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Speeko is using technology to create better public speakers

Nico Aguilar still remembers his unsuccessful attempt to give a speech in his University of Iowa rhetoric class.

“I had a full-on anxiety attack in front of my entire class and it’s taken me a lot to come back from that,” Aguilar said. “It’s something I’ve always struggled with, my anxiety and confidence with public speaking.”

That moment served as a catalyst to improve his communication skills. Aguilar worked with a public speaking coach, recorded himself and read about how to improve his speaking skill in books and online and was able to slowly get better and better.

“That journey of improving changed my life and is the spark behind starting Speeko,” Aguilar said. “We want to bring this same breakthrough to a lot more people and we think technology is a way to do that.”

Speeko uses artificial intelligence and automated speech recognition to listen to how you speak, measuring a variety of metrics including words used, the pacing, all these different factors to see if you sound professional. The app then gives you coaching specifically tailored to how you can best improve your speaking skills.

In 2017, Speeko participated in the University of Iowa’s two main competitions—the Rose Francis Elevator Pitch Competition and Business Model Competition—and won both of them. Winning the Business Model Competition advanced them to the 2018 International Business Model Competition, where they placed as semifinalists.

Last year, Speeko was one of ten companies accepted into the Techstars Chicago Class of 2018. Upon being accepted into the three-month program, the company was provided $120,000 in funding and direct access to a mentor network made up of Chicago tech investors, executives and entrepreneurs. 

“TechStars really helped us connect with a lot of founders and folks in the midwest startup ecosystem,” Aguilar said. “It just accelerated what we were able to do in a set period of time. The built-in mentorship and networks through TechStars hav proven to be really helpful and resourceful for us.”

The launch of the Speeko app was announced at TechStars Demo Day on October 4. The app offers a free tier for users and a paid subscription tier that provides more advanced analytics.

“We think of communication as the next frontier in human productivity and corporate wellness,” Aguilar said. “We want to see people improve their ability to communicate and think there’s a big wellness component in what we’re doing with Speeko.”

Speeko is using technology to create better public speakers | 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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