Startup Roundtable examines industry clusters, explores edtech in Iowa

Panelists Eric Engelmann, Alec Whitters and Jim Sherlock speak at the TAI Startup Roundtable on June 11. Photo courtesy of Technology Association of Iowa.

The Technology Association of Iowa (TAI) yesterday hosted a Startup Roundtable in Coralville.

It was an interactive panel and group discussion that looked at industry clusters within the state of Iowa and how companies can leverage them to their advantage.

Exploring edtech

While the subject of yesterday’s roundtable was industry clusters as a whole, the discussion largely focused on Iowa’s edtech clusters and ways in which it has room to improve.

“Iowa has a strong history in education. A lot of great education companies around it,” said Alec Whitters, CEO of Higher Learning Technologies. “I think there is opportunities for education in Iowa much more so than in other places because of the history, the talent and the people that are here.”

Whitters says going forward he hopes to see more collaboration between edtech companies than exists today in the state.

“I have a lot of people come to me and say, ‘edtech is a big thing in Iowa and we need to make this happen,'” said Whitters. “It seems like everyone wants to make it happen. It just doesn’t seem like its quite happening to the degree that it could be yet.”

Eric Engelmann, Executive Director of NewBoCo, talked about the importance of having access to capital and investors that are aligned with specific industry sectors so that investors would understand the ins and outs of the sectors so they can make good investment decisions.

“One of the projects we’re trying to do right now is building this investment fund that would be fifteen to twenty times the size of what we have right now. Part of that is finding investors who know how to navigate specific industries and have the right connections,” said Engelmann. “Because that doesn’t exist here today. If you want to raise $10 million dollars, there’s people who invest, but there’s no fund you go to that knows the [education] sector.”

Fintech and agtech in Iowa

Two panel attendees — Ben Rempe and Amos Peterson — shared their experiences on their respective industry clusters, fintech and agtech.

“There’s a long history of fintech in Des Moines that goes way back,” said Ben Rempe, COO of LenderClose. “I was fortunate that I knew a lot of people so when it was time for us to get LenderClose going we had all the right connections and people already there. I lot of that was luck for us. The cluster was there. A lot of the people who helped Dwolla get going were the same people who helped us get going.”

“We’re technically headquartered in Iowa City but I spend most of my productive time in the Des Moines area,” said Amos Peterson, CEO of FarrPro. “They have an accelerator network and mentors coming out of the woodwork. Somehow I created a company in Iowa City and all of my help ended up coming from a different area.”

Save the date

The next Startup Roundtable will take place Aug. 19 at Gravitate Coworking Downtown from 3 – 5 pm.