Last week I participated in my third annual EntreFEST, held again in Iowa City, and it was better than ever. I've seen the event rapidly grow and evolve over the years and as I think back about the experience, here are five thoughts:
It was more than Iowa
By all outward appearances, EntreFEST is completely focused on serving the Iowa entrepreneur. Whether that person is a startup founder, small business owner or someone innovating like an entrepreneur with an established corporation. Yet, this year I met several people (speakers, sponsors and attendees) who traveled in from out-of-state. That's neat and I'm glad that whats applicable in our state has value more broadly.
This event can't leave Iowa City
Prior to this year, EntreFEST had changed cities each year. Thats a fun idea but a bit unrealistic for an event that now boasts over 1000 attendees. After seeing the dramatic changes in the event between its 2013 iteration in a single hotel in Cedar Rapids and its 2014 counterpart spread around the Ped Mall in Iowa City, it was clear that it would be impractical to find multiple locations in Iowa with that type of setup and to form relationships with all the venue owners in a new city to pull it off.
I'm by no means an Iowa City fanboy (Go State!) but that community has a great setup for the festival atmosphere and is as accessible to air and auto travel as anywhere else in Iowa. Its a great spot for EntreFEST and I hope it stays there indefinitely.
Organizers have already announced that EntreFEST 2016 will return to Iowa City—my only request is that the beautiful weather returns along with it.
Our three regent universities working together
Its really cool to see Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa all working together on this conference. The competition between our regent universities includes athletics, in-state students, funding and just about anything else that you can think of—including assistance to entrepreneurs.
EntreFEST 2015—with the three schools as co-presenting sponsors—was a neat joint effort.
UNI, as the owner of the conference, and UI, with their campus within sight of the proceedings, both have natural reasons to be involved in EntreFEST. It has to be more of an effort for ISU to justify their resources to the event so a wanted to do a big shout out to them for getting involved. ISU didn't appear to have quite the presence onsite as the other two so I hope that success of this year's event is encouragement to be even more involved in 2016.
Ecosystem, Ecosystem, Ecosystem
This may have a lot to do with the fact that I mainly hung out in the Community Champions track but I heard the word "ecosystem" something like 1,594 times over the course of EntreFEST.
As a state, we're light years ahead of where we were when I first started writing about startup community in 2009 but there is still so much to do in developing all pieces of our entrepreneurial community.
Startup founders and CEOs tend to get the press and accolades but I want to give a heartfelt thumbs up to all of you who are working along-side and behind the scenes to develop your communities.
I missed lots of things
I purposely kept my EntreFEST schedule pretty light. I had the things that I was responsible for, a couple sessions that I wanted to sit in and that was about it. I was less interested in walking away with tactical action items and more interested in just connecting with my fellow entrepreneurs—particularly those of you who don't hang out very often in Central Iowa.
NOTE: we're passing up free beer at Brothers, courtesy of HLT, for this chat:
Two forces of nature taking time for a meeting of the minds. pic.twitter.com/EEyeRhWuFH
— David Tominsky (@tominsky) May 22, 2015
Because of that mentality, I missed a ton of things that I was really interested in. In some cases thats because I had to be somewhere else at the time (still bummed that I missed Wade Arnold's talk).
In most cases it was because I had no idea that it was happening. I had read the schedule—and those events were clearly in the schedule—but I didn't notice it or understand how good it would be until I talked with someone later in the day who was raving about its greatness. There's one other place this happens to me almost every year: SXSW.
BONUS: Did anyone else pick up on this?
— Geoff Wood (@geoffwood) May 26, 2015