A Closer Look: Geoff Wood
Friday, June 27, 2014 6:00 AM
Geoff Wood recently announced that he will open a new entrepreneurial hub for Des Moines called Gravitate by Sept. 1 in the Midland Building on Sixth Avenue. Gravitate essentially aims to replace StartupCity Des Moines as the place to be for entrepreneurs in downtown Des Moines. StartupCity will close at the end of September when its funding from the city, state, county and other sources runs out. Wood has been heavily involved in the Central Iowa startup scene since he moved to Greater Des Moines in 2009. He has worked as the chief operating officer for the Midwest technology startup blog Silicon Prairie News, and he currently runs his own weekly newsletter and video webcast called Welch Avenue. He also works for Startup Genome, a nonprofit organization that is attempting to map startup communities all over the world with a database of entrepreneurs and startup businesses.
Hometown: Cedar Rapids
Education: Bachelor’s degree in community and regional planning from Iowa State University, M.B.A. from Indiana University
Family: Wood and his wife, Hope, have a 4-year-old son named Graham.
What led you to the idea of opening Gravitate?
I really think cities need an entrepreneurial center of gravity. Something that attracts entrepreneurs, tech people, remote workers, visitors to town, all to one place. I think that goes back to some of what you see in Silicon Valley. Part of what makes that a cool place is the density of these people together. We’re probably never going to have that density citywide in Des Moines, but we can create it on one floor in one part of town. I see Gravitate being the place to do that, the entrepreneurial hub for Des Moines. StartupCity has been that.
How will Gravitate compare to StartupCity?
The primary piece of StartupCity was always the startup incubator. We’re not doing that at all. We’re trying to bring forward the concepts that developed kind of ancillary to StartupCity. Because they had the incubator and the space there, they were able to have a lot of events, and they were able to draw a lot of people. That’s something that is important to Gravitate. Also, coworking, just that idea of energy and buzz and density, is something that we want to do here. The reason StartupCity existed was for the incubator, but all these other great things happened both by design and by serendipity. We want to pull those other pieces forward.
Why will this concept work when StartupCity didn’t?
I think this will work because we’ve seen it work at StartupCity. StartupCity isn’t closing because these pieces didn’t work. It’s because they decided not to go forward with the incubator piece. So I’ve talked with (StartupCity principals Christian Renaud and Tej Dhawan) quite a bit about this. They are supportive of the idea, they’re not directly involved in any way, but they’ve given me a lot of feedback on what they see as things that didn’t work at StartupCity. One of those things is figuring out a business model that allows you to pay yourself for it. It’s not just a community engagement thing. They didn’t take any compensation themselves. So I’m trying to build this as a business and make sure by the time we start this that I have that business model figured out.
What is the business model?
The repeatable revenue will come from monthly coworking. I want to cash-flow it based on that. The other piece is some sponsorship to get it off the ground. I think the established business community is the right group to do that. (Note: So far, 25 coworking members have signed up and the BrownWinick law firm and the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center have signed on as sponsors. Sponsorships are available for $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000)
How have things changed in the startup scene since you moved here in 2009?
I think it’s evolved a lot, and in a positive way. In 2009, there wasn’t really a concept for what this industry was or what this classification of business was. Now, you have a part-time beat at the Business Record that focuses on this, The Des Moines Register has a reporter who focuses on this, and neither of those things existed in 2009. So I think that shows that this community thinks its important to know the story and help the startups here.
Maybe on the negative side, I think we’ve seen the startup community and the established business community maybe divide some. One of the things that I hope to do with Gravitate is repair that relationship a little bit. Have a space where people can mix. With all the things I work on, I come from the startup perspective on things, but I try to make them applicable to the larger community. I definitely want the space to be a place where corporate innovation can happen, where established companies can look at the new people on the scene and the new tech that’s being built, and maybe think, “How do we incorporate that into what we’re doing?”
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