Techstars Demo Day ‘energizes’ Iowa startup community

Inside the intimate auditorium at the Science Center of Iowa, an audience of startup community partners, members and investors displayed their energy and excitement for the 2021 Techstars Iowa cohort at the Demo Day event Wednesday.

Founders from the 10 companies each spent three minutes pitching their concepts and sharing the progress they achieved during the 90-day accelerator.

The startups spanned industries from CaseCTRL’s AI-powered surgery scheduling tool to Voxable and Flyte’s workflow solutions.

Ben McDougal, head of ecosystem development at Techstars Iowa, said as “importing and exporting knowledge and talent” becomes easier, so does creating a more connected circle of entrepreneurs and community supporters.

Although nine of the 10 startups are from outside Iowa, he said their being in the state and engaging with Iowa’s startup community the last 12 weeks grounds their relationships to Iowa and the local business community.

“Inviting companies to build within our Iowa entrepreneur ecosystem is not only easier than ever, it also gives them a chance to lean into the best of what we have in our state,” McDougal said. “The collaboration [between startups and existing businesses] allows everyone to do more with less, whether that’s having clients in Des Moines and around Iowa, having a physical presence in our state or allowing early adopters to have the first look at emerging technology and fresh platforms that can solve their problems.”

Connecting community members who are involved with startups in different ways and from different places also reinforces enthusiasm to support entrepreneurship, McDougal said.

“Quite a few folks traveled from around Iowa to participate, and so that generosity and interest in what’s happening in this program is not just one-sided,” he said. “That collaborative, creative approach exists all around us, and the more we connect the dots, the more awareness we can have and opportunity to collaborate to build through this positive sum where [there is] this mindset of if you win, we win. I think that’s something that Iowa is ahead of the curve on and continues to build in.”

Three of the companies did have experience in the Midwest before Techstars, though. LegalQ is based in Minneapolis, QuickHire in Wichita, Kan., and Sevelyn in Grimes.

(See a full list of the 2021 cohort and their websites)

LegalQ provides free 15-minute consultations to help people understand their rights and options in a range of legal situations. The legaltech platform unites lawyers in need of new clients with the 60% of American households that have an ongoing legal issue at any given time.

QuickHire is also focused on solutions for underserved issues and communities.

With a shortage of workers, especially in service industries, CEO and co-founder Deborah Gladney said QuickHire couldn’t have launched at a better time.

The career discovery platform differentiates itself from other job sites by focusing on the retail, hotel and restaurant sectors and providing targeted guidance so job seekers can launch a fulfilling career rather than find the next in a string of jobs that aren’t the right fit.

Having launched in Wichita and Kansas City, Gladney said QuickHire doesn’t have plans to leave the Midwest anytime soon.

“We pride ourselves on being overlooked founders, serving overlooked workers in an overlooked geographic region,” she said. “The Midwest is our focus, like we have no desire to bolt out quickly to the coast. We feel like the coasts are very well served. And I think that a lot of the solutions out there weren’t built with the Midwest in mind.”

The startup surveys its users about the types of jobs they want and is considering targeting other blue-collar professions like agriculture. As a startup founded by two Black women, Gladney said she is excited for QuickHire to soon announce its first institutional raise, making it one of fewer than 100 startups led by Black women to do so.