Think big

Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Jon Thompson presented on behalf of his early stage business, StickShift, LLC, to a panel of entrepreneurial experts during Monday's Pitch & Grow, conducted at Gary's on the River in Spencer. Thompson's business is a user-interface for mobile devices designed to provide greater speed of data entry with large data sheets. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)
Kelly McCarty (left), with Iowa Small Business Development Centers, jots down notes as Wade Arnold, of Banno, and John LaMarche, of VentureNet Iowa, listen to one of the pitches made to a diverse group of leaders in the business start-up community. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)

Facebook began in a dorm room.

Google was started by two graduate students with strong opinions who couldn't agree on anything.

Information technology is rapidly changing the way 21st-century business is conducted, and Spencer is jumping on board.

LeAnn Jacobsen, president of the Technology Association of Iowa, announced Monday that StartupCity Spencer will be opening this fall, in Gary's on the River, under La Chiesa.

"A lot of things make this idea intriguing and possible," Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen chose to make the announcement at Spencer's first ever Pitch & Grow, a forum allowing young entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas and growing businesses to a panel of experts.

StartupCity Spencer began out of StartupCity Des Moines, which began in October 2011.

"If you create a space for entrepreneurs, the creative energy develops for people to play off of each other," Christian Renaud, a principle at StartupCity Des Moines, said. "What results is an explosion of business ideas."

The day began with a lunch presentation by Renaud and Tej Dhawan, also a principle at StartupCity Des Moines. They spoke on "Jumpstarting a Young Entrepreneurial Ecosystem," and gave the presenters and experts three key points for developing a startup environment: self-actualization, the building of forums to foster conversation and development, and encouragement to "think big."

After hearing 12 presentations, the Pitch & Grow experts selected four companies who they felt gave the most successful pitches.

These four finalists included:

*Central Plains E-waste, started by Kevin Robinson, and designed to tag-team the already-established Info Dog Security with an emphasis on computers and other e-waste.

*Midwest Information Development, started by Josh Carroll, and focusing on writing and maintaining documents.

*, presented by Rick Frost and Bill Shell, serving as an affiliate program to computer service shops.

*StickShift, LLC, from Jon Thompson, is a patent-pending data-entry company for mobile devices.

After a final pitch-off, attendees and other presenters voted, naming Central Plains E-waste as winner. Robinson earned a 2013 FX WSD bicycle as his prize.

Organizers believe Spencer's first Pitch & Grow was a huge success, but StartupCity representatives hope that the entrepreneurial energy will foster and flourish.

"Love and passion creates a business that starts with a tiny idea and grows it into something completely unplanned," Dhawan said.

Renaud noted that the first step in becoming an entrepreneur is simply admitting yourself as one.

"We have to create the infrastructure where being an entrepreneur isn't a bad thing," he said.

"One hundred fifty years ago, nobody moved here to become an employee of someone else," Dhawan added. "It's in our DNA and in our communities to do stuff ourselves."

StartupCity Spencer will create a space for startup companies to co-exist. But even though it will function from the Spencer and Clay County community, it will continue to communicate openly with StartupCity Des Moines and other Startup cities around the state.

"As a state, we have phenomenal resources," Renaud said. "We need to function as one organism."

But Renaud and Dhawan's goal isn't for StartupCity Spencer to become a replica of StartupCity Des Moines.

"The industries will be different," Dhawan said. "I suspect we'll get a lot of companies based on what is naturally available around here."

StartupCity is "non-denominational", which means that its focus isn't on any one specific type of technology. This will allow for better conversations and ideas to grow from those with different technology backgrounds.

StartupCity Des Moines, and the forthcoming StartupCity Spencer, works with each startup company individually. Currently, StartupCity Des Moines fosters eight companies, and has a 7 percent acceptance rate for incoming applications.

StartupCity Spencer is currently accepting applications, and will open later this fall.

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