Innovation and entrepreneurship: a portrait of possibility

Innovation and entrepreneurship: a portrait of possibility

Reflecting on the first six months of We Create Here It’s been almost six months since I joined The Gazette Company at the launch of We Create Here, specifically to cover entrepreneurship and innovation. It’s been a fun ride: digging deeper into big issues, trying to grow a blog following, getting more involved in the community and producing articles for print.As I reflect, here are a few of the ideas that strike me. What would you add?Story continues after the jump. We’re special…but others are too It’s no secret that in these pages we support the ideas and philosophy of Iowa’s Creative Corridor: that within our seven counties, our mix of large and small towns, business opportunities and diverse cultural offerings (all wrapped in a blanket of “Iowa Nice”) make for something truly special. As someone who chose to move here from another city, I have experienced how welcoming this community can be and the joy of discovering the people and places that make this region special. But here’s the catch — our peer cities and states are right there with us. In the Kauffman Foundation’s April 2013 index of entrepreneurial activity, which compares rates of entrepreneurship to a state’s population, the top-performing states were Montana, Vermont, New Mexico, Alaska, Mississippi and Idaho. California (home of Silicon Valley) came in seventh. Iowa? 41st. (Although, that might be changing: In another Kauffman study, Cedar Rapids had the third-fastest rate of change in the number of high-tech firms among similar-sized metros.) We saw this firsthand when the UP America Summit came to Iowa City in October, bringing with it hundreds of…
Exploring venture capital in Iowa, together

Exploring venture capital in Iowa, together

An idea, a strong Internet connection and some hard work can take an entrepreneur pretty far these days – but no amount of ingenuity, hustle or brilliance can overcome a lack of funding when it’s needed. We’ve used this space before to note that new businesses have been credited with net new job growth in the United States. And, if our region wants to tap into this potential and become a hub for startups and entrepreneurship, there are signs we are on the right track, including a few recent studies that gave Iowa City and Cedar Rapids nods, UP Global’s decision to host their first global entrepreneurship summit in Iowa City in October and the 100-plus community events that comprised Creative Week. So, is the money following? It’s hard to tell. Within the borders of our state, there are dozens of high net worth individuals investing in young companies, a few formal funds where groups of these angels invest together, and a few traditional venture capital firms that invest even larger amounts. These groups say they are always looking for quality deal flow; indeed, it is their whole reason to exist. Yet, many local entrepreneurs say local private capital seems scarce; or even that “there’s no money in Iowa!” Many people have singled out funding as a key missing piece our region needs to move forward (I’ve gathered a few examples here). We hope that the collaborative, intentional approach we’ve been seeking with “We Create Here” can shed some light on the issue. Troy Miller, a local entrepreneur who has been interested in the venture capital ecosystem for years,...
My goal for 2014: context, context, context

My goal for 2014: context, context, context

I have a horrible secret to share. There were some pretty big news stories in 2013 that I didn’t really pay attention to. This is “horrible” for me, because as a journalist it’s my job to make sense of information. For anyone else, I wouldn’t say this is horrible, or even surprising. Consider October’s 16-day government shutdown. That incredibly complex catastrophe had been building for years — but, as a reader, unless you had been following the issue for that long, media portrayals were probably near-incomprehensible. I know they were for me. Political junkies, who already knew the history and the players involved, were hooked to the story. For the rest of us, the up-to-the minute updates or “objective” two-sided reports only added confusion. If I took the time and effort to read a story (which, let’s be honest, often felt like homework), I’d walk away feeling more bewildered, instead of more informed. When the big issues are so convoluted, is it any surprise that the most-clicked headlines revolve around who or what Miley Cyrus has twerked on lately? Even if you take out celebrity gossip, many of the year’s most viral news stories circle around natural disasters, shootings or crimes — isolated events that are easy to comprehend. I was attracted to the then-unnamed project Chuck Peters proposed for The Gazette the minute I heard the word “context” enter the conversation. In 2014, my goal with We Create Here is to foster context and understanding around the topic of innovation. To use the skills of journalism to produce information that is helpful, actionable and relevant, that can connect...
Seeking New Year’s resolutions and goals for a prosperous region

Seeking New Year’s resolutions and goals for a prosperous region

It’s that special time of year - when we gather with loved ones, reflect on what has been and look to the year ahead. In that spirit, we are asking community members to share their New Year’s resolutions for Iowa’s Creative Corridor. We believe that our region is full of promise and possibility - where could we be, a year from now? Responses will be featured in our Dec. 29 print edition, and online. We can use pieces of varied lengths – from very short responses of a few sentences, up to 300 words. Along with your resolution, please include a brief biography with your name, job title and organization or city of residence, and a photo. For print consideration, please submit comments no later than 5 p.m. on Dec. 15 to engage@wecreatehere.net. And please, help us spread the word. We want to include a variety of perspectives that truly encompass a regional view. Oh - and if you have comments on “We Create Here” and our ongoing experiment - we want to hear those...
Startups, creativity and innovation Iowa’s Creative Corridor: Where we stand

Startups, creativity and innovation Iowa’s Creative Corridor: Where we stand

We believe that innovation, creativity and startups - or, the ability to make new things happen - will be key to the future success of the region known as Iowa’s Creative Corridor. So, how are we doing, and what do we still need to learn? “When it comes to U.S. job growth, startup companies aren’t everything. They’re the only thing.” So begins a frequently cited 2010 report by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation on the importance of entrepreneurship, a.k.a. creating something new. The study, based on U.S. Census data from 1977 to 2005, showed that job growth in the U.S. is driven entirely by new businesses. Another, more recent study by the Kauffman Foundation drilled down even deeper. Within the world of new businesses, scalable, growth-oriented startups – mostly in high-tech industries – are the true leaders of job growth. “We Create Here” is about zooming in on issues that will deeply impact the future of our region (for more, see Kiran Sood on diversity and Chuck Peters on the regional economy as a whole). Just as a teenager tinkering with radios went on to create one of the state’s largest technology companies, the “crazy ideas” of today have the potential to blossom into much more. Over the past few years, I’ve met an unbelievable cast of characters who share this passion and vision. As a journalist, I’ve done my best to keep up – hanging around the sidelines and documenting the happenings of these brave souls. At the heart of “We Create Here” is collaboration: I’m not the gatekeeper of these stories. There is so much more expertise in the community than any one person could ever hope to possess. We...