Building Iowa communities

Leaders from across the state share why they come together

We’re less than a month away from celebrating the technology achievements our community has over the past year at the Prometheus Awards, which got us thinking. How do individuals across the state find value in their communities? How do we help them grow?

So we turned to TechBrew, one of TAI’s most community-facing events and asked some of its regular attendees a few quick questions about what community means to them and what they think we could be doing better.

Here’s what they had to say:

Bill Harwood, President and Director of Research of iTracking Research in Cedar Falls

Q: Why do you think building the Iowa technology community is important?

A: Technology provides new ways for us to connect with one another and to be creative. The technology community supports great ideas by hard working people that will build a strong and vibrant Iowa far into the future.

Q: How do you think events like TechBrew help strengthen that community? Have you developed personal/professional connections that have helped you from these types of events?

A: TechBrew is a great way to bring a wide variety of people together in a low-key way to make new friends, new connections, and maybe end up starting a new venture. I’ve come to know several people that I would not have met in any other venue. I also enjoy the regular opportunity to maintain my connection with friends working in a variety of settings. Some conversations started at TechBrew have led to new business for us. Many more have led to new connections that keep us aware of what is coming on the horizon and help us understand how other successful companies work and grow.

Q: What’s something you’d like to see more of in the Iowa tech community?

A: We have a lot of great supports for tech businesses. I’d like to see more of two things: Promoting the strength of Iowa technology businesses and increasing the funding of new technology ideas. We have the talented, hard working and creative people, but not as vibrant a funding atmosphere as some other places — and we should. Increasing opportunities for funding new ideas, especially at the seed and angel levels is the best way to bring the Iowa tech community to a new level of success and growth.

Melanie Carpenter, Marketing Representative for Xpanxion in Ames

Q: Why do you think building the Iowa technology community is important?

A: Building a strong technology community is crucial to making Iowa an innovative leader in the industry. This is an excellent place for technology companies, from startups to large corporations, to create a sense of community within the industry and enable it to grow. There is a lot more to Iowa than our agricultural traditions, and strengthening our technology community is essential in helping the rest of the world take notice of that.

Q: How do you think events like TechBrew help strengthen that community? Have you developed personal/professional connections that have helped you from these types of events?

A: Events like TechBrew are fundamental to getting students and other members of the community excited about what’s going on in the industry right here in Iowa. We love getting the chance to interact and connect with others in a more casual atmosphere. Each month, we get the chance to connect with plenty of Iowa State students, exposing them to both our company, our culture, and the opportunities Xpanxion provides in Ames. Relationships built at this event have turned into employment opportunities at our company on more than one occasion!

Q: What’s something you’d like to see more of in the Iowa tech community?

A: It would be great to see more exposure to technology in schools at a younger age. If more students were exposed to the exciting opportunities in technology, the field would grow exponentially. I feel that the Iowa tech community as a whole would be happy to support these efforts if given a set path to increase involvement.

Jeff Shinrock, Software Engineer in Des Moines (via San Francisco)

Q: Why do you think building the Iowa technology community is important?

A: There are so many talented people around creating amazing things. The nation is finally recognizing the midwest as a talent-rich technology pool. Fostering and building a strong community not only strengthens that image in the national eye, but helps grow talent from within the state. If the community benefits, we — as individuals — benefit as well as the whole of Iowa.

Q: How do you think events like TechBrew help strengthen that community? Have you developed personal/professional connections that have helped you from these types of events?

A: TechBrew is a tremendous resource for connecting individuals who may not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. I love hearing about the exciting projects and various technologies other Iowans are involved with. The chance to discuss best practices, developmental processes, and current tech trends is the real benefit for me. A rare insight into the inner workings of multiple respected companies is an opportunity everyone should take advantage of. The connections I’ve made have provided a great resource for local advice and information, and I’ve made more than a few lasting friends in the process.

Q: What’s something you’d like to see more of in the Iowa tech community?

A: At Gravitate in Des Moines, we’ve had several conversations about how to unify the various smaller groups that exist within the Central Iowa tech scene, however fragmentation is still an issue and it doesn’t stop in Central Iowa. I would love to see more of an effort to gather like-minded people together more often. Over the last year, I’ve witnessed great strides in connecting the various parts of the state. I’ve been to a few wonderful events in the Corridor, including the inaugural class of the Iowa Startup Accelerator. I’ve heard great things about the state of technology in the northwest region of the state as well. I hope we can all attempt to do a little more to continue to build these relationships. Attend a Startup Weekend in a different city. Contribute to a Hackathon. Participate in a BarCamp. With so much knowledge existing in a relatively small geographical location, I believe a more diverse and all-inclusive group would further benefit the entirety of the state and certainly benefit the individuals involved in all of the current groups. It will take effort from us all to achieve the ultimate goal of a unified Iowa tech scene. Growing the community from the seeds that have already been sown not only increases our collective talent level, but it makes Iowa a more attractive destination for businesses and individuals.

Paige Horton, Director of Organizational Development Textura Submittal Exchange Division in West Des Moines

Q: Why do you think building the Iowa technology community is important?

A: Technology in Iowa is a growing industry and there will always be a need for innovation. Investing in the technology community here in Iowa, supporting small companies and tech startups is an important part to ensuring a growing and vibrant economy and job market going forward.

Q: How do you think events like TechBrew help strengthen that community? Have you developed personal/professional connections that have helped you from these types of events?

A: Tech Brew provides a more relaxed way for technology professionals to network, share ideas, and build relationships. I’ve reached out on several occasions to other professionals I’ve met at Tech Brew for recruiting ideas, introductions to people in our industry and as a way to find industry experts. Even if you are not actively looking to hire or be hired, networking is a great way to ensure that you keep up with what’s going on in Des Moines and the industry in general. I’ve developed several connections that have helped me do just that.

Q: What’s something you’d like to see more of in the Iowa tech community?

A: I’d love to see Des Moines become a tech hub like Silicon Valley or Austin. I think we have a great pool of talented, educated, smart and hard-working people here in Iowa and in the Des Moines metro in particular. I think if some of the Venture Capitalists in other parts of the country really took a look at what’s going on here in Iowa in technology, they would find some truly unique opportunities for investment. Des Moines is a hidden gem of small startups and innovation that will just continue to grow in the coming years. It’s an exciting place to be.

Rob Williams, Program Manager at the UNI Center for Business Growth and Innovation in Cedar Falls

Q: Why do you think building the Iowa technology community is important?

A: Innovation is the primary driver of our economy, and technology firms are at the forefront. We must support the technology community for the advancements that they bring to existing industry, and the new industries they create. Building Iowa’s innovation economy depends on it.

Q: How do you think events like TechBrew help strengthen that community? Have you developed personal/professional connections that have helped you from these types of events?

A: TechBrews play a vital role in providing a unique environment where technologists, entrepreneurs, and CTOs can all get together, share ideas, and even conduct business. In my role here at UNI, our organization has seen significant benefit from attending and lending our support of local TechBrew events. We’ve been able to meet owners who we otherwise would not have had the opportunity to connect with and I’ve personally built life-long friendships with innovators all across Iowa who are moving us forward in truly amazing ways.

Q: What’s something you’d like to see more of in the Iowa tech community?

A: Iowa is rapidly changing, especially in terms of our demographics. As a technology community, we need to make sure that we are aware of these changes and are well positioned to be proactive. In particular, I’m thinking about continuing to ensure we have diversity at our events and are welcoming of all types in terms of age, race, position, and gender. TAI has done a wonderful job in this regard of being open and inviting.

We also are seeing population shifts that make it more important now than ever to reach out to our rural communities in Iowa and help them be supportive of the innovation communities in their hometowns. I believe there is a lot of untapped opportunity here, and as a community we should be talking about how to get rural Iowa lit up and excited about technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

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