CYstarters turn out final pitches at 2018 celebration

“Diverse” would be one way to describe the field of 15 startups leaving their final impressions on the 2018 CYstarters cohort during Wednesday’s last pitch. “Distinctive” fits all 19 founders.

From a wireless boombox design to the making of a wedding reception tablescape, Iowa State University graduates and students showed off their progress from the accelerator’s 10 weeks.

The event’s surprise twist added $5,000 to the mix: an extra $1,000 award to five startups, judged by ‘secret investors’ in the crowd. Participants in the program already receive $6,500 per individual founder, or up to $13,000 per student team, to cover living and business expenses throughout the program.

“It’s all because of David Spalding,” said Judi Eyles, director of the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship.

Spalding, dean of ISU College of Business, offered CYstarters the extra cash for student awards at the CYstarters Celebration and final pitches.

“I said, ‘great, let’s make it a surprise,’” Eyles said.

It was a sweet finish for the six students representing their startups – and for the cohort as a whole, which Eyles said had taken their businesses a long way from the accelerator’s start in May.

“When you really got down to having them explain what their business was, there were a lot of them that really didn’t know how they were going to make money, didn’t know how they were going to build a team and what their product would actually look like,” Eyles said. “To get them to where we were today in 11 weeks and have them very succinctly explain what they’re doing, there was a lot of work for a lot of them.”

A workshop on the “triple bottom line” social, environmental and financial business framework, featuring Riley Resource Group CEO Bob Riley, Sawmill Hollow Farms Farmer-in-Chief Andrew Pittz and Workiva delivery manager Kathy Dubansky, also changed the way some participants organized their businesses.

“A lot of them really took that to heart,” Eyles said. “They really started to think about their business a little bit differently.”

Rebecca Lyons, founder of Lunchsox and one of the student award-winners on Wednesday, built a philanthropic mission into her cozy socks company from the get-go: 100 percent of Lunchsox profits go toward providing meals for food-insecure children.

“I know everybody’s been working hard, and it’s just really exciting to know … I would get to see what everybody was doing come to fruition, and get a little bit of [a] spotlight to see what they’re doing in the community. There’s lots of cool stuff happening with CYstarters,” Lyons said.

Lyons has a major in agricultural studies and minor in entrepreneurship, will graduate ISU and start her master’s degree in 2018-2019. She has ambitious plans for Lunchsox, which are coming to life: from the company launch in November 2017 to January 2018, Lunchsox has provided 3,000 meals for kids, and Lyons is targeting to provide one million meals by 2020.

She’s also moving from retailing wholesale socks to a “farm to foot” model, aiming to source wool from Midwestern sheep farmers and partner with a regional sock factory.

“I see business as an agent of social change, and so I think socks were a really easy starting point, because it’s a piece of apparel that people buy repetitively, and a lot of, so I knew I could have return customers,” Lyons said. “I knew the reason behind selling socks wasn’t just to have a sock company, but the reason was to really be doing something to have a positive impact in the world. I saw that school lunches would be a great way to make that happen.”


Alumni Cohort Awards – $1,500

Steven Brockshus,

Clayton Mooney, KinoSol and Nebullam


Student Awards – $1,000

Rebecca Lyons, Lunchsox

Jacob McClarnon and Anthony House, Home Painter

Srdjan Pavelic, Aloha 21st Century Boomboxes

Steven Abramsky, Lotus

Joe Stanton, Ash Avenue Prints


Cohort 2018 members

Pavelic, Aloha 21st Century Boomboxes

Stanton, Ash Avenue Prints

Nick Hyla, Cody Alexander and Ben Schwarz, CNB Games

Michael Hanstad and Tyler Devos, Deadeye BBQ

Ryan True, Full Circle Living

McClarnon and House, Home Painter

Dawit Tilahun, LivSuite

Abramsky, Lotus

Lyons, Lunchsox

Max Gangestad, Minerals to Algae

Morgan Muller, Riverside Events

Jack Nichols, Spotlight

Ashley Jones, Swoon Event Studio

Anthony Swindell and Ethan Walsweer, Up the Ante Productions

Mikaela Stanley, Woof Rider

Aug. 15: This story has been updated. A CyStarters workshop on the “triple bottom line” featured Bob Riley of the Riley Resource Group, Kathy Dubanksy of Workiva, and Andrew Pittz of Sawmill Hollow Farms.