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, entrepreneur in residence at Geonetric, working on CareDrop during the Iowa Startup Accelerator (photo via Carlson's newsletter)

Trevor Carlson, entrepreneur in residence at Geonetric, working on CareDrop during the Iowa Startup Accelerator (photo via Carlson’s newsletter)

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 same paces as the other eight teams in the Accelerator’s 2015 class.

CareDrop answers questions at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015 in March. Left, Iowa Startup Accelerator Managing Director Eric Engelmann; right, Kathy Good, a longtime caregiver associated with the Mercy project.

CareDrop first emerged when a group of Mercy Medical Center employees attended Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids in March (disclosure: I helped plan the event). Their leader, Kathy Good, had been a longtime caregiver while her husband had Alzheimer’s, and she saw the struggles that millions of non-professional caregivers face daily when looking after a loved one.

“She knew first-hand how limited the resources for caregivers are,” Carlson said. “They tell you how to take better care of your loved one, but not how to take care of yourself.”

That team imagined a mobile app that would alert neighborhood volunteers when a caregiver could use a hand – say, for shoveling snow after a storm – and a box filled with resources and comforting items.

The idea then progressed to Venture School, the University of Iowa’s six-week customer discovery course. That led to the development of the Family Caregiver’s Center at Mercy, a physical hub for caregivers slated to open this fall.

Carlson’s mission during the 90-day accelerator program is to figure out if the same problem exists everywhere, and a solution can be delivered nationally.

“I don’t know what form it’s going to take – that’s all part of the process, is experimenting with different ideas and seeing what sticks,” he said. “I’m trying to go into it without pre-conceived notions.”

Although he might be a bit behind some of the other founders in the program – some already have products in the market, while Carlson was just introduced to the idea for CareDrop a week before the program began – he’s excited about the 90-day learning process.

“I feel like I have a really good opportunity…I’m basically a blank slate, and I’m willing to try a bunch of different things,” he said. “I feel like that gives me an advantage. I don’t have any entrenched views or entrenched opinions.”

More corporate innovation teams could follow if CareDrop is successful. Creating a funnel of ideas from Startup Weekend, to a six-week program, and finally to the highly-selective 90-day program, is a unique model, Engelmann said.


One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – find the rest here.