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EntreFEST 2019

Cedar Rapids became an entrepreneurial hub last week as entrepreneurs, business owners, software developers and other professionals gathered for EntreFEST 2019.

The two-day conference, which ran Thursday and Friday, offered attendees a combination of presentations and panels at several venues, hosted by nearly 50 businesses throughout Cedar Rapids.

Here are some highlights from the event:

Jerry Greenfield tells origin of Ben & Jerry’s

Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, delivered EntreFEST’s first keynote Thursday morning.

 Greenfield shared how he turned a storefront venture into a $300 million ice cream empire by making social responsibility and creative management into strengths instead of weaknesses.

Greenfield emphasized the powerful influence businesses like Ben and Jerry’s can have in using their voice to advocate for social issues.

“There is a spiritual aspect to business just as there is to the lives of individuals,” Greenfield said. “As you give, you receive. As you help others, you are helped in return. And just because the idea that the good that you do comes back to you is written in the Bible and not in some business textbook doesn’t make it any less valid.”

Venture School Launch Day

The University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center held its Venture School Launch Day event in conjunction with EntreFEST on Thursday night.

Venture School Launch Day highlighted eight standout Venture School alumni from the 2018/2019 year. The eight startups each had six minutes to pitch their businesses to a panel of judges followed by a four-minute Q&A.

First place was given to Immersive Development Reality who took home the $10,000 first place prize. Second Place was given to Boundry who took home $5,000. The six other startups that pitched each received $1,000.

Click here to learn more about the eight startups that pitched at Launch Day.

Placemaking in rural America

Zachary Mannheimer, principal community placemaker at Clive-based McClure Engineering, spoke about how rural America has significant potential to grow with new residents as populations along the coast become more and more saturated.

Mannheimer said that in order to prepare for larger populations, officials in rural communities need to begin to seek out purposeful innovation now.

“There’s this psychology about folks in rural areas,” he said. “‘Poor rural, we’ve got to wait for the big stuff, that’s for cities, that’s not for us.’ We can do it here and we can do it better.”

Escaping “The Build Trap

Melissa Perri, founder of Produx Labs, talked about how large companies can often fall into a dangerous place she called “The Build Trap.”

Perri shared how product teams and organizations can restructure their thinking to focus on finding value for the user through experimentation to achieve business goals.

Attendees received a free copy of her book, Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Mangement Creates Real Value.

Things no one tells you about owning your own business

Meegan Hofmeister, founder of The Dostal House, spoke about the unspoken hardships that can come with owning a business.

She shared the ups and downs of her experience opening up a retail store that she ended up closing after running for three years.

“I went into that business with my best friend and we had two very different commitment levels,” said Hofmeister.” And very quickly I had a better understanding of the business than what my business partner did and that started to be a wedge.”

Hofmeister now runs and owns The Dostal House, a retail, coworking and event space for women located in Cedar Rapids.

EntreFEST 2019 | 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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