Entrepreneurship and innovation

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University of Iowa students pursue local, global opportunity with Swineguard

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here. Swineguard went from idea to accelerator in a matter of months. It was just earlier this year when Matt Rooda, Swineguard’s CEO and a former junior at the University of Iowa, was dreaming up a device that would help protect very young piglets from being crushed in farrowing facilities. By August, Rooda had assembled a team, developed his business model, and was taking a hiatus from school to be part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 class. “[Being accepted] kind of gave us more belief in ourselves, that maybe what we have is something pretty good,” Rooda said. Pork farmers around the world are feeling pressure as the increasing global population pushes demand for meat higher. Every piglet that dies at a young age is a missed opportunity. The young founder saw the problem first hand when he was working as an assistant farm manager at a pork facility. Swineguard is prototyping a device that would be installed in farrowing crates. When a sow started to lay on one of her piglets, producing a prolonged squeal, the device would deliver a gentle shock that would prod her to stand up again. Rooda heard of a summer program at the UI, and soon Swineguard was one of 11 teams in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s summer edition of Venture School, which was just for students. He recruited three friends to become co-founders, who went out in the field to meet with farmers and veterinarians and refine their business model canvas.... read more
Serial entrepreneur, community builder guides Iowa Startup Accelerator’s first corporate innovation team

Serial entrepreneur, community builder guides Iowa Startup Accelerator’s first corporate innovation team

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here. Trevor Carlson is a familiar face to the Eastern Iowa startup community. He’s been involved in organizing 1 Million Cups, Startup Weekend and other meetups in the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area, as well as being involved with several startups himself. “I kind of fell into the entrepreneurial scene on accident,” he said. His first venture was when a friend wanted to start a Korean fusion food cart – that went under within a year. But, Carlson learned from the experience and kept moving forward. “I just kept experimenting with different things, I found a bunch of stuff that didn’t work pretty quickly,” he said. “Up until a year or so ago, I was going ‘I wish somebody would make this, or have this event,’” He said, “Finally, I woke up and went, ‘well, I’ll just do it.’ I’m not very good at asking for permission.” Carlson was recently brought on staff by Geonetric to work on CareDrop, a corporate innovation project, during the Iowa Startup Accelerator. Geonetric makes websites, intranets and marketing materials for hospitals. CEO Eric Engelmann is also the managing director of the Iowa Startup Accelerator, and has been a vocal proponent for agile and other innovation techniques in the Corridor. Since CareDrop is a corporate innovation project, or an internal startup owned by Geonetric, the startup didn’t take the typical $20,000 in seed funding at the beginning of the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s program. Other than that, Engelmann said Carlson will be put through the... read more
Brothers, friends turned founders want to take a bite out of unemployment with Home Scene Pro

Brothers, friends turned founders want to take a bite out of unemployment with Home Scene Pro

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here. Instead of struggling to find a job, Jurell Tanksley decided to make his own – and now his startup, Home Scene Pro, wants to help many more students and recent grads forge their own paths. Tanksley was studying accounting when he saw that many of his friends were unable to find jobs in their fields after graduation – they were either unemployed or languishing in low-skill underemployment. He imagined a way for students to build up their portfolios with short-term gigs and real world experience. So, about a year ago, he left school and recruited his brother Jason and longtime friend Brandon Brown to launch Home Scene Pro. “It was scary – but the uncertainty of graduating and not getting a job was scary as well,” he said. In August, Home Scene Pro came from New York City to Cedar Rapids to be part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator. Their major goal for the 90-day program is to hone their pitch and marketing messages. The first day, when they pitched to their classmates and the media, showed the co-founders the importance of clarity. “That first day really set the tone for the rest of the program,” Jason said. Students who sign up on Home Scene Pro can enter their skills, mostly in design-centric areas like photography, interior decorating or personal chef services. When a customer in the area orders a project, the students get an alert that a job is available. The customers, in turn, pay... read more
Lessons learned in Dev/Iowa 2015

Lessons learned in Dev/Iowa 2015

Last week Dev/Iowa, the nine-week programming course I was part of this summer, wrapped up. Instructor Steve Davis gave a presentation on the program at 1 Million Cups (see that below for an overview of how the course worked) and we pushed our projects live online, ready or not. It was a small class, with just three students, but focusing on individual projects let us get a lot done in a short amount of time. I’m not about to become a full-time programmer any time soon, but the class definitely gave me more confidence when dealing with all things tech, and in the future I’ll at least know where to look for answers and helpful starting points. here’s an overview of my project After nine weeks, my project is definitely not done (my infographic is a bit of a mess), and hopefully my learning isn’t either. That said, here are some of the biggest things I’ll try to remember from this summer: Dive into the deep end My earlier forays into learning to code were all online, using some of the many free tools available. I’d dutifully start each time at the beginning of an HTML course, believing the way to learn was to master each thing before moving on to the next (HTML before CSS, CSS before JavaScript). I’d also frequently lose interest and abandon learning for a few months. In Dev/Iowa, there was no time for that. Most weeks had a theme – say, version control with Git, writing to a file, or structuring a database – but we hardly went in-depth. For each new skill, we... read more
With expanded mission, Care Academy joins Iowa Startup Accelerator to train nannies and caregivers

With expanded mission, Care Academy joins Iowa Startup Accelerator to train nannies and caregivers

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort - check back all week for more and find the series here. We’re all getting older – and someone’s going to need to take care of us. According to the 2010 census, the largest segment of the U.S. population is now aged 65 and older, and this segment is growing at a faster rate than the general population. Every state also saw an increase in the number of residents aged 85 and older. Meanwhile, with more women in the workplace, more care for both the oldest and youngest members of the family is being outsourced. Care Academy, a Boston-based startup that recently joined the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 class, plans to train this new wave of caregivers. “I assumed that if somebody was going to go in to another person’s home, to take care of a loved one, that they would have at least some basic skills. There’s a lot of literature out there, that says really basic techniques can help prevent falls and other accidents,” said Madhuri Reddy, co-founder of Care Academy. “I was just shocked to learn that caregivers, paid caregivers, require no such training at all. There’s no standardization…I thought, ‘this is just crazy.’” “This whole profession of caregiving is limited by this lack of educational standards,” she added. Care Academy offers online classes on a variety of topics, from baby sign language to nutrition. Nannies and caregivers can earn a certification by completing enough classes, or agencies that place caregivers can offer the training to their workers. Helen Adeosun, a former teacher and nanny,... read more

Goquets takes flower-buying experience back to the future

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort - check back all week for more and find the series here. Sending flowers is usually reserved for happy occasions, but two Des Moines entrepreneurs found a lot of frustration in the process. Their resulting business, Goquets, joined the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort this week. The issue is that when customers order flowers online, they have high expectations based on the photos they see. A local florist might struggle to match the photo with the flowers they have in stock – and in the meantime, they might have other inventory going to waste. “If a truck of fresh purple roses and orchids show up, people don’t even know that because they’re buying from the pictures,” said co-founder Shawn Harrington. So, Goquets created a simple order form, sans photos. Users can say who the flowers are for, the occasion, any preferences (‘she loves daisies’) and how much they want to spend – that’s it. Goquets sends the order to a local florist, by tapping into the existing networks that move flowers back and forth. The simplicity is a major selling point. Ordering this way replicates the experience of ordering on the phone. “Our partners talk about this constantly. They’re like, ‘you’re just going back to what we did 20 years ago – pre-Internet,’” said co-founder Lyndsay Clark. The idea wasn’t always so refined. Clark and Harrington met at startup events in Des Moines before first developing the idea at Startup Weekend Ames in 2013. Then, it was called ‘Stinky Flowers,’ and was centered on the idea of overstock... read more