Topics discussed: Iowa Startup Accelerator Launch Day, Yahoo! Digital Democracy Conference, InnovateHER, Startup Weekend, Technology Apprenticeship programs.
Matt Patane, technology and innovation reporter for the Des Moines Register and Geoff Wood, community builder at Gravitate, sit down for an indepth discussion of the companies, events and ideas making news in the Iowa innovation community.
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Geoff Wood: Hey there, this is the Minimum Viable Podcast, episode three. I'm Geoff Wood, a community builder at Gravitate. He is Matt Patane, the technology and innovation reporter at the Des Moines Register. Hi Matt.
Matt Patane: Hi Geoff.
Geoff Wood: Each week we take an in depth look at the companies, events, and ideas making news in the Iowa innovation community and discuss them for your enjoyment. Matt, what is new with you this week?
Matt Patane: Well, I think one of the things we'll talk about today is actually what I just finished covering, which was this digital democracy event that Yahoo News hosted at Drake University. Kind of this intersection of tech and politics, which makes sense considering we're in Iowa, first in the nation caucuses and we have have an election coming up next year so that's kind of what did.
Geoff Wood: Yeah. It's been a busy day here. I think the coolest thing I've done this week was the 1 Million Cups panel. Did you go to that on Wednesday?
Matt Patane: No, I missed it which I'm really upset about because it was not the everyday 1 Million Cups panel.
Geoff Wood: No, it was brewery, craft brewery panel. I think it was five brewers and somebody from I think he said his title was the minister of beer, Iowa's minister of beer.
Matt Patane: I didn't realize we had one of those.
Geoff Wood: I didn't realize either. He had something about he had talked to the governor recently and the governor was like, that's a way cooler title than I have. The Iowa Brewers Guild, I think he's the chief kind of promoter guy educating people on ...
Matt Patane: I wonder what the governor's favorite craft beer in Iowa is? That would be a good question.
Geoff Wood: With politics they always talk about like, could I have a beer with that guy? I don't know if I could have a beer with Terry Branstad. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who kicks back and has a beer, maybe he does.
Matt Patane: I'm sure he relaxes every once a while.
Geoff Wood: He's just always so, maybe because he's been governor for my entire life, basically. It just feels like I only see him in campaigning mode but I'm sure he's had a couple of beers.
Matt Patane: Was the craft beer panel, was it a tasting or was it more everyone pitching their brewery?
Geoff Wood: The idea was to talk about what goes into running the business of a brewery with these five craft brewers. I think it probably would have been ... It was great but critique wise I would say maybe fewer breweries so you could ask more questions. The panel was a little big, five people plus the moderator. There were 110 people, I counted people still coming in after that.
Matt Patane: Right, yeah I saw a couple of things on Twitter about it and it looked like it was a packed house.
Geoff Wood: Yeah, yeah. It was a cool way to change up the 1 Million Cups format, keep it interesting, still entrepreneurship focused but a little bit ...
Matt Patane: Yeah, breweries aren't exactly the traditional startup but they definitely require, I mean they're like any restaurant basically but they have more of a niche so they need support like anyone else.
Geoff Wood: They also involve chemistry, which means it's over my head.
Matt Patane: That's true.
Geoff Wood: I enjoy their product, I could never make it. All right, that's what's up with us this week. Do you want to go ahead and started? Actually, one more thing before we get started. I did fire that Patreon campaign again which is what we've used to fund the Welch Avenue podcast in the past. I'd like to use it to fund this. We call this the Minimum Viable Podcast because we do our best not to do a whole lot with it but it does take some money to get it done. A little bit of equipment that we bought, that Gravitate's bought I guess, a little bit there's some fees for the transcription stuff that we do and then the hosting. I appreciate everybody who has contributed to the Patreon in the past. If you would like to contribute to it, you can go to patreon.com/welchavenue. That's P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/welchavenue. Pledge a dollar a show or something like that or a dollar a month and just a little bit helps and we appreciate all of you that do that. Just a little plug for that.
Let's start, we're talking about Launch Day, which we kind of talked about last week. We faked talked about it.
Matt Patane: We fake talked about it. We previewed it a little bit and that was at the time I still wasn't sure if I was going to be able to go and actually had to miss it out so instead of doing the usual intro story and then we'll talk about that story, I wanted to flip this up and actually ask you a question, which is how was Launch Day and what did you think about it? Because you also went last year too, right?
Geoff Wood: I did.
Matt Patane: As someone who wasn't there and I'm sure there are a lot of people that weren't able to make it, what did you see? What was Launch Day like at the Iowa Startup Accelerator which is in Cedar Rapids?
Geoff Wood: It was a really fun event. It was a fun night. I would say the message, the big takeaway that I heard is the startup community statewide has exciting things going for it including this accelerator. Let's kind of celebrate that. I think different maybe than last year. Last year felt more kind of like, can you believe we created this, this is such an achievement because it was the inaugural. This is the first accelerator in the state. There was less of that wonder maybe to it than there was last year. The eight companies that pitched all did a great job. You could tell that they had worked hard. Hopefully, the entrepreneurs themselves felt like rock stars. I was talking to John Jackovin today over lunch and he was like, you should feel like a rock star when you're onstage and I felt that way. I actually sat right in the middle of the front row.
Matt Patane: I saw that.
Geoff Wood: It was me I was sitting between Justin Schoen who has some ties to the Goquets team and Ben McDougal who is doing crazy periscoping stuff.
Matt Patane: He's doing Ben things.
Geoff Wood: As Ben does, yeah. It as cool to be right up front and see everybody go. No big stumbles or blunders or anything. It was just a fun night, very celebratory.
Matt Patane: Did each company come out to their own music this year?
Geoff Wood: Entrance music, I'm sure they did. I don't remember it.
Matt Patane: I remember last year's and for me this was important because as I've said a couple of times, it was Launch Day last year was like the first big event I covered covering technology and innovation for the Des Moines register but I just remember everyone came out and had their own song. It was just an interesting thing to see.
Geoff Wood: Was it like baseball entrance music?
Matt Patane: It was kind of like baseball entrance music. I want to say How Factory used, I don't remember the exact name of it but if you've seen Pulp Fiction it's that song. I want to say it's Misirlou or something.
Geoff Wood: Would you like to sing it?
Matt Patane: I do not want to sing it. I would just say people should check out the song on their favorite music platform.
Geoff Wood: To tell you the truth, I was having a good time, I had several drinks so I don't remember that specific component. I'm sure they had some sort of music. Whether it was different in between, I don't remember.
Matt Patane: That's not even a big deal I think that for me that was aspect about that event. That's not something that every pitch event has but last year I think, I think you're right, I think last year was a lot about we're going to show these people off. This is the first time we're doing off, this is first time we're doing this, the first accelerator in the state, look at what we've done. I think this year, just from conversations I had with David and Eric early on in the program, I think they were focused this year on a lot of we're going to evolve past that, we're here now, let's get in some people that want to evolve past who they are so let's move ahead. Obviously celebrate what we're doing but keep building at the same time.
Geoff Wood: Yeah and I think there was that. Much less of a focus on investment this year. I think that's kind of a theme they're going with because we've talked about this and I'm sure we'll talk about it again, raising capital is hard in Iowa. Not so much pinning to you get money or something like that because last year Built by Iowa has pledged money to the teams and that wasn't part of this year. That was definitely different. David and Eric both talked as did a couple of other folks. Andy emceed, Andy's still ... I think the messaging, and I knew a little bit of this was coming because I'm on the board of the nonprofit there and we can talk about what that means but definitely kind of evolving into a statewide entity.
They hinted at some of the programs and think that they want to expand on. They've always had that desire, that's part of why they called the Iowa Startup Accelerator instead of the Cedar Rapids Startup Accelerator. It's like this is a thing for all of Iowa. The nonprofit itself actually is the group that employs the staff, has the lease for the space, owns Vault. That's the board that I'm on. There's a second board made up of the investors that actually choose the companies. I did not know who was in the Accelerator until it was publicly announced. As a board member on the nonprofit side, I didn't really know. Overall, it was a great event. I had asked Eric, he 900 people attended and over 300 live streamed. My guess is that was a registration number and not an attendance number. It felt a little smaller than that to me but I wasn't counting.
Matt Patane: Crowd counts are always difficult to measure and but still from the photos I saw it seemed like they had, it sounded like they had a good turnout. It's not like no one showed up either way.
Geoff Wood: Either way, definitely a good turnout. Note for next year, maybe I'll go back and listen to this podcast for next year. Cash bar really means cash. I need to remember to bring cash to those things. There's no dweller or credit card at the cash bar but we made that work anyway. I guess the other big thing is buses. We had more people on the bus than we had last year, I'm pretty sure. Cameron Webb, a member here at Gravitate organized that and did a great job and got better beer than I did the year before. That was a lot of fun. Another bus came from Cedar Falls, maybe two I'm not exactly sure and then one came from Iowa City too I think.
Matt Patane: Do you want to talk about that? I mean it's a simple concept but what's the idea behind the Iowa Startup Bus? Obviously there were three buses this time around.
Geoff Wood: The Iowa Startup Bus I would say is an idea rather than a physical thing. Many things take on the concept of the Iowa Startup bus at different times. As a statewide entrepreneurial community, which we almost have to be to get to critical mass here because our communities are so small and their density is so low, entrepreneurial density, that when an event goes on it's the biggest, this and Entrefest are the two biggest tings going on in the state right now and they are really things that are for the state. Getting a chance to bring people over and just take that idea of well, I'm not going to go because I have to rent a hotel room or I have to drive myself and things like that. Being able to organize a bus, just like jump on the bus. This year I think we spent maybe 20 dollars and it included your drinks on the way there and back. It's a deal if you want to do it. The event itself was free. A really cool concept.
A couple of people stepped up and sponsored too, I think ISA may have sponsored and one or two other people, then I think Sinclair sponsored kind of just threw in some extra cash to help make sure everything was paid for. It worked out well and it's a cool thing. I think the first Iowa Startup Bus was called the Iowa Startup Bus but it was that original Silicon Prairie Awards that was probably before you were around. It was the first year so maybe 2012 but it was in Omaha and a bunch of Des Moines were finalists. I think James Eliason and Levy Russell organized a bus and they just had such a great time with it and then it's kind of evolved since then and it tends to be coordinated out of eastern Iowa although the person who is kind of at the heart of it doesn't want to be known as the Startup Bus person. I sure you know who it is.
Matt Patane: I could make a guess but I won't say publicly because I don't want to be wrong. Just think about it, if there was an actual physical Startup Bus, it could be covered in stickers from all the startups like everyone's Mac laptop.
Geoff Wood: Trump's bus was for sale the other day.
Matt Patane: It was for sale, it's now an art piece. To plug a colleague, everyone should read Jason Noble's stories abut Donald Trump's bus and it's journey.
Geoff Wood: There have been several folks who have looked into buying a bus and I think it just is a little bit cost prohibitive to buy and own.
Matt Patane: Unless it's going to get a lot of use.
Geoff Wood: Yeah, it's kind of like a co-working space like, that's an easy thing. This was my thought when we started this, I would work there anyway so why not just do that on the side and have that as a business. Oh, it takes all of your time and I imagine like buying a bus, maybe not that but funding it and fueling it and making sure you have drivers that would be a big ... It's kind of like Air Force One, whichever bus has the Iowa startup community on it, is the Iowa Startup Bus while it's there.
Matt Patane: Right.
Geoff Wood: Great event. Kudos to all the folks that have spent a ton of time putting that together. I can't wait for next year. Mark you calendars for November, middlish November 2016.
Matt Patane: Probably right around election day, actually which for me would either be a really good thing because it will be right after election day or I won't be able to do because it will be election day.
Geoff Wood: Election day is always first Tuesday, right?
Matt Patane: Right, that's true.
Geoff Wood: It's probably be the week after.
Matt Patane: That's a good point.
Geoff Wood: You'll probably be on vacation because you'll have worked so many extra hours.
Matt Patane: We'll have to see, it's still a long way away. I've got to get through the caucuses first.
Geoff Wood: Yeah, I'm sure that's worse for your time. Do you want to talk a little bit about your conference you're at today?
Matt Patane: Yeah, speaking of the Iowa caucuses, I was at this Yahoo News sponsored and hosted event at Drake University that they called Digital Democracy. A day long event, bunch of different panels that brought in political experts, technology experts, journalists who basically talk about the intersection of technology and politics, especially now looking at it from the campaign side. You know, 2008 was when social medial was just starting to be used, 2012 was when it picked up a little bit, and then 2016 it's kind of now a necessity. That's one of the topics that was discussed a little bit. It was a really interesting event that covered probably some basics for anyone that's covered social media or technology in general. There was a lot of talk about technology opens the doors for government to do a better job whether it's more efficiently providing services to citizens. It opens a door for campaigns to connect in a better way or to show the authenticity of their candidates.
If Marco Rubio puts out a video that seems more real than an ad maybe that attracts more people to him or to any candidate and also for voters. Probably the most important thing is that technology and social medial in general opens the door for a lot more people to become involved. The downside to that as one person mentioned, is that it also creates this giant vortex of comments. Everyone can talk, which means everyone can make a comment. Basically, the quote that this guy said was "context becomes really hard to find." Between blogs, news sites, tweets, Facebook posts, Snapchats, whatever. It can be more difficult to figure out what's important. There was a debate recently and Ted Cruz had a minor flub, he was talking about the five federal agencies he would get rid of and he repeated one of them twice. Not a huge deal but in the moment that's what took over at least the political side of Twitter.
Geoff Wood: It was the Rick Perry oops moment?
Matt Patane: Right. It was funny for some people because he's also from Texas, he's also running for president just like when Rick Perry had his flub also during a debate. For a little while it just took over but no one was talking about what happens if he actually does become president and does eliminate those agencies and I don't know if anyone really has yet. I'm sure that'll come though. It was an interesting series of discussions about the role technology plays in government and politics whether government should even be involved in innovation or cyber security. Rand Paul was the only candidate to show up so he spent some time talking about that and basically how the government doesn't do a lot of stuff well from his point of view so maybe leave some of the this stuff up to the private market or private sector because they've done a good job already so let's just let them go. I think on the republican side you can hear a lot of people say that.
Geoff Wood: Were you there as an attendee or were you covering it?
Matt Patane: I was there covering it.
Geoff Wood: Who was the audience?
Matt Patane: The audience was ... It was a live-streamed event and they also had seats there. I think it was a mix of Drake students, anyone interested in technology, and then anyone interested in politics so kind of broad I think for a reason. I think they were trying to get at this dichotomy of people who may not be interested in politics or interested in technology but are interested in the other and try to get that conversation started. I think technology, I have seen a lot of candidates talk about innovation or talk about technology. Rand Paul has to an extent because he's kind of that candidate.
Geoff Wood: Did he do like a hack-a-thon or something in San Francisco or something.
Matt Patane: If he did, I'm not sure about it. Jeb Bush got into an Uber for a photo op. Carly Fiorina has talked about it.
Geoff Wood: It's amazing that getting into an Uber is your interface with technology.
Matt Patane: It was a photo op but at the same time Bush did it to make a point about America's new economy or at least this new side of the economy that's cropping up but the conversation never really went beyond that. A lot of candidates on the republican side, which is I talk more about because that's what I've been covering primarily. They talk about how innovation should come by letting it be free, get government out of the way.
Geoff Wood: Free market.
Matt Patane: Free market, less regulation which again, depending on where you stand is good or bad. In terms of specific policies, to boost startups or to boost innovation or to boost investment, I haven't seen a lot of specific policy proposals. Even in terms of cyber security or drones or stuff that's happening right now. A lot of people haven't focused on it that much.
Geoff Wood: Interesting.
Matt Patane: Which could be it's too early in the cycle. At the same time, I know the Technology Association of Iowa they're co-hosting this forum in Cedar Rapids in December that's all about innovation in politics. They're trying to get candidates to show up. I think right now only Carly Fiorina has reserved.
Geoff Wood: I believe that's right. I think they hope to have more. The panel includes other folks, I don't know if they're announced yet.
Matt Patane: They've partnered with Engine in San Francisco.
Geoff Wood: Yeah Engine, same group that partnered with Steve Case on the Rise of the Rest tour. The start of the conversation for this panel actually goes back to when Steve was here last September like two Septembers ago. I remember talking about Julie from Engine saying we want to make sure that the national startup conversation is part of this, Iowa seems to be the place to do it. That's kind of what has led t this. I think that will be an interesting ... Are you going to go to that?
Matt Patane: Yeah, that's the plan right now because I think it'll be interesting if more candidates show up. If they don't, then hopefully it turns to at least be a conversation about what, if not Iowa startups and innovative people want, nationally what those people want.
Geoff Wood: It will be really interesting to hear what they say and obviously Fiorina, did I say that right?
Matt Patane: Yeah.
Geoff Wood: She has a technology background in leadership at HP. A couple of candidates have been to the Iowa Startup Accelerator building to do events. Have you covered those?
Matt Patane: I haven't covered those specifically because I'm not covering every single candidate but Chris Christie went a few months ago. And I know someone else went.
Geoff Wood: Was it Kasich?
Matt Patane: It might have been Kasich.
Geoff Wood: Kasich, yeah.
Matt Patane: But I don't recall.
Geoff Wood: I remember I asked someone if they talked about startups and innovation as part of those town hall and the answer is no.
Matt Patane: Right.
Geoff Wood: Which was surprising to me. If you're going to be in that setting, you'd think that would be ... When the president goes to Cedar Falls Utilities, he's talking about broadband access, that's the backdrop.
Matt Patane: Some of that could just be where we are right now. Also, part of it is innovation as a political topic can be seen as a smaller part of the larger issue of the economy. I think most people aren't ... If you start talking about innovation, most people aren't going to grab onto that. Most people are going to grab onto we want more jobs or higher pay or income equality. We want help with our student loans. Innovation is a more difficult concept to discuss policy wise unless you're in that world. I'm sure Steve Case would come out and talk about it as much as anyone but if you're not an expert in that field, it's difficult.
Geoff Wood: Yeah, I could see that. The event today was Yahoo, Drake University ...
Matt Patane: Yahoo News at Drake University but it was primarily a Yahoo News event or sponsored event. They brought in a lot of different people and it was a broad discussion a lot about trying to get more people involved whether it's minority voters or younger voters or people who just don't think they have a voice, how they could do it. There was an interesting discussion about how now voters might now want the heroic candidate. They want a real candidate, they want someone that's authentic.
Geoff Wood: Someone they could drink a beer with?
Matt Patane: Kind of but not just that. It goes beyond that statement which is joked about a lot but it's true. I think in Iowa that comes up, if you look someone in the eye and they feel real to you that probably weighs heavily in your decision on who you're going to vote for. Whereas if someone is unattainable, they might have great policy decisions but is that really someone you're going to connect with? In Iowa especially, I think it's important for a lot of caucus goers.
Geoff Wood: You said something, was there a protest kind of popped up today while you were there?
Matt Patane: Yeah, this is non-tech, sort of political news but non-tech related news but for anyone that's followed what's going on at the University of Missouri in Columbia, which is where I actually graduated school from a few years ago, there have been a lot of demonstrations and protests regarding racial tensions. Drake University, a couple of students at this Yahoo News Digital Democracy event during a break got up and basically protested in solidarity with the Missouri students.
Geoff Wood: During the event?
Matt Patane: It was during a break. The morning session had ended ...
Geoff Wood: It wasn't disruptive.
Matt Patane: No, they didn't break into Rand Paul's speech or his Q&A but it did for the people there, we were in a good-sized space but it caught everyone's attention.
Geoff Wood: Was it in Sheslow Hall or was it in the ...
Matt Patane: We were in Olmstead Center.
Geoff Wood: Olmstead, okay.
Matt Patane: I want to say this wasn't like a single event. From what I saw on Twitter and a couple of other things, it sounds like there's a group at Drake that was trying to do more of this throughout the day. I only saw this one side of it because that's where I was.
Geoff Wood: I think there have been a lot of solidarity things around the country, different students ...
Matt Patane: Right, it's not Drake only and it's not University of Missouri only. They picked a good forum and what happened is after the students left, it got talked about a lot. This event was talking about how social media or technology can help lead to more activism or more involvement and getting up and chanting and demonstrating in support of someone is the perfect way to do it. If you have a hashtag on Twitter whether you're in favor of Twitter activism or not, that stuff works to an extent even if it is just to get attention. It was interesting to see.
Geoff Wood: Speaking of Mizzou, as you said you were a graduate there. I read a lot of articles about the stuff going on on campus there and it's interesting to me. We don't need to get into the specifics of what's going on there but I do have a specific Mizzou question. Is the student newspaper really called "The Man Eater"?
Matt Patane: It is.
Geoff Wood: What is that about?
Matt Patane: I feel like I knew the answer to this when I went to school. I should say I worked at the Man Eater briefly because if you're a journalism student, that's what you do. It is a good student paper so I'm not going to knock the Man Eater. I don't exactly know where the name comes from. I want to say it's a play off of our mascot which is the Tigers. That could be completely wrong but to me that makes some sense.
Geoff Wood: Like the tiger eats men?
Matt Patane: Right, but again I don't know. It was not something I investigated whole heartedly when I was there.
Geoff Wood: I think I was reading an Atlantic piece or a New York Times piece about this and it shows there's a really well done, as they said in the piece, timeline of all the events that have kind of led up to what's going on here. It was like at the student newspaper, the Man Eater and I clicked on it and I was like, that's a real name of a thing. The closest thing I have to that is Iowa State used to have a yearbook that they put out. They stopped that well before I was in school but it was called the Bomb. It totally missed that part of the 90s where you could call something the Bomb so I feel like I kind of missed the thing.
Matt Patane: I'll say from a journalism standpoint, the Man Eater is there and that's the student paper. There's the Missourian which is a community paper but it's connected to the journalism school.
Geoff Wood: Oh, really? It's not the student paper.
Matt Patane: Right, it's like professors teach and edit and then students when they're going through they report and get class credit but it's on hand experience in journalism.
Geoff Wood: At the Missourian.
Matt Patane: At the Missourian.
Geoff Wood: Did you work on that too then?
Matt Patane: I did. This is completely un-tech related but still. It's been interesting to see with all this stuff going on basically that those local guys are there on the ground first and so I started seeing some of this stuff about two weeks or a week-and-a-half maybe and then all of a sudden like CNN, AP, NBC, all the big stations went kind of after the football players got involved.
Geoff Wood: I've actually seen some critiques of that too like if Mizzou was undefeated this year, the football players probably wouldn't have take the stand. It's been interesting. I've been reading a lot about the First Amendment on sports sites that sometimes have no connection to the football players there. Fox Sports is writing about it. That's a really crazy thing. I am not a journalist but I have taken several journalism classes in my life and the whole thing about public property and the First Amendment. The First Amendment and freedom of speech gets brought up a lot incorrectly but usually the other way around of people saying you're denying my freedom of speech. It's only the government that gets in trouble when they do that, it's not corporations when they do that to their employees, that type of thing.
Matt Patane: Speaking of First Amendment, for anyone who is listening and wants to learn how to talk to a journalist about what you're working on, just shoot me an email or a tweet or get in contact with Geoff because he would know about it. To segue back into the tech world, that protest happened happened at this big event and Geoff you were at this big event last week with the Startup Accelerator and then next week there's a whole other week of events, which I've never experienced this before. What's going on next week?
Geoff Wood: Next week is Global Entrepreneurship Week and for the first time I would say that, and this was a great segue, good work.
Matt Patane: Thank you, I was hoping it would be smooth.
Geoff Wood: It was very smooth although I'm still not over the Man Eaters part. Anyway, Global Entrepreneurship Week and that is I believe a Kaufman Foundation program probably with some other people. The idea of celebrating entrepreneurship and for the first time as a statewide community in Iowa we're doing a bunch of events for that and the credit for like getting this all fired up really goes to the Iowa Startup Accelerator Folks who I guess had time to work on this in the midst of planning Launch Day.
Matt Patane: They have a staff now.
Geoff Wood: They do have a staff. David Taminsky, Erin Hengleman, Jocelyn, even Sara Binder who works for We Create here but is very closely attached to what's going on there. They kind of got this whole thing going and had the idea for Innovate Her, which is an SBA national program. I think the actual SBA rep or person, I don't know who it is, reached out to them and said, you should do one of these Innovate Her contests during the Global Entrepreneurship Week. Eric called me and he said let's do statewide so the idea is to have four of those across the state next week. Originally, it was Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport but I think I heard the Council Bluffs one has kind of been shuttered a little bit. Monday night here we're having pitches from founders who have companies that relate to women or family centric ideas. Not just female founders but really that benefit females.
Matt Patane: Right, which is an interesting twist on the idea of supporting women in innovation where this is more supporting innovation that's supporting women.
Geoff Wood: Right, which is definitely interesting and I wonder if that's maybe because of the federal program if they don't want to be thought of as discriminating or something. The subject area is women and families, not just for women and families founders, that type of thing. There are first round pitches, they pitch ideas, we choose a local winner, we send those on to the federal SBA, they decide amongst the probably several hundred sites doing this the best ten based on what we send on from around the country. They get invited to DC and the pitch for I think $70,000 in cash from Microsoft, I'm pretty sure it's Microsoft, as the winner for that. There will be four of those in some form. Like I said, I'm not sure what's going on with Council Bluffs right now but really cool idea. Jocelyn I think has done most of the work behind the scenes here. That's exciting and that's going on throughout the week. That leads into the weekend, which is Startup Weekend across the state of Iowa.
Also funny, and this I think David Tominsky had this idea of let's do them all across the state and let's do them simultaneously. We've never done two simultaneously in Iowa before and now we're doing five. The original five were Council Bluffs, Ames, Cedar Falls, Iowa City, and the Quad Cities. I just got some email today so this might be breaking news for folks but it sounds like some of the events didn't get up to critical mass so they were folding in on others. I heard Council Bluffs is officially out, it's not happening. I heard Quad Cities might be combining with Iowa City, I don't know what that means. Maybe the people that registered will come to Iowa City instead because they didn't get to critical mass.
Then what's funny is a different email was like, hey I guess there's one in Sioux City too that nobody knew about. It wasn't part of these five but it is the first time that we tried to coordinate on things like this as a statewide community. Great effort, I think execution will be better the next time we do this and that's as much on me as anybody else that's trying to do this because I'm helping with the Ames event along with Diana Wright and Sam Schill. Diana is doing the bulk of the work there so we really appreciate what she's doing.
Matt Patane: For those that don't know, which if you're listening to this is probably no body but weekends are basically you start Friday night and then by Sunday you have to have a company but like in a team.
Geoff Wood: Right, Friday night you pitch ideas to the group, usually 30-second pitches, really quick. The last time I did this was 2013 and we wrote them on big Post-it notes and then tried to lobby people for your idea. If you got enough people behind your idea that wanted to work on it, then you could form a team, work on it throughout the 54 hours and yes people go home and sleep in the middle. Then come back Sunday night and pitch them what you've come up with and sometimes you have a built out product or an MVP type of thing, sometimes you don't. I actually am the proud second place finisher in the 2013 Startup Weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas. That was the last time I did this, which happens to be where my folks live.
Matt Patane: What did you pitch?
Geoff Wood: It was a product called 150 and the idea was if somebody ... I still want to do this product someday but if somebody else would just do it and I could use it, I would take that too. This idea that I had just transitioned out of Silicon Prairie News and was working on my own and I knew there were people that were very relevant in my life and would be relevant in my career later on that I just didn't have a reason to talk to anymore. One is Jim Linder who was a big sponsor of Silicon Prairie News, he was interim president at the University of Nebraska, I don't know now if he's now president or not, I've kind of lost track of him but Jim Linder would be a good guy to know.
I used to exchange emails a lot but what I wanted was a product that would monitor all my communications and tell me, hey you said you were going to reach out to Jim once every six months. If I had done that, it would just reset the counter at that point and then flag me when the six months came up. If I hadn't that, it would say it's time to reach out because six months have gone by. I tried to do this with slingshot type email apps and it's just really tough. I wanted something that would at calls and that type of thing. If somebody wants to build that, I would pay to use it.
Matt Patane: I would think journalists would use that too because we're constantly trying to keep in touch with a million people all at once.
Geoff Wood: We did get second place, I don't remember who got first place. We got second place really because the judge said, if you could automate this for sales people in a way that it started doing the reaching out for you, which I wasn't sure I wanted to go in that direction but okay. He'd given that feedback as a mentor so I knew he was looking for it and I guess I just pitched it well at the end because he's like, we think this is an IPO level idea. I'm like, wow okay, thank you for the prize which I think was jam box, like a little speaker thing. That's the actual prize I got but got a medal too which I sometimes wear around the office just for fun. It's the only medal I ever won.
Matt Patane: That's normal.
Geoff Wood: Yeah, so sign up for Startup Weekend. You still have a week to do that. I was about to say a day but it's next weekend.
Matt Patane: Let me ask you, do you think that having even if it's only three or four of these events happening at the same time in Iowa, which we were talking earlier about it's a small, it's not necessarily a small state, it's smaller than some but it's bigger than others but in terms of the entrepreneurs ...
Geoff Wood: You mean everything?
Matt Patane: Not necessarily. If you drive through Iowa like I have a lot in the last couple of weeks, it's not a small state but I guess my point was the entrepreneurial community is even a lot smaller than Iowa is and each city has to work with every other city if they really want us to be this big community. It can't just be Des Moines by itself. It has to be Des Moines and Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Do you think having all these Startup Weekends together at the same time in different places is a benefit? Does it confuse things?
Geoff Wood: I think it's a neat idea. We're going to do live Skype stuff in between them. I think the three university ones will probably have the best success just because a lot of people who are participating in Ames are students and students don't like to travel for things like this. The act that it's in their backyard is helpful and I assume Iowa City and Cedar falls to be that way too. We're going to Skype between them so we'll do some things where people like live Skype and you can be talking to the others so that would be a cool thing to do.
Where I'd like to take this long term and I'm not the decision maker on this, I've thrown it out a couple times. This is actually inspired by what I saw in Arkansas in 2013 is have the concept of Startup Weekend in Iowa that just moves around. Startup Weekend in Iowa is in Ames this time and Startup Weekend in Iowa is in Cedar Falls next time and try to encourage the entire state. Instead of having three Startup Weekends with 50 people at them, we have one Startup Weekend with 150 people at them. That math doesn't exactly work because as I said people don't like to travel. If it could be a big event and they didn't compete or cannibalize each other, I think that's a cool idea.
Maybe these blow up the last week, we could get a ton of people at these but the original Startup Weekend is in Des Moines, I went to the first one in 2009 which was small, a very new concept at that point. Then they got big. They were over 100 people a couple of times. Then they've gotten smaller as there have been more and more Startup Weekends around the state. I used to have the number, I want to say there's like 10 or 12 cities now that have hosted Startup Weekends in Iowa. Part of maybe what we're seeing in Council Bluffs and Quad Cities and some of these other places is just like the density just isn't there to support these.
Matt Patane: That's kind of what I was asking too, because the entrepreneurial community can seem so small at times, how many of these events is too many? That's a question I've asked for different things. We only have two or three accelerators in the state you could argue but like how many is too many? How many is not enough? How many co-working spaces do you need in central Iowa or whatever is? Because we're not Silicon Valley, we're New York just in terms of people alone, density becomes an issue very quickly.
Geoff Wood: Density is very important, entrepreneurial density is what makes this work. If you read any of Brad Feld's stuff that's very clear in there. Boulder, Colorado is one of these cities that everybody in the world is trying to emulate, it's only 200,000 people but a big chunk of those people are entrepreneurs. They get so much done because the density is there. Places like Iowa, there's no such think as density in Iowa. The closest thing you have to density is downtown in a place like Des Moines. We spread everything out, we're very parochial here, that type of thing. Every different community wants to use this as an economic development strategy so they're going to host a Startup Weekend and they're going to have the co-working space. They're going to tick all the boxes of things you could do but if we were able to think more regionally or statewide ...
Matt Patane: Right, is it really helping the overall endgame.
Geoff Wood: Yeah, I think that's the case. Nobody knows the answer to this and Brad's work he calls the Boulder thesis and I'm convinced that those aren't ... It's not like you just apply what worked in Boulder somewhere else because every city is different. Maybe it just happened to work in Boulder and there's nothing to be taken away from that. I think there is a lot to take away but that could be the case. I don't know where I was going with all that but the more we can work together ... Oh the other thing. Tony Hsieh the CEO of Zappo's who is really the startup community builder at least funder in Las Vegas has imported a ton of people, which is something we really need to work on is importing new people to Iowa. He's imported a ton of entrepreneurial people to Vegas. He has a saying, at least I think it's from him, collisions over convenience.
We're doing five Startup Weekends which is convenient for the people that live in those areas but maybe if we did them all together and had that collision ... It's one of the reasons here at Gravitate we have two floors, I don't have a water fountain or a kitchenette on the second floor. If those people didn't come down to the third floor where the kitchen is, I probably wouldn't see them during the day because they're just in their space. I want that collision type of thing. I think there are lots of other lessons to be learned from witty little sayings like that.
Matt Patane: I've asked that questions to people not just for stories but getting their thoughts on things, what is dense enough, what is not dense enough, what should be that evaluation? You can apply that to anything in economic development in which innovation is a big part of and there are a lot of people here making a big push for that, especially in smaller towns that need a boost. Where are they going to find that? It's all about limited resources and bandwidth. It's just an interesting idea to juggle.
Geoff Wood: It's probably a whole other topic for us later on. It is interesting to me. We talk about our startup communities in such a positive light but I don't know that they're getting better yet. We have new programs going on but I don't know that they're growing. I don't hear about new companies starting as often as I used to so I feel like we regressing a little. I don't have any data on that, that's just anecdotal. Maybe we have too much, maybe we've spread ourselves too thin, maybe we built too much infrastructure to try to support something that's not there, I don't know.
Matt Patane: It could be people are being quieter, people in the media aren't doing a good job about it.
Geoff Wood: That could be. We do have less media now.
Matt Patane: Right, there are a lot of factors.
Geoff Wood: I think you write it more consistently about anybody else on this topic but you used to have Silicon Prairie News with a dedicated staff. The Business Record used to have more of a dedicated, a part time staff. They still write on occasion but I don't think they're seeking out the stories as much as they were prior to that. The Gazette didn't cover ISA Demo Day, at least I couldn't find it on mine and that really surprised me because it's the hometown paper for where this event happened. You covered it, SPN covered but those were both also kind of covered from a distance. They weren't on the site.
Matt Patane: I'll admit I mentioned it but I wasn't able to go so it's hard for me to cover something that I wasn't at, which for me was not ...
Geoff Wood: You don't have a stringer in Cedar Rapids to send there?
Matt Patane: Unfortunately, no. If I did, it would be me.
Geoff Wood: Stringer, I could have made this podcast with a stringer.
Matt Patane: That's a journalism term. We tried journalism terms and everyone shot me down. Anyway, do want move on?
Geoff Wood: Okay.
Matt Patane: Otherwise, we'll get on a whole other tangent about community building and economic development and that's a whole other three podcasts.
Geoff Wood: We should do that though because that's your background in reporting. It's a little bit my background with the city planning degree that I have so it's always something I pay attention to. Let's talk about a topic that you wrote about and others this week, the Technology Association of Iowa launched a new apprenticeship program as a way to help Iowa technology companies train the specific talent they need. About half of the apprenticeship program will consist of on-the-job training while the other half includes outside course work and educational training. We're not going to survive if we don't have actual new talent being brought into the market, said TAI’s director of talent development, Tyler Wyngarden to you at the Register. We're talking about apprenticeships, I assume this is a Donald Trump thing?
Matt Patane: No, it is not. This will not be a reality show.
Geoff Wood: That was a better joke?
Matt Patane: It was a better joke but I'm going to shoot you down.
Geoff Wood: Okay. This is a big program that TAI rolled out.
Matt Patane: The Technology Association has been working on trying to get an apprenticeship for a while. There's a process you have to go through, you can't just start an apprenticeship. I mean you could ...
Geoff Wood: It's a Department of Labor thing.
Matt Patane: You have to get a registered apprenticeship which can then apply for support or federal funds or state funds and plus it helps to actually have it be registered. You have to go through the US Department of Labor which requires curriculum. That half and half requirement where it's in class and on the job is a requirement from the Department of Labor. In order to be a registered apprenticeship, that's what you have to offer.
Geoff Wood: What do get for being registered? Do you get funding for that?
Matt Patane: I don't think you get direct funding but it helps and I don't think I wrote this but TAI can then say we're registered, we're now the go to like if a company goes to them, the company goes to TAI and says we want to be part of this apprenticeship because we want to train one or two application developers, the tech association can then say, all right we'll help you get funding for it. It's helps because they can then go to the Department of Labor or the state's economic development authority and say, we're registered, you know we have this program, you know it's been vetted, can you help us get funding for it? They can then take that money to the company and help the company support the person they're trying to train. Apprenticeships usually are talked about in the manufacturing sphere and I've covered that and a couple of years ago ...
Geoff Wood: In any sort of trade-trade, I have a cousin who is a welder. He went through a long term apprenticeship program.
Matt Patane: It's not usually a technology ... I kind of brought this up to Tyler at the time. People don't think about apprenticeships and technology. His comment, not that this was directly connected to that statement, his comment that we're not going to survive if we don't bring in new talent is kind of directly related to that. I think the idea is why just rely on people coming out of college that are skilled and have this training and are qualified but they're spending four years, why not ... Maybe you're keeping out someone that's 30 years old and didn't go to college for it.
Geoff Wood: Is the intention for that, is it a, because I didn't se that in the ... I read the press release that they sent out and they said this specific one they're starting with is application developers, right?
Matt Patane: Right.
Geoff Wood: I think they intend to do others later on.
Matt Patane: They do. When Tyler and I spoke, basically the Technology Association surveyed their members or companies around the state and said, what do you need, what are the skills that you need? There was a whole list that they came up with and people ranked basically and application developer ranked at the top. The best description I have for an application developer that I kind of put together was they're basically people that design, build, and maintain specific programs or software. If you're an insurance company, you're going to need different software than a manufacturing company or than an ice cream maker or than the Register or Gravitate if you had software.
If the company can then train this person to have good skills and become a good application developer but then also train them to say this is what we specifically need so you're training them to meet your specific need. The company gets, hopefully this is an ideal scenario, the company gets an employee that knows what the company needs and what they need to do, the person gets a job, the company doesn't have to hire out and maybe pay more for it. Hopefully that person stays or if they don't, they then have the skill that they can take somewhere else and then Iowa gets one more application developer.
Geoff Wood: Which makes sense. We briefly talked about my short career as the director of information technology, which got a nice little chuckle from Aaron Horn on Twitter on a previous episode. At that point, I was in Indianapolis and I was meeting with other IT directors in a kind of a forum thing and they were trying to do this back in 2007, 2006 that type of thing, trying to develop a IT apprenticeship program. I'm sure Iowa was working on it at that point too but it's interesting that we're just now getting to this. The need seems to be real. I have lots of people that approach me always looking for technical talent, typically software developer technical talent so this is interesting. The Gazette did a little story that included this too. It was a broader apprenticeship story but to quote from them, they said that last year Iowa had more than 600 registered apprenticeship programs representing about 8,000 apprentices according to the Department of Labor's 2015 report. That's not IT talent, we're talking about more traditional stuff at that point.
Matt Patane: The Technology Association actually got approval for this back in October but they did this roll out because last was National Apprenticeship Week. It's kind of like of Global Entrepreneurship Week for entrepreneurs it's highlighting apprenticeships so the governor did a tour of manufacturing companies around the state to roll that out.
Geoff Wood: That's why the Gazette was covering it and I think I saw one in the Courier too, a story about it that didn't really include the TAI piece.
Matt Patane: The Technology Association apprenticeship was connected to that but they've also been working on this for a while and trying to get registered. They do want to do more but again, you don't just have a manufacturing apprenticeship, they're always tied around a specific skill because there has to be specific curriculum. It'll be interesting to see if people will apply to this program or which companies are doing it. Do we see more ... Hypothetically, would Rokiva take advantage of this or are they fine because they're able to find talent and then train internally or would this be more like Principle Financial or Tyson coming in and saying this isn't what we do. Although I'm sure companies like Tyson and Principle they have enough IT people but for a smaller insurance people that doesn't have IT talent. Do they take advantage of this?
Geoff Wood: Or does a ten-person startup that's just looking for it, do they take advantage of it? Does it even make sense for them to take advantage of it? We talked about re-training and that was a line I also picked up in the press release but it is also high school kids. Is it an alternative to going to school?
Matt Patane: I don't remember that specifically from the press release but I may just not have seen it but yeah, the idea would be ... If you're going to college to get a computer science degree, you're probably going to get trained in this or get taught these skills in college. I think the apprenticeship is for like a manufacturing apprenticeship or a welding apprenticeship. It's for the people that didn't go to college and want a new skill, didn't go to college and want to find a new job, or in college and want to switch paths.
Geoff Wood: What about an 18-year-old high school grad that doesn't want to go to college, just wants to jump right in.
Matt Patane: I think it would be open for them too.
Geoff Wood: Because I feel like that's where most manufacturing stuff is.
Matt Patane: There's no reason in any apprenticeship to not allow someone in based on their age or whether they did or didn't go to college.
Geoff Wood: It's the changing way that people get educated with everything online now. If you really want to be an application developer and you can start as an apprentice and get a job at say Workiva, we don't know if they're participating but say at Workiva at 18 versus going to Iowa State in the same town and spending tens of thousands of dollars and having student loan debt. That's probably an attractive choice to people right now.
Matt Patane: Whereas TAI can come in and say, look we have this thing it's registered so we didn't just make it up. We talked with people to develop this curriculum. The Department of Labor signed off on it. This small insurance company wants to take part in this and they'll find, the company will most likely find an applicant to put through it and then they bring ... It's an alternative, it's two to three years instead of three to five.
Geoff Wood: Plus you're probably getting paid.
Matt Patane: Right. The way traditional apprenticeships work at least in Iowa is that yeah, you get paid while you're on the job. If you're going through one for the steamfitter's union, you're getting in-class training, on-the-job training, and you're getting paid.
Geoff Wood: Apprenticeships always make me think of the founding fathers and Ben Franklin and stuff.
Matt Patane: That's the mentality, it's all about passing down knowledge from the experienced worker to the less experienced worker so that the company has continued talent, which in technology I haven't see a lot of talk about, except for maybe the last five years because now it's becoming more prevalent. We've talked about this a lot where everyone talks about this tech talent shortage, everyone wants to address it, how do you do it? This would be another avenue.
Geoff Wood: That actually leads us right into our question this week. This question came from Scott Kubie who is here in Des Moines. He says, is there a shared understanding within our community of what the talent gap in Iowa actually is? Is it really as simple as saying there are not enough software developers? What do you think?
Matt Patane: My answer would be, is there a full understanding, no. I think that could apply to the broader discussion about talent because in Iowa a lot of people are fond of saying we're lacking these skilled workers and that's traditionally applied to the manufacturing space but you could apply it to a lot of companies. There are other people that say that's bunk basically to use a word I never use.
Geoff Wood: The founding fathers used that word.
Matt Patane: Right. It's not that were lacking the skills, it's we're lacking the pay scale or the quality of life or where the companies are, that's not where people want to move. There's a lot up in the air. True to tech talent, I think it's easy to say it's software development. For me, as someone who is to super ingrained on the tech side of things, if I hear software developer, I'm like okay that makes sense. That's seems like a general job description. Yeah, let's just get more software developers. I'm sure each company has specific IT talent, specific cyber security talent, they need software development, application development, graphic design, specific coding skills that they need. A data center is going to probably need something a lot more intensive than an insurance company.
Geoff Wood: It's interesting that you say that too because that was the first thing that jumped to mind for me was that we have a shortage of software developers. We know that because there are more ideas that want to be built out than there are people to build them out. Are those ideas worth it? Are they good ideas? That I don't know and that's kind of the same debate we have with funding. Is there enough funding in Iowa? There are more companies asking for funding than getting it but maybe those companies don't deserve funding like that type of thing. Where I think probably the next place goes, this is really where that group in Indianapolis that I was talking with was saying. It wasn't application developers, it was system admin folks. It was the unsexy IT thing.
If you were the company's IT guy, if you remember the old Jimmy Fallon sketch from Saturday Night Live, it's that thing that is never appreciated. I might have said this here before, if everything is going well in your company, nobody thinks of IT, nobody praises them, nobody says this is a good job. If everything is going crazy and the system is down, you're at fault. It's a thankless jog. That's a job nobody wants. Apprenticing those people and finding ... That I think is probably next. What they were saying 7-10 years ago when I was there was, we don't have replacement people. Nobody is coming up in this field to take over us as we retire.
Matt Patane: It's interesting because that's the same discussion that a lot of manufacturing people have.
Geoff Wood: It's an unsexy, nobody wants this job.
Matt Patane: Some of that's because how ... Again, you could argue that's where education went and I say this as someone who has basically two liberal arts bachelor degrees, that's what I went to school for. It's the same thing, it's the traditional unsexy jobs. There's talk about even with stem teaching, does anyone want to teach stem? Are kids interested in going into IT or are they interested in technology in general? My guess is most kids aren't interested in IT. They might say they're interested in tech but at the time they may not realize that technology, a good portion of it is IT. Not that IT is bad or boring, especially now everyone needs it.
Geoff Wood: Every company is a tech company.
Matt Patane: Every company needs IT whether it's helping set up computers to maintaining your software to maintaining your firewalls.
Geoff Wood: Cyber security.
Matt Patane: Right. I realize IT is not all of that but that's the idea.
Geoff Wood: I don't know if we really answered the question, is there a shared understanding?
Matt Patane: My assumption is that most people who are talking about jobs probably realize that we need more of these people. You could argue that we need more of everyone to an extent. Iowa itself needs more people. That's pretty much the big economic development question right now, how do we get more people not just Des Moines but everywhere or not just to Waukee which is the fastest growing part of the state right now? How do we get them out to Sioux City or smaller towns? My guess is that people realize that there's a shortage. What those specific needs are is probably less well know. The more and more you dive down, again one company is going to have a different software or tech need than another company. It depends on what they need built, what they need secured, what they need maintained.
Geoff Wood: It's a good point. The Waukee thing is interesting too just total tangent here. The downtown chamber of commerce here in Des Moines had a meeting or a panel discussion this morning of top ten things that are going to happen in downtown Des Moines in 2016. It's a forecast they do every year, it's a great event. The assistant city manager mentioned, he's like, we talked about all the development downtown but if you add up all the apartments that are put in any given year in downtown where think, another apartment building, how are we going to have this many people? He's like, Waukee puts up one building and it's equivalent to the total number of what downtown Des Moines adds every year. Just a single unit, that's how fast those suburbs like that are growing. That just reminded me of that.
Trivia question this week.
Matt Patane: I do not have one.
Geoff Wood: Okay, we're 0 for 3 on the trivia question segment.
Matt Patane: We'll just put that up where we go back and forth or if we want to open it up, just like questions if you guys have a trivia question for us, we'll figure out a way to deal with that I'm sure.
Geoff Wood: You probably have to email to one of the other of us to ask to ask the other person because we need the answers.
Matt Patane: Or email to both of us and we'll decide who gets to answer it and who gets to try and stump the other one.
Geoff Wood: Yeah, but we'd both see the answer then.
Matt Patane: No, they'd just send the question and then we have to look it up.
Geoff Wood: Okay.
Matt Patane: We'll work it out.
Geoff Wood: We'll work that out and we'll let you know
Matt Patane: Or if you have other ideas for fun things we should end the podcast on, let us know.
Geoff Wood: A couple of requests on that of our listeners. I think we should name our segments. We have kind of the opening where we talk about the stories but then when we have the question segment, that would be a fun thing to be named. If somebody has an idea for a name for that, let us know. Trivia question or whatever fun thing we have towards the end, that would be good. I kind of feel like there needs to be some kind of sign off. All my favorite podcasts have sign offs. The Nerdist podcast, they always just end with, enjoy your burrito.
Matt Patane: Right, I like that one a lot.
Geoff Wood: I like that too. Do you know where that comes from? You have to go back and listen a long time ago.
Matt Patane: I don't know the origin of it but I heard them talk about it recently and this could be made up but it was basically they were trying to get people to make things. Chris Hardwick says that a lot so enjoy your burrito is something along those lines.
Geoff Wood: Not really. It goes back to this one episode where they're talking about depression and how Jonah Ray who is one of the sometimes hosts on there would look forward all week to getting this particular burrito. Then he'd eat half the burrito and then he'd be bummed that he's already halfway through the burrito. There was this whole thing about just enjoy where you are at live whenever you're at that point in life. That's the general idea of enjoy your burrito. Shout out to Chris Hardwick. I've actually seen that podcast live twice.
Matt Patane: It seems like it would be a fun podcast to see.
Geoff Wood: That's a fun one. Something like that. One of the Jordan Jesse Go podcasts, their sign off is remember, all great radio hosts have a good saying but he doesn't actually have one, he just says it that way. If somebody more creative than the two of us would give us some way to end the podcast, we would appreciate that. Then send us questions and that type of thing. I usually ask on Facebook and Twitter as well so you can hit us up there. The only way to end the podcast right now though is that we'll be back next week with another edition of the Minimum Viable podcast.
Matt Patane: Thanks, Geoff.
Geoff Wood: Thanks, Matt.