It’s tempting to look forward to the new year — especially after such an abysmal 2020 for so many. But before we do, let’s not forget all that happened in Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem this year.
Here are some of our most popular stories from 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the massive shift of daily life to an almost constant online presence, highlighted just how crucial broadband access is and just how much work remains in Iowa to provide adequate access.
According to BroadbandNow, Iowa ranks as the 45th best-connected state in the US. Despite relatively even broadband coverage throughout the state, speed tests reveal that Iowa’s average download speed is 47.1 Mbps, which is the second-slowest nationwide. Only Alaska’s average speed is slower than Iowa’s.
Despite Iowa’s poor ranking, efforts by the state to expand broadband access have begun to take place in recent years.
A new Des Moines based company—Roboflow—is removing the pain points that developers come across when creating computer vision and AR apps. Founded by Brad Dwyer and Joseph Nelson, Roboflow offers toolsets that make developing computer vision and AR apps easier.
This summer, the company was accepted into Y Combinator’s (YC) 2020 Summer Batch. The Summer 2020 batch of companies was the first fully remote cohort, with the ongoing pandemic leading the YC accelerator to take its program entirely virtual.
The company won third place in the 2020 Pappajohn Pitch Competition in October and was one of 14 companies that pitched at Pioneer’s Demo Day in March.
The inaugural Techstars Iowa cohort took place this year and ran for 13 weeks, beginning in September. Of the ten accepted startups, three Iowa companies—OpenLoop, Dhakai, and deetz—were accepted into the cohort.
Techstars Iowa partnered universities across the state including Grinnell College, Iowa State University, and the University of Iowa. The investment office of Grinnell College is providing the initial funding for Techstars Iowa, committing enough money to support the program through its first three years. The program was led by Techstars Iowa Managing Director, Kerty Levy along with TJ Salyars, the accelerator’s Program Manager.
On Dec. 3, the ten companies in the 2020 cohort pitched their businesses as part of Techstars Iowa 2020 Demo Day.
In March, Integrated DNA Technologies, a biotech company based in Coralville, became the first company in the nation to have coronavirus test kits approved by the UCDC. As of mid-March, IDT had already manufactured more than one million CDC-approved tests primer and probe kits.
“We are honored to be the first company in the nation to have our primer and probe kits approved by the CDC for use as a key component of the CDC EUA testing protocol for the diagnosis and detection of COVID-19,” said IDT President Trey Martin.
The company has previously developed components of tests for the Ebola and Zika viruses and H1N1.
Des Moines coffee startup BLK & Bold co-founders, Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson, won the OWBS Black Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in September.
The two received $5,000 to use toward their business as part of winning the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Cezar and Johnson launched their independent coffee and tea brand in 2018, after stepping back from established careers in retail merchandising and higher education. Earlier this year, BLK & Bold became available at Target and Whole Foods across the country, making them the first black-owned, nationally distributed coffee brand.
The company also became fully certified B Corp business this year. B Corps are businesses that use profits and growth to positively impact employees, communities, and the environment to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy. Five percent of BLK & Bold’s profits are donated to charitable initiatives, ranging from workforce development to supporting at-risk youth.
A new accelerator program launching early next month will look to fill the need for follow-on support programs for entrepreneurs who have completed one of the growing number of accelerator programs in the state.
The Iowa Go-To-Market (G2M) Accelerator is part of a $1.29 million program funded by the US Economic Development Administration as part of a Build-To-Scale grant to Iowa Innovation Corp, in partnership with Iowa State University Startup Factory and VentureNet Iowa.
The inaugural cohort will begin in early January and will last 7-8 months with a heavy emphasis on mentor engagement.