BarcampICR, Startup Weekend, TEDx to promote entrepreneurship
By Gigi Wood
CORRIDOR – Officials have long talked about the need to retain area employers, and their talent, as well as creating an atmosphere that encourages startups.
And for years, leaders have sat in the audience, listening to Richard Florida talk about the creative class and Tony Hsieh discuss ways to deliver happiness to employees. The latest was Tom Chapman from Omaha’s chamber of commerce, addressing ways the Corridor can add more boom, and less cow, to its towns to attract and retain businesses and talent.
Meanwhile, many other speakers have been brought in to talk about regionalism, idea-sharing and creating innovation in the area.
As a result, the Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD) started hosting monthly coworking sessions called Jellys and networking events for technology workers, called Techbrews. ICAD is also working with the city ofIowa Cityto create a downtown business incubator space in theOldCapitolTownCenter. The space will be used to connect professionals in the area and hopefully spring new business ideas from those collaborations.
“We talked about the need to begin building and promoting this culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in the area,” said Mark Nolte, ICAD’s business development director. “Our (ICAD’s) board finally at one point said, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ It clicked. We had a board meeting, an investor council meeting back in February and it was, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ The time for planning was over; let’s start doing stuff.”
Now events on a larger scale are beginning to take shape. About a year ago, Corridor economic development groups jointly applied for state funds to create more of the atmosphere speakers kept telling area leaders to foster. The state funding requires a local match, so ICAD and other groups will be looking for sponsorships for its upcoming events.
“Everyone is trying to figure out what their role is collectively,” he said. “We received somewhere in the neighborhood of $78,000 to spur some of this programming, to build this entrepreneurial culture. So now we’ve got this little pot of money that we can use for things like this.”
Two more developments are Seed Here, a new company that aims to connect creative and innovative people through events and programs in the Corridor and www.iccreatives.us, a web site promoted by many of the same people. People join the site, are introduced on Twitter and connect to other creative professionals in the area.
“That’s really one of the core purposes of the site, is to connect and introduce the creative people of the Corridor to each other,” said Josh Cramer, CEO of Cramer Development, which designed the site. “I’m hearing stories now of how people have been meeting and working together.
A regional web site is in development so people can go to one place to find out about all the events and programs, Mr. Nolte said.
The first of many of these collaborative/creative/thinking events takes place this week. The Iowa Innovators and Entrepreneurs RAGBRAI Meetup will be at 6:30 p.m., July 29 at West Music,1212 Fifth St., in Coralville. ICCReatives will host and John’s Grocery will be serving microbrews.
“As people come through on RAGBRAI, we’ll be marketing to the riders, other entrepreneurs and innovators that will be coming through our community to kind of show off what we’re all about,” Mr. Nolte said.
Next is BarcampICR, an un-conference starting at 9 a.m. Aug. 13 at the Iowa City Public Library,123 S. Linn St.The event is being coordinated by Seed Here. Rooms will be divided into creativity, technology and entrepreneurship tracts and participants will gather for 20-minute forums on various topics throughout the day, said Amanda Styron, co-founder of Seed Here. Barcamps are a concept that began inCaliforniain 2005.
“What’s discussed is decided by attendees on the day of the event,” she said. “They come in, get some breakfast and write down on a note the topic of their session, what they’re going to talk about or what they’re going to lead a discussion about. Then they pick a time slot and then they are free to go wherever they like during the day.”
Seed Here coordinates the event but the participants decide what to talk about, she said. The idea is to introduce professionals in the community to one another and discuss ideas, but in a way that’s different from a business p.m. or networking event.
“Barcamp will draw a different crowd of creatives and entrepreneurs than those who are members of the chambers or are already part of the established business group,” Ms. Styron said. “So this is an opportunity for people who haven’t been involved to be more involved and interact in a different way.”
A 54-hour business startup retreat, Startup Weekend Iowa City, will take place Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the University of Iowa Pappajohn Business Building. Aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as existing business owners and anyone else with a product idea is invited to attend.
Participants pitch ideas on Friday and then groups are created to promote the best ones. The weekend is spent creating business plans and then the proposals are judged at the end. Curt Nelson, president and CEO of theEntrepreneurialDevelopmentCenter, will be one of the judges.
Shannon Thomas, an employee at the UI Foundation, attended a Startup Weekend event in Des Moines in March for her idea, known as Fundle. Fundle is a site that allows people to buy plane tickets, gifts and other items as a group, by coordinating PayPal accounts. That way, one person isn’t stuck with the bill, needing to chase down those friends for payment.
Ms. Thomas had no software development experience before the Startup, but met a few people at the event who could help. Now she has a business team that is planning to launch the beta version of its site in September.
“By the end of the weekend we had a live demo and then we also had a web site that we’ve continued to work on since then,” Ms. Thomas said.
TEDx Iowa City
The big to-do will come in November.Iowa Citywill have its own TEDx event Nov. 11 at HotelVetro,201 S. Linn St.
TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a nonprofit that promotes features online to promote idea sharing and innovation.Iowa Citywas able to land a big TEDx event because of Cliff Missen, who is a UI associate director of library and information sciences. He is also co-director of WiderNet, a project that provides the best of the Internet to groups that cannot access the Internet. He was asked to speak for TEDx because of WiderNet’s effort to provide Internet education on well building and disease prevention to third world countries.
Because Mr. Missen is a TED fellow, Iowa Cityis able to host a TED event for an audience of 250 people, as opposed to an event without a fellow, which would only allow about 100. There will be satellite viewing stations throughout the Corridor that day, as well. Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption, will be one of a dozen speakers at the event.
“The whole idea around TED, you can’t sell a product, you can’t hock a book, but you have 18 minutes to share an idea and these are ideas that cross a lot of different genres,” Mr. Nolte said. “The goal is, we take all of these people and for one day we kind of cocoon. We shut our cell phones off, we commit to this and it’s a day to network, to think, to learn and just be very proud of this region. It’s part of this longer-term strategy to build more perception and more awareness of how great things are here.”