Envision Iowa takes on innovation, public-private partnerships

The Envision Iowa event on Aug. 17 dived into innovation, exploring the state of Iowa’s business ecosystem, discussing how to develop partnerships and looking at resources that keep innovative ideas moving forward.

Speakers included:

  • Keynote: Mike Ralston, president, Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI).
  • Candace Karsjens, director, NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.
  • Billi Hunt, executive director, America’s Cultivation Corridor.
  • Tej Dhawan, strategic initiatives officer, Principal Financial Group.
  • Drew Kamp, president and CEO, Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce.

Our panelists provided insight from the perspectives of different industries, risk capitalists, education institutions and rural and urban communities. The full video of their discussion is available on businessrecord.com.

Following the event, we asked them to reflect on the conversation by answering this question:

After hearing from fellow panelists, what is one takeaway about where Iowa stands on driving business opportunities on a statewide level? What kind of ecosystem should Iowa be striving for?

Dhawan: Iowa has a rich set of resources and facilities available to create new and grow existing businesses. Our greatest opportunity lies in a willingness and ability to become a welcoming and inclusive place for all. We must attract diverse and distant entrepreneurs to continue the legacies created by the small, medium and large businesses throughout our state’s history.

Hunt: Connections are key, stories from Council Bluffs to Webster City to DeWitt all shared themes. How did communities that were successful get it done? How can I learn from them to expedite the process locally? We need to work hard to connect innovations to others and listen to learn from others in order to grow faster.

Kamp: Iowa is well-positioned to drive business growth and opportunities. There are strong leaders across the state that understand the importance of collaboration and are working creatively to make things happen on a local, state, regional, national and international level. As Iowans, when we face a challenge we view it as an opportunity to learn and advance, and as we saw this session, so many stand ready to work alongside us to make meaningful change happen!

Karsjens: I believe that Iowa should have an annual or bi-annual culminating event focused on entrepreneurs and business owners of all sizes that offers opportunities to learn, network, and access resources to help them launch and grow their businesses. We need an event that brings entrepreneurs, business owners, entrepreneurial service organizations, investors, economic developers and educators together. We need to create an ecosystem where everyone feels welcome and everyone has access to the abundant resources we have in Iowa.

Ralston: There are a ton of opportunities for growth and advancement all over Iowa. It was enlightening to hear what Iowa communities, businesses and entire industries are doing to manage challenges and/or take advantage of growth opportunities. Based on what I heard from the panel and in the breakout sessions, Iowa’s business ecosystem is focused on collaboration and innovation.

Here are additional takeaways from the Business Record newsroom:

Barriers for startups in Iowa
Having more people in Iowa overall would be a big help for startups, Tej Dhawan said when asked about barriers for startups in the state. Also, the state needs to marshal its resources more effectively to assist innovative, growth-stage startup companies.

While Iowa’s secretary of state registered a record number of new small businesses last year — more than 33,000 — the subset of those businesses that are developing innovative new products and filing patents has to reach a meaningful number to achieve a critical mass, Dhawan said.

“We just don’t have that, and part of the reason we don’t have that is because our resources are spread very, very thin,” he said. One way that has been addressed is through an angel investor group, Plains Angels, that he co-founded in 2012 to help connect startup founders with potential accredited investors. It wasn’t for lack of accredited investors, but the fact that they were spread out and unknown to the founders needing capital.

“So we just decided to pull them all together into a meeting monthly and let the entrepreneurs have access to them in the same room without having to know them.” Providing that type of resource consistently over a long period of time enables those types of connections to take root and become part of the state’s business fabric, he said.

On the topic of barriers, cultural and political divisions across the population are also getting in the way of innovation and collaboration, Billi Hunt said.

“We tend to believe that my view is the right way and everyone should believe how I believe, which is stopping us from coming to the table and having conversations,” she said. “I am a strong believer that if we all just get together and start talking, we probably agree on 60% … but because we are so adamant that my view is right, you may not go have that conversation. We’re stalling collaboration; we’re stalling innovation; we’re stalling opportunities to connect people.”
— Joe Gardyasz

Panel members were asked to provide tips for collaboration. Here’s what Billi Hunt said: “The hardest thing is to check your ego at the door and [being] open to looking at things differently.”
Hunt also said that while some collaboration efforts may not immediately be beneficial, “you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. … Remember that every connection is a value, just maybe not today.”  
— Kathy A. Bolten

Continue reading the Business Record’s takeaways