Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Real people investing real money in other real people.

I live in Iowa. I am not from Iowa, but it is my home. I've lived here longer than I've lived anywhere else, and I've come to love it. But, man, Iowans drive me nuts. Good smart people I know and love can't stop wringing their hands about how Iowans are too risk averse, too afraid to fail. That is unmitigated nonsense. I have recently participated in some terrific events featuring fabulous start-ups and innovation brewed right here in the Des Moines metro: TAI's Pitch & Grow, Startup City Des Moines, SPN's Thinc Iowa, and there are more in the works.  Entrepreneurs and mentors, young and old, are making things happen in the music and entertainment biz, financial services, non-profits, senior services, and locally designed and produced apparel.  Our great state schools, and my new work home , Drake University, are fostering and enabling the next, or actually, the now,  generation of entrepreneurs.  These people are not waiting for the great State of Iowa to come along and lift them up; they are lifting themselves by their own bootstraps and making things happen.  Innovative locally-founded companies like BitMethod, Locusic, The Helping Home, Tikly, Foundry Coworking, eDossea, and eComegy, just to name a few, are delivering new products and services and creating new jobs.  Smarty Pig and Dwolla are two of the most innovative financial services companies to have been spawned any where.  And they started and stayed here. Period.

So we do not lack for innovation.  I haven't even touched on big established innovative companies such as John Deer, Monsanto, Pioneer, and Principal Financial Services, or the local mid-size superstars such as Kemin Industries and Feed Energy.  We are not risk averse.

BUT, our money is risk averse.  Iowans often fall back on  central planning and the government to organize and foster investment in innovation.  Innovation does not rain down from above; start-ups do not drop down from the capital.  Innovation happens at ground level; start-ups grow up from the compost and commotion of local efforts.  And that is where our money must go.  we do not need more studies, more civic partnerships, more governmental economic development.  We need real people to invest real money in other real people.  The entrepreneurs I know do not need and are not waiting for their wealthy neighbors or their local governments to tell them what to do or how to do it.  No; they're just doing it; they are making things happen.
I would like to see wealthy Iowans, and there are a lot of them, no matter where you draw the line, to invest their money in one start-up every six months or so.  Let's give them some tax credits to counter some of the risk, but more importantly, let's celebrate their chutzpah; let's trumpet their commitment to innovation and adventure; let's recognize them as champions of entrepreneurs and inventors.  Let's make something happen.

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