Head Start for Startups

When Austin Mac Nab decided to start his own business, he didn’t look to the typical tech hubs, such as New York or Silicon Valley, to locate the company. Instead, the California native chose to grow his business in Iowa, where affordability, quality of life, access to talent and a robust network of resources have created an environment ripe for entrepreneurial innovation.

The Right Address

Austin Mc Nab standing in front of a white board talking with a group of people.
Photo credit: University of Northern Iowa

“Iowa has hardworking individuals, just like any big city,” says Mac Nab, founder and CEO of VizyPay, a financial tech company in Waukee. “Most people think we’re some tiny little state, but we have plenty of business amenities, and this is a great place to raise your family. We have a great school system, and it’s the kind of place where we can create a company culture that attracts people.”

Mac Nab says Iowa’s lower cost of living and cost of doing business are key advantages.

“We bootstrapped our company from scratch,” he says. “We couldn’t have done that in California. When every dollar matters to your cash flow, Iowa is an amazing place for startups because it’s so cost-effective, and that helps us attract top talent.”

The state’s colleges and universities play a major role in advancing entrepreneurship. Iowa State University, University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, North Iowa Area Community College, and Drake University house John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers, which serve as key resources for launching and growing startups. The colleges and universities also keep a pipeline of diverse talent flowing to newly formed businesses. In fact, the state’s minority population grew by 60% from 2010 to 2020.

“The universities help us keep that homegrown, intelligent talent in our state,” Mac Nab says. “But, not only that – there are a lot of people who come through the University of Iowa and Iowa State University who are not from our state. They come from diverse backgrounds. If we can capture that talent, it also helps us diversify our workforce. More than half of our staff is made up of minorities, and that diversity has allowed us to excel.”

Ready, Set, Grow

Exterior view of a business with floral landscaping.
Photo credit: Justin A. Torner

Entrepreneurs will find an impressive menu of services and resources in Iowa, including incubators, specialized accelerator programs and coworking spaces. Agriculture-based accelerators, such as the Ag Startup Engine at Iowa State’s Research Park, help launch new ideas that keep this important industry sector for the state thriving and growing.

Take ag-tech firm Rantizo, based in Iowa City. Founded in 2018 by Michael Ott and Matt Beckwith, the company uses drone technology to help farmers more effectively and efficiently spray their crops.

An Iowa native and graduate of Iowa colleges and universities, Ott says the Hawkeye State was a natural choice to launch his company.

“Although I’ve traveled a lot, home for me has always been Iowa. Iowans are good people, nice, honest and straightforward,” he says. “We do what we are supposed to do and take care of business.”

Iowa Nice

The Iowa work ethic, sense of community and “Iowa Nice” mentality is what co-founders of ChopLocal, an online marketplace that matches consumers with local farmers and butchers, say help keep their business growing.

“In the past two years, we’ve taken advantage of a wide variety of resources, from the Iowa Small Business Development Center to the Iowa Economic Development Authority, which helped us get started,” says Katie Olthoff, co-founder and director of marketing and vendor relations for ChopLocal.

Olthoff says the company was started to help other entrepreneurs in Iowa sell their meat directly to consumers.

Three men together smiling at a person off camera.
Photo credit: Elliott Tensen

“Agriculture is huge for Iowa, but there have been some challenges in recent years, especially for livestock farmers marketing their cattle or their hogs,” she says.

“We really saw that come to a head during the pandemic. There were a lot of people at that time that were moving toward purchasing beef or pork directly from a farmer, and a lot of farmers that were moving toward selling it directly to consumers, so it really made sense to create an online platform that would connect these two parties and make that easier for everybody involved.”

Community among agriculture companies is one of the main drivers behind ChopLocal.

“One of the things I think is great about Iowa and specifically in agriculture is that there’s a great sense of community,” Olthoff says. “The attitude of Iowa Nice has really helped us find other colleagues who have been able to help guide us and set us up for success.”

This story was developed for the 2023 ‘This is Iowa’ statewide guide published in partnership with Livability.

Published February 20, 2023

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