By Kent Darr
Raise ‘em tough
Much was made of risk tolerance at Thursday’s Power Breakfast on Innovation Acceleration. Innovators seem to have a higher risk threshold than your average loafer in the street, panelists said.

Mary Wohlford of Drake University asked the five Business Record panelists how colleges can prepare students to meet workforce needs, particularly in tech industries.

Panelist Megan Milligan, president and CEO of the Iowa Center for Economic Success had a suggestion: “Raise tougher kids. … We have to get them while they're young, right? Most of us aren't going to change our risk tolerance dramatically, but if it can be integrated into education, and I suppose a lot of parents of the kids at your school, they’re paying for tuition, they probably don’t want their kids to be as willing to take so much risk, but if you can build that into (their education) please make tougher kids. Make tougher kids for us.”

And regarding those risk takers, Delta Dental’s CEO and President Jeff Russell said it helps to weigh the risks. “There’s a difference between punching a hole in the boat above the waterline and punching a hole in the boat below the water line.”

We think you risk takers will understand the difference.


By Perry Beeman
The crowd
The Power Breakfast at the Des Moines Embassy Club Thursday was sold out at 200, though a few seats in the back ended up empty.

It seemed to be a slightly younger crowd than typical for those events. But the occupations of those in the mix showed a lot of diversity.

At least some of the audience members I saw work in startups, higher education, agriculture, finance, the state lottery, creative arts, business organizations and public relations, among others. 

Should Des Moines rank poorly on startups?
Panelist Geoff Wood said he’s not sure the national rankings that suggest Iowa ranks poorly in venture capital spending and in some cases startup activity are on the mark.

“When I try to dig into the rankings that come out, I can't make heads or tails of them. And I live this every day,” said Wood, who spends every day with startups and others at Gravitate co-working space in downtown Des Moines.

Ibsen: Morning guy? 
Craig Ibsen, who leads Next Level Ventures, an $80 million pair of funds, said in way of introducing himself at the 7 a.m. breakfast event: “We wake up every morning, although not quite as early as THIS morning, trying to invest in companies.”

Ag, insurance focus pays off
Ibsen noted that 75 percent of venture capital in the U.S. goes to California, New York and Massachusetts. Iowa stands out in insurance tech and agriculture investing. “We are seeing some statistics that show employment levels in those areas (in Iowa) are at 30 percent above the national average.”

What’s next?
Business Record Publisher and panel moderator Chris Conetzkey asked what the next two big areas will be for Iowa. Craig Ibsen of Next Level Ventures mentioned biosciences. Jeff Russell of Delta Dental mentioned banking and financial services.

Said Ibsen: “If you're looking for maybe an additional pillar, I think there's a lot of work now going on in the biosciences area in the state. ...There’s a lot more to come in that area and that's again trying to play to some of the core strengths of Iowa.”

We’ve come a long way
Panelist Geoff Wood recalled Dwolla raising $1 million early, and the celebration filled a coffee shop.

“That seemed like so much for a startup to raise here. People were celebrating like it was a rock concert that someone raised a million dollars. I don’t even know if people in that room knew what Dwolla did. They just wanted to be a part of it.”

Today, Craig Ibsen’s Next Level Ventures group is working on its second $40 million fund.


By Joe Gardyasz
Learning from failure
Dwolla’s Stephanie Atkin, one of the panelists, said that her organization’s approach is to accept failures when they happen and to learn from them. “I think taking those learning moments and sharing them with your peers in the organization is a really good thing.”

A sign posted at Dwolla basically says: “Move fast; we fail; we accept and move on,” she said. 

Many ways to plug in
Panelist Craig Ibsen noted that there are a number of ways for those working in the corporate world to be part of Iowa’s innovation infrastructure, even if they’re not the type to strike out on their own as a startup.

For instance, becoming a mentor to startups in one of the existing startup accelerators within your industry, or even connecting with a relevant accelerator or startup through LinkedIn is a start.

Of course, another way to help entrepreneurs in the “race against insolvency” is to be one of their initial beta customers to help try out a new product or concept, he said. “You don’t have to leave the corporate world to be part of innovation — there are many opportunities to plug in.” 


By Kate Hayden
Be intentional about your team
“I think the biggest accelerate to innovation is being intentional about including diverse ideas, experiences and people, to be intentional about seeking out people who come from different backgrounds to help provide and strengthen your ideas,” said Stephanie Atkin, vice president of marketing at Dwolla.