University of Iowa students pursue local, global opportunity with Swineguard

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….
‘Everyone is looking the other way:’ TaxiTapp targets an unloved industry

‘Everyone is looking the other way:’ TaxiTapp targets an unloved industry

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. Is there still room for taxis in an Uber-ized world? For TaxiTapp, an Iowa Startup Accelerator 2015 team from Indiana and the country of Georgia, the answer is a definite yes. “Taxis aren’t going to ever go away,” said Chris Trujillo, TaxiTapp’s co-founder and director of sales. “Maybe the market is getting smaller, but it’s still a very large market.” The company started in late 2012, when the ridesharing giant Uber was starting to become widely known. They saw three main problems with Uber that taxis don’t have: unreliable availability of drivers, potential sticker shock when the price is unknown, and poor customer service, including a lack of handicap accessibility and safety concerns. “There’s still a huge value in taxis,” said David Lomiashvili, co-founder and CEO. “It’s that stable supply, if you want a ride at 6 a.m. on Monday, you can do that with taxis.” TaxiTapp’s first app, which was developed by an outsourced, overseas team, was a simple fare estimator. Since then, they have found additional co-founders in Georgia and developed a full-featured version. Users can request and book a ride, entering their pickup and drop off location using their phone’s built-in GPS, compare prices, track the ride and pay all using the app. Cab companies can use TaxiTapp’s built in dispatch system to service these requests and see analytics on their business. And while many taxi companies have developed their own mobile apps today, TaxiTapp would provide them with a global platform –...
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...
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...
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...
Music lovers turned founders hope EarMashin can help independent artists

Music lovers turned founders hope EarMashin can help independent artists

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. It was at a packed house show – an intimate crowd of 50 or so, gathered in a friend’s downtown L.A. loft – that EarMashin’s co-founders knew they were on to something. They had organized the party and booked Intuition, a popular rapper in L.A., to verify that the problem they felt was real: that music fans wanted to connect with emerging artists as much as artists wanted to find new fans. They saw that local music fans were supportive, and would pay for tickets to support their favorite artists. “We were trying to figure out the pain, what’s the artist’s problem,” said Mo Abdallah. “We finalized the idea itself.” As music lovers themselves, Abdallah and co-founder Ash Naguib would spend hours scouring blogs for new releases and downloading mixtapes to their phones. After discussing the idea in 2012, and working on it seriously for the last year, their solution has taken the form of a mobile app called EarMashin. EarMashin features streaming music by independent and emerging artists. Users can follow their friends or curated feeds by music influencers, as well as find events where their favorite artists are playing. After a few months on the App Store, EarMashin joined the Iowa Startup Accelerator with plans to improve their product based on customer feedback. One of their major constraints right now is adding music to the app. The co-founders said they’ve collected close to 30,000 songs, through free promotional music artists release to websites, music artists have...