Maple Ventures hires first director, plans next phase

Ramco Innovations set to triple space available to startups

Entrepreneur support center Maple Ventures is moving into its next phase with the announcement of its first full-time director and plans to triple the amount of space available to industrial technology companies at Ramco Innovations.

Renovations are underway to convert one of three buildings at Ramco’s West Des Moines location to house Maple Ventures. The new space, expected to open in early 2023, will give entrepreneurs more space to do office work and develop and test prototypes while maintaining a connection with the technology distributor.

Maple Ventures’ new “tinker” space, for example, will be connected to Ramco’s workspace so the entrepreneurs can still easily collaborate with Ramco’s engineering teams.

Connection has been the mission of Maple Ventures since its launch in 2018. Ramco President Hank Norem told the Business Record it has served eight Iowa startups in its first four years, including MākuSafe Corp., offering the next step companies need after completing an accelerator or when they are ready to grow.

“We’re a great fit for someone who is in the basement, in the garage; they’re running out of space; they’re starting to receive products. They’re outgrowing their tinker space and need somewhere else [to go],” Norem said.

Maple Ventures aims to accelerate innovation by providing the support of Ramco’s administrative and business teams, including marketing, IT and accounting, letting entrepreneurs focus on developing their product and expanding their business.

Norem said additions to the center’s next steps will include enhanced programming like events and broadening the types of companies it works with to include any company in the industrial tech space as well as businesses that are in a later stage of growth and may have a product already developed.

“We would like to continue that process of assisting the ecosystem, helping boost innovative industrial companies and then, ultimately, help the state of Iowa grow from a manufacturing perspective,” Norem said.

“That’s still our core mission.”

He knew continuing this mission would require full-time staff dedicated to Maple Ventures.

Megan Brandt has started as director of Maple Ventures. She was previously at the Global Insurance Accelerator, where she served as program manager since 2016. One of her first responsibilities was working with then-Managing Director Brian Hemesath to build out the GIA’s accelerator program, including making connections in Iowa and around the world.

At Maple Ventures, the infrastructure is in place, and she will be shifting to a role of providing a constant environment of support for industrial entrepreneurs.

“You learn how to build a program for founders pretty fast by trial and error,” Brandt said. “The way they communicate, the things they need, how to build something for them to thrive in, so I get to actually test it here.”

Norem said having Brandt as a full-time director will allow Maple Ventures to keep a pulse on the startup community and pick up on specific needs that it can help fill with new programming or services.

“It was really important for us to have somebody that was already plugged into the startup ecosystem, which is why we brought Megan on,” he said. “She … has experience in the ecosystem [and is] passionate about industrial companies. We aren’t going to have a cohort but we are going to have a setup here that fosters growth for companies, which is no different than GIA.”

Once the new space is ready, Maple Ventures will also be looking to collaborate with other organizations in the ecosystem like accelerators to recruit companies in need of space and services after completing the program.

Brandt said Maple Ventures having the next step for startups already paved creates more opportunity to bring out-of-state startups into the Iowa ecosystem.

A key role of Maple Ventures for Norem has been keeping Iowa’s manufacturing pipeline brimming with new, innovative companies to maintain the strength of existing industrial companies and Iowa’s significant manufacturing GDP.

“We are already supporting [the manufacturing industry] on the established company side,” Norem said. “This is [Ramco’s] way to come full circle and work with startups and early stage companies.”

Ramco and Maple Ventures’ “symbiotic relationship” is an example of the benefits a startup and an existing manufacturer can exchange. Working with entrepreneurs helps Ramco keep up on emerging technologies and startups seek the advice and mentorship of existing and larger businesses as they seek growth and investors.

“[Large manufacturers] are supportive of startup manufacturers as well because it makes them stronger,” he said. “It puts more innovators into our state and into our system and it ultimately helps everyone grow, small and large companies.”