Mason Cook recently started a new position as the Director of gener8tor’s gBETA Beloit accelerator in Wisconsin. Cook joined the gener8tor team after a seven-year career in business development and entrepreneurship in Des Moines. Previously owning a successful contracting business and later working for high-growth tech startup Dwolla, Mason now brings valuable experience to startups in gBETA as they thoughtfully build their business foundation and craft their message.
As a community builder and startup advocate, Mason believes that startup founders fail in isolation and instead need to have a community of people to be a part of and learn from. He is passionate about connecting entrepreneurs and helping build vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Our Q&A is below:
You recently started a new position as Director of gBETA Beloit at gener8tor. Can you talk a little about what your new role consists of and how you’re settling into the position?
gBETA is a free accelerator for early-stage startups. I have the best job working with startups and helping them build the foundations of their business to be “venture-backable.” gBETA is unique because we work exclusively with local startups without investing or taking fees. As director of the program, I develop the programming, plan logistics, coach the cohort companies and build relationships with folks focused on the startup ecosystem. I’d say it’s a 50/50 split between planning logistics and coaching.
Settling into the role and a new community has been fun because my role consists of meeting and working with the movers and shakers. Each day is different and an opportunity to make a meaningful impact.
What qualities/skillsets do you look for when accepting companies into the accelerator?
Team and dream. I’m looking for obsessed founders that are coachable and have the aptitude to execute on their idea. The team also needs to have a big enough dream to get folks excited about it.
2019 was a huge year for accelerators here in Iowa. What role do accelerators play in startup ecosystems?
Accelerators find the best startups in a community and work diligently to align resources helping the startups go further faster. In addition to the individual benefits for participating startups, accelerators have ripple effects on a startup ecosystem by increasing investment deal flow, inspiring corporate innovation, and bringing growth capital into a community.
Prior to your current position, you worked at Dwolla and as an organizer of 1MC Des Moines. Could you talk a little about your time there and the impact it had on you as a community builder?
Both experiences gave me direct insight into how great Des Moines is. The talent pool in Des Moines is on par with the best in the world whether that’s an individual software engineer or a startup competing in the global market. There is healthy competition within the community that drives people to play bigger.
From my time organizing 1 Million Cups, I learned that everyone, especially entrepreneurs, need to be a part of a community. Being an entrepreneur is a lonely roller coaster and it’s near impossible to succeed at it without a support system. Unhappy, isolated founders have a hard time succeeding.
As it relates to building a community, the leadership at Dwolla taught me how diversity fuels innovation. Communities that are diverse and welcoming to all ideas go further. This was a concept I wasn’t able to learn being a white male from a homogeneous rural town, and I’m proud to have been a part of a company that practices what they preach.
Where does the Midwest startup ecosystem have the most room for growth?
Startup density. People tend to be the sum of their close environment. The Midwest’s biggest opportunity is to create a community that consistently connects founders allowing them to organically accelerate each other and transfer knowledge through osmosis.
Locally in Des Moines, Gravitate has created an environment that supports osmosis and there are several successful founders that are intentionally mentoring new startups. The opportunity ahead is to incentivize greater startup density.
What does the Midwest startup ecosystem look like in five years?
I believe in the next 5 years, we will see more startups and venture capital dollars leaving coastal cities in favor of Midwestern capital efficiency. Because the cost of living is less in the Midwest compared to the coasts, startups are able to go further with their money at an early stage and beyond. For venture capitalists, this means more realistic valuations and a higher multiple on invested capital.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Ask for help more.
Are there any additional thoughts or comments you have on startup ecosystems or community building you’d like to share?
We overestimate what we can accomplish in 1 year but underestimate what we can accomplish in 5 years once we get started. The only thing that really matters is getting started.