Guest post by Jay Cooper. Jay is an entrepreneur and ecosystem builder based in Iowa City. He’s organized Startup Weekend Iowa City and 1 Million Cups Iowa City since 2018, and helped create Startup Weekend Iowa Online in 2021. His startup, Cider Finder, works to bring together cider makers and enthusiasts through technology, over one of America’s favorite beverages.
If I had to condense the prediction for myself and for entrepreneurship in Iowa City in 2022 down to one word, it would be: education. Education for entrepreneurs, with entrepreneurs, and through entrepreneurs will be key for moving Iowa City and eastern Iowa forward in the coming year. The foundation for this has already been created in the past few years, and 2022 will be the year that our startup community and I build heavily on this theme.
You’re probably familiar with a number of the education and edtech focused startups, companies, and organizations based in Iowa City and the surrounding area that form the foundation for my prediction. Some of the bigger names that come to mind are Higher Learning Technologies, Pear Deck, and ACT. In addition, the Iowa EdTech Collaborative formed a couple of years back to begin to create a cohesive localized cluster in this sector, and the EdTech Accelerator in 2020 had a great deal of success while facing the challenges of running a program of that nature at the very beginning of the pandemic. Startup Weekend Iowa City joined in the mix in 2021 with a novel, education-focused event which highlighted both the creation of ed-tech startups and training interested educators on the basics of starting a new business, so they could pass that information on to their students at local high schools.
Speaking of Startup Weekend Iowa City, two startups that originated from that program have recently been accepted into the Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator, a program supported locally by the Iowa City Area Development Group that provides funding for new and super early-stage startups to launch their ideas and prime them for early growth and possible eventual fundraising. Michael Quinn began his journey with Spatial, formerly Hippocamp, at Startup Weekend Iowa City in 2018, and Nicole Williams created her startup B Sharp during the 2021 event. Beginning-stage, or “front door” startup events like Startup Weekend Iowa City, the Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator, and 1 Million Cups are the key for embracing and educating new entrepreneurs, and Iowa City has led the way in creating opportunities for both new and seasoned entrepreneurs to both learn and teach.
While the Iowa City startup community is making great strides, both in creating and nurturing education-focused businesses and promoting “front door” startup events that help to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs, I am personally working on projects focused on entrepreneurial education, locally and globally. Locally, I continue to help organize both Startup Weekend Iowa City each July, as well as an online statewide version of the program, Startup Weekend Iowa Online, in January. Bringing that program online across the state has revived the passion for creating in-person weekends across the state in the coming year among my partners in that project. Beyond Startup Weekend, I am planning a handful of other major projects and events that focus on educating and inspiring entrepreneurs, here in eastern Iowa and beyond. Look for more news and announcements about those in the next few months.
Outside Iowa, I’m working with two entrepreneurs in Africa through the Mandela Washington Fellowship Reciprocal Exchange to create a curriculum built around the Business Model Canvas and many of the concepts covered in Startup Weekend, to streamline the process of creating and testing new startups and small businesses in Uganda. This will be a fantastic experience for the group of entrepreneurs hand-picked by my African partners, and will eventually translate into a program that can be developed locally for underserved and overlooked entrepreneurs in our state and our region of the country. We’re going to be running this program from mid-July to mid-August, and it is probably the most exciting project I’ve helped build since I began my entrepreneurial journey.
Overall, this year is set to be an amazing year for our startup community and the statewide entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole. While there are challenges outside our control – the supply chain issues, staffing shortages, and fluctuations in the markets – much of what is going to make our local area shine should be relatively unaffected. There are a great number of people locally and statewide working on groundbreaking products and services to educate entrepreneurs and educate the masses, and my hope is that they receive the recognition they deserve over the coming year. We have a lot to be proud of here at home, but there’s still a lot of work to do, so let’s get to it!