to Sam Schill and Aaron Horn. Two people I’ve seen go to great lengths to support others because it helped. Outside of Des Moines, I see Lesa Mitchell and Andy Stohl giving first and giving often. They constantly inspire me to be better.

As a starting point, if you’re not sure where to start, I’d encourage you to thank someone that you’ve seen celebrate the wins of others and show gratitude for that action. It’s selfless and it begets growth in the community.

All in all, I wish you all a very prosperous 2019 filled with experiences that help you grow as people. I’m hopeful those experiences include a community that gives you the safety to share what worked and didn’t so we can all grow together.


  • Gabriel Glynn
    Posted December 28, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    Some good things here, Ben. Appreciate you leading by example and giving time to other startup founders, myself included.

  • Ben Milne (@bpmilne)
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    Super excited about everything that the MakuSafe team is building. Keep it up!

  • Dave Tucker
    Posted January 2, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Great article, Ben! I agree with each point you have here, in particular encouraging others to donate their time and doing a better job of celebrating the successes of others in the community. Your article convinced me to go ahead and become a patron of this publication and I hope others will as well. Here’s to a great 2019 for everyone!

Comments are closed.

Ben Milne's 2019 Forecast | 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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