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Problem Solving on the Prairie

When you think of technology jobs, your mind immediately jumps to the coasts; but, the Midwest’s Silicon Prairie is working on changing those stereotypes. In fact, more than 88,000 Iowans have technology jobs, and Des Moines and Cedar Rapids were both named to the top 10 best American cities to work in tech. Additionally, tech work in Iowa accounts for $10.7 billion and nearly 10% of the state’s GDP.

Still, the misunderstandings around the tech industry and its innovative workforce persist — both outside and within the state.

Erin Rollenhagen, founder of Entrepreneurial Technologies based in Des Moines, is a perfect example of someone who didn’t realize the opportunities, growth and impact the Iowa tech industry could have on people — specifically herself. “I used to picture computer programmers as being guys in basements typing code on green screens,” said Rollenhagen. “Once I experienced and saw what those in the technology industry, and my home state, really did, it changed my perspective, career path and life.”

Rollenhagen, a graduate from the University of Iowa, is now CEO of a website and software development firm contributing to the Silicon Prairie culture. She leads a team that creates solutions for clients looking to grow their brand, improve their workday efficiencies and utilize software to enhance their work.  

But before she realized her passion for technology, she aspired to be something completely different.

Rollenhagen had aspirations of becoming a writer, but was quickly scared out of that industry. Instead, she found an internship with a software company in Des Moines where she discovered the power of technology in helping Iowa businesses.

“Seeing firsthand the size and scope of the problems the small company was able to solve really intrigued me. So, I ended up switching my major to management information systems, graduating and then working there for six years.”

Once Rollenhagen discovered her calling, she set her goals higher and decided to add the title of entrepreneur. She started off small by helping a local business create a new billing system.

“It probably doesn’t sound all that sexy or thrilling, but with that project, their billing went from taking two or three days every month to just an hour. That was so gratifying and rewarding. It also gave me the confidence to go out on my own.”

Although many in her industry headed to the West Coast to begin their tech careers or startup companies, Rollenhagen said she never considered leaving. “Helping the people here has always been, and continues to be, important to me,” she said. “There are so many opportunities in Iowa, not only from a technological perspective, but also from a people perspective. Here, you can do business in a way that is consistent with your values and still be successful. I don’t know if that is possible everywhere in the country, but it definitely is in Iowa.”

More than a decade since branching out and starting Entrepreneurial Technologies, Rollenhagen is paying it forward by providing insight to others who may be considering a similar career path. This summer, Rollenhagen achieved her previously abandoned dream and published “Soul Uprising,” in which she shares what she’s learned in business and as an entrepreneur. “I wanted to add my voice and tell others who may be wondering if they can be successful doing business in a more authentic way and still be successful, that answer is, ‘yes, you can,’ and here is how to do it.”

Rollenhagen believes that before long, it will be impossible not to take notice of the tech work being done across the state. She believes, as more companies recognize that technology will drive their future success, the reach and impact of Iowa tech will only keep growing.

“The problems people in Iowa are solving with tech are huge problems,” she said. “For instance, take Dwolla, who is trying to reduce friction in the payments industry. That is a problem that affects a billion people. Or John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group, trying to figure out how to feed the world more efficiently. Not to mention the new startups in biotech, medical, insurance and finance — just about anything you can think of. To be involved and a part of solving some of those problems is incredibly exciting.”

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