Sift hopes to make a bigger impact on sustainability with rebrand, corporate programs

Sift hopes to make a bigger impact on sustainability with rebrand, corporate programs

With a four-person team in place, a new brand and an app release pending approval, Sift (formerly Re-APP) is hoping to make a bigger impact on sustainability. The new name and brand, announced in February, represents that bigger vision that developed over the course of the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2014 program. Sift will reward users for practicing and tracking reusing and composting, in addition to recycling (Re-APP’s original focus). “We did a lot of the customer discovery with recycling companies and users. The users were very excited about something that could help them be more sustainable, but recycling is just one part of that,” said Blake Rupe, founder of Sift. “After hearing that 100 different times, we decided to pull up from recycling and look at sustainability overall.” After a 60-person beta test of the app, the first version of Sift has been submitted to both the App Store and Google Play and is pending approval. The team includes an app developer and a designer who also works as a product manager, both working for equity and pay, and Rupe’s sister Blaire as Chief Financial Officer. Rupe herself took another full-time job to be able to pay her team, and is working 30 hours per week on Sift. “When you’re going into an accelerator, or starting from scratch, your team is everything,” she said. “There’s nothing worse than having a fully-formed idea, a plan to execute it, and no one to help you execute it.” The product manager role, especially, lets the team think ahead to future iterations of the app and lets Rupe focus on growing the company….
Innovation Index: Wrapping up 2014 and looking ahead for Creative Corridor startups

Innovation Index: Wrapping up 2014 and looking ahead for Creative Corridor startups

Welcome to a special, double helping of the Innovation Index. We took off last week for some holiday reflection, and toady is the first Index of 2015. Happy new year! Each week, we’ll round up links and stories from around the web relating to startups, innovation and entrepreneurship in Iowa’s Creative Corridor and around the state. You can help! Email me news and notes.  News and Notes: Looking back at 2014:  Nearly $150 million in private dollars was invested into Iowa startups this year. That’s not including public funds like the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Demonstration Fund, and there were almost certainly more raises that just weren’t made publicly known in the media. Find a statewide list and analysis by Geoff Wood here, and find my Corridor-centric list here. A few notes: The bulk of that funding went to two companies, Coralville’s Kempharm, with $60 million, and Cedar Rapids’ Involta, with $50 million. Geoff does a good job explaining that both of these are somewhat outside the startup realm, although they both are doing innovative things with technology. One of my sources points out, these large investments don’t come as a single infusion of cash. Involta had received $29 million as of June, with the remaining $21 million “to access as it needs,” and $35 million of Kempharm’s investment is dependent on meeting milestones, per their release. So, technically, it might not all be 2014 investment. However, when less than a year ago we heard entrepreneurs identifying access to capital as one of their single biggest obstacles, it’s great to see such a big number going to so many Iowa-based companies. More than 10,000 K-12 students across Iowa...

Encouragement from Iowa Startup Accelerator prompts Re-APP to go full-time

It was a classic dilemma for entrepreneurs - stay in the comfortable job with security and benefits, or take the plunge to full-time startup life? The only difference for Blake Rupe was the speed at which it happened. She was just two weeks in to a new job at the University of Iowa when she got the call to be a part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator and take Re-APP, her mobile recycling tracker, full-time. “It was incredibly difficult for about a day,” Rupe said. “I thought, ‘If I stick with this job, I can continue to do [Re-APP] part-time, save up money, do incremental changes.’ But the more I thought about it, the more I realized, this is an untapped market, but it won’t be untapped forever.” Rupe started building the company in her final semester of a master’s degree in International Studies, after a trip to Mexico left her appalled at the amount of plastic, cardboard and glass washing up on the beach. Re-APP launched in the Apple App store early in June, and has progressed quickly since then: Rupe was featured in USA Today after Marco Santana of the Des Moines Register included her in a story on “accidental entrepreneurship,” was invited to speak at a national forum for women working in sustainability, was nominated for a student entrepreneur of the year award by readers of Silicon Prairie News, and worked with Dev/Iowa students to build a web interface for Re-APP. Still, she didn’t seriously consider applying for the ISA until she got a call from Program Manager David Tominsky. “It validates my idea, and it also kind of...
Four out of 10 Iowa Startup Accelerator teams have women founders, beating tech industry average

Four out of 10 Iowa Startup Accelerator teams have women founders, beating tech industry average

With 25 percent women founders, the Iowa Startup Accelerator is above the national average — but still far from 50/50. Read about how women have fared in other programs in the Midwest after the jump. In a room full of men - founders, mentors, journalists - the handful of women stood out at Monday’s Iowa Startup Accelerator team announcement. But the fact is, having four women founders among the 16 total accelerator participants actually puts the ISA above average on that metric. There’s no one data point that summarizes the gender gap for women in tech, but consider: 13 percent of venture capital-backed companies have at least one woman founder, according to Pitchbook. Only four percent of companies in one of the nation’s most established accelerators, YCombinator, are women, as reported by Forbes. Overall, 0.34 percent of men and 0.22 percent of women nationally work on their own business at least 15 hours per week, according to the latest Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity (0.12 percent might not seem like much difference, but spread across the population, it adds up.) “It was a big deal for us to at least make sure we were at least asking the question,” said Eric Engelmann, founder and managing director of the Iowa Startup Accelerator. “It’s making a statement that we want to do this in a way that is inclusive and diverse from day one.” The selection process was a balancing act between wanting to be inclusive, while also selecting the most promising teams on business potential alone, ISA staff said during the media event Monday afternoon. Four women in first ISA class: Blake Rupe, CEO...

Re-APP launches to encourage recycling

Walking on the beach in Mexico, collecting garbage, Blake Rupe never thought she’d be an Internet entrepreneur. But almost exactly one year later, that’s what happened. Re-APP is set to launch in the Apple App store June 1, and the company will host a launch party in Iowa City June 3. Rupe recently graduated from the University of Iowa with a master’s in international studies, with an emphasis on marine conservation. While in Mexico, she studied what kind and how much garbage would wash up on the beach. “What I was finding, 93 percent of the time, was this garbage was recyclable,” she said. She started thinking about how to encourage more people to recycle, researching apps in the evenings. She found games for children and educational resources, but few recycling apps geared at adults. Re-APP was designed to help people track and share their recycling habits. Within the app, users can document what they recycle into a virtual bin, share their progress on social media, and see what other friends who have the app have recycled. “The social pressure behind it, I think, is half the reason people recycle today,” Rupe said. In a four-week beta test, 18 users documented nearly 2,000 recycled items.  Rupe and twin sister Blaire Rupe are co-founders of Re-APP, and from December to May were residents in JPEC’s Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory (BELL), which provides office space, resources and mentorship to companies started by UI students. BELL helped connect the team to app developer a fellow student-run company Bellwether Creation Company, which created the first version of the app. Rupe referred to the iOS launch as “the...