EntreFEST is next week. We’re pretty pumped.

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This is a guest post by Amanda Styron West, CEO of Seed Here Studio.

Here’s a quick behind-the-scenes look at why we’re working to grow EntreFEST into Iowa’s entrepreneur conference and how it’s shaping up this year. 

So far, this year’s line-up looks like this: 

  • 500 Iowa Entrepreneurs
  • 100 Speakers
  • 70 Breakout Sessions
  • 60 Conference Collaborators
  • 45 Rooftop Seats to Watch Office Space
  • 25 Free Experts
  • $10,000 At Stake
  • 7 Free Drink Tickets
  • 6 Keynote Talks
  • 5 Conference Tracks
  • 4 Parties
  • 1 Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Bar

Background

Before December 2012, we’d only heard of EntreFEST. It was a small business conference, and it wasn’t on our startup community radar.

Then, on Christmas Day, Maureen Collins-Williams called. 

“Do you do events?” she asked. We smiled. 

At that point, Seed Here had been producing events for the Creative Corridor community for two years.

The UNI Regional Business Center, which Maureen directed at the time, had lost their events coordinator, and the 2013 EntreFEST! was coming up in two short months. They needed help pulling it off, and we saw an opportunity to expand the conference to connect more entrepreneurs, innovators and startup founders in Iowa. 

Despite our big vision, we ended up with about four weeks to produce last year’s event. Thanks in large part to my teammates Andy Stoll and Kris Fassler, we pulled together 270 people, 30 sessions, and two inspiring keynotes by Christian Renaud and Mike Draper. Inspiration from their talks still rings in my ears and guides my steps. 

In September, Maureen called again. 

With more time, and UNI’s support to push the envelope much more, we set out to expand EntreFEST and create the Iowa entrepreneur conference of our dreams. 

The need 

The problem EntreFEST can solve: The lack of density/diversity/serendipity/awareness/cultural support/common language/connectivity/positive examples/you-name-it among entrepreneurs and their supporters in Iowa. 

At minimum, EntreFEST can alleviate these pain points for a couple of warm spring days and strengthen our statewide network to lessen their blow the rest of the year. 

The opportunity

EntreFEST was started by longtime statewide business support organizations including the Iowa Farm Bureau, the Iowa Small Business Development Centers, MyEntre.Net, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and utility companies such as Alliant, Black Hills Energy and MidAmerican Energy. These organizations, and their conference, have a loyal following of micro-business owners and people interested in starting their own thing. 

Seed Here is more connected to the startup and innovation networks of the state. 

Joining forces, we can bring together the mirco-business owners, small business owners, startup founders, corporate innovators and community champions — gathering everyone in Iowa who shares the entrepreneurial spirit and has lived through making something new happen. 

This convening creates density, exposes diversity that can make us stronger, and raises awareness of what’s happening in and for entrepreneurship in Iowa. Plus, in the bubble of the conference, we can foster a culture of support for risk-taking and bring more people into the give-before-you-get mentality. We can agree on definitions (i.e. What’s the difference between a startup and a small business?) and hash out critical conversations (Why aren’t Iowa’s women starting companies?). We can tell our stories and learn from each other to better build our dreams in Iowa. 

Most importantly, we can strengthen our statewide network so that we all have more people to call to get through the hard parts of entrepreneurship and relish in the life-giving parts. 

Highlights we can't wait for

Given the need and the opportunity, we’ve spent the last six months dreaming up EntreFEST 2014. Here’s what we’re excited for hundreds of Iowa’s entrepreneurs to experience next week: 

Iowa’s story on stage

This year, EntreFEST will create a platform for Iowa entrepreneurs to tell their own story — the Built in Iowa stage will present successful entrepreneurs from Iowa sharing their adventures and insights gained building companies here. 

Here’s the list of founders sharing their stories this year: 

  • Lydia Brown, Ascent and Skywalk Group
  • Nate Kaeding, Short’s
  • Scott Bush, Templeton Rye
  • Carl Blake, the world’s perfect pig
  • Emma Peterson, Tikly
  • Michal & Riley Eynon-Lynch, PearDeck
  • John Schnipkoweit, Nextstep.io
  • Beth Trejo, Chatterick
  • Cheri Cosgrove, TanWorld
  • Naftaly Stramer, Oasis Falafel
  • David Bernstein, Saturday in the Park
  • Kate Washut, Far Reach
  • Derian Baugh, Men’s Style Lab
  • Jason Trout and Peter Awad, GoodBlogs
  • Mark Ginsberg, M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art
  • Alec Whitters, Higher Learning Technologies
  • Ravi Patel, Hawkeye Hotels

A SXSW just for Iowa

SXSW brings the worlds innovators together and takes over downtown Austin, Texas. We’re doing the same thing, but just for Iowa’s innovators, and we’ll take over the Iowa City Ped Mall instead. EntreFEST this year will take place in four main venues in Downtown Iowa City: hotelVetro, the Sheraton Iowa City, the Iowa City Public Library and the Englert Theatre. Plus, parties, meetups and more will abound at smaller venues all over downtown. 

All the resources in one place

Iowa is full of programs and support organizations looking to help entrepreneurs and business owners be successful here. Meet most of them in the Resource Lounge at EntreFEST and get free mentor session and consultations on: 

  • Doing business with the government sector
  • Branding your company
  • Leveraging growth opportunities
  • Selecting expansion sites
  • Funding your idea
  • Finding free training
  • Raising money
  • Finding customers
  • Getting your business degree/certificate while you build your company
  • Starting a business
  • Trademarking your intellectual property
  • Structuring your business
  • Franchising
  • Setting up technology for your operations
  • Getting an SBA loan
  • Prototyping
  • Commercialization road-mapping
  • Learning lean methodology
  • Managing cash flow
  • Strategizing your exit

Having the tough conversations 

Not just a rah-rah event, EntreFEST is an opportunity for all of us to work through our shared challenges together. This year, we’ll dive into these important statewide entrepreneurial issues:

  • Empowering Women Entrepreneurs
  • Bridging the Gap Between Economic Developers and Grassroots Community Builders
  • Innovating Inside Iowa’s Largest Companies
  • Shaping Iowa Legislation to Support More Entrepreneurship

Time to party

Everyone knows the real work of conferences gets done at the parties. Having fun together builds great relationships and those relationships become the strong statewide entrepreneurial network we all want. So get together, relax, have fun and pour one out for entrepreneurship in Iowa at these parties throughout EntreFEST: 

  • 5:30PM Tuesday — Radiology Protocols Open House at IC CoLab
  • 8PM Wednesday — The EntreFEST Opening Party on the Outdoor Terrace at hotelVetro
  • 4PM Thursday — The EntreFEST Street Festival Featuring a Hog Roast with Carl Blake
  • 5PM Thursday — A Special TAI TechBrew at EntreFEST at Share
  • 5PM Thursday — The 1 Million Cups Mini Pitch Stage just outside of Share
  • 6PM Thursday — Dream Big, Grow Here State Finals at the Englert Theatre
  • 9PM Thursday — FullStack Launch Party at FullStack HQ
  • 9:30PM Thursday — A Rooftop Screening of Office Space at FilmScene
  • 9:30PM Thursday — A Late Night Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream & Waffles Bar at hotelVetro

So, yeah ... there are a few (hundred) things that will be great about EntreFEST. See why we’re pumped? Most of all it’s the thought of having all of you — the entrepreneurs that inspire us and that we’re counting and cheering on to build the great future of Iowa — here together for two or more glorious days to connect, learn, build and celebrate together. 

If you haven’t registered yet, go here.

If you’d like to contribute your time instead of money, sign-up to volunteer here.

If you choose three or more volunteer shifts, we’ll cover your All-Access Pass!

Amanda Styron West is the CEO of Seed Here Studio, a community building group dedicated to building a stronger community of entrepreneurs and creatives in Iowa.

Photo Credit: photos courtesy of West.