Kerty Levy, Managing Director of Techstars Iowa, speaks at Dwolla in Des Moines on Oct. 22, 2019 to announce the new Techstars Iowa accelerator. (Photo: Olivia Sun/The Register)
A major business accelerator has begun in downtown Des Moines — kind of.
Techstars Iowa launched its first 13-week program on Tuesday morning. The accelerator selected 10 entrepreneurs who will tweak their products, meet with mentors and pitch to investors this fall.
When they announced the program last October, Techstars Iowa leaders expected the entrepreneurs to move to Des Moines and work out of a downtown office, connecting them with business leaders in the community. But with COVID-19 cases still high, the first program is mostly online.
Founders, investors and mentors will meet on Zoom, Slack and other digital platforms.
The Des Moines program is part of the broader Techstars community. Founded in Boulder, Colorado, in 2006, Techstars says about 2,200 companies have gone through its accelerators around the world. The company connects entrepreneurs with a team of 7,500 mentors and 11,900 investors. As of last year, Techstars also had a $265 million venture capital fund to invest in the new companies.
Entrepreneurs in the first Des Moines cohort come from Iowa, as well as Canada and other parts of the United States. On Dec. 3, they will make presentations to investors online during a “Demo Day.”
Techstars Iowa Managing Director Kerty Levy said in an email that leaders selected the 10 entrepreneurs out of hundreds of applications. She met candidates through online events.
“It was different,” she said. “But I was able to engage with a lot of startups.”
Despite the option to participate online, Levy said some entrepreneurs came to downtown Des Moines and are operating out of Gravitate Coworking, a shared office space on Locust Street.
Gravitate owner Geoff Wood said he changed office procedures this spring to protect people from COVID-19. Workers must wear masks in common areas, and the staff removed chairs to keep people 6 feet apart.
In addition to meeting investors, entrepreneurs who go through Techstars Iowa will receive $20,000 from the accelerator and Grinnell College. The college also is providing mentors for the entrepreneurs, as are Iowa State University and the University of Iowa.
Meet the members of Techstars Iowa’s inaugural class:
Based in Bloomington, Indiana, Civic Champs sells a digital platform for nonprofits that need to track how many hours their volunteers are working. The volunteers and administrators can log the hours on a phone app or through a website.
Donors can also contribute to the nonprofits through the platform. Civic Champs says it has worked with United Way, the Boy Scouts of America and Habitat for Humanity.
Based in Cedar Rapids, deetz is a phone app through which participants share information about what is happening in their community. This can include drink specials at local bars or events happening at a park.
The app also includes an anonymous chat function, in which users can catch up on gossip from other people in the area. A team of University of Iowa and Iowa State University graduates started the company.
Based in Cedar Rapids with an office in Pakistan, Dhakai is a business-to-business website that connects South Asian clothing manufacturers with designers and shops in the United States. Buyers can plug in their needs and the company will match them with suppliers.
Dhakai says its employees audit the manufacturers to ensure they are following fair labor standards. Buyers can also view the factories in question through “virtual tours.”
Lingco Language Labs
Based in Lansing, Michigan, Lingco Language Labs sells a platform that uses artificial intelligence to help students learn vocabulary and grammar. The program is designed to alter its content for each student, based on what the student knows.
The program’s creators say it should free teachers’ time by cutting down on the amount of grading they need to do.
Based in Walnut Creek, California, Neolth is an online platform that aims to decrease users’ stress levels. Users log in to Neolth online and answer questions about themselves.
Based on neuroscience research, the program provides a plan for each user, giving them ideas for how to decrease their levels of stress.
Based in Palo Alto, California, Ohwow! is a file-sharing app. Users can put groups of friends or family together, giving each person the ability to load pictures or videos to one place.
Based in Iowa City, Openloop connects physicians and other healthcare providers with hospitals and clinics looking to add staff. Since it launched in January, the company says it has registered about 1,200 doctors and 27 health care institutions in the program.
Formerly operating under the name Apollo, Openloop also received startup funding from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa.
Based in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, Solelife is an app for business coaches. The platform matches coaches with potential clients. It also has tools for coaches for video chatting, setting a schedule and billing clients.
Based in Minneapolis, Tempore is an app that helps organize business travel. The app connects with a business calendar. When a new, out-of-town meeting arises, the app will automatically provide a user with travel options, including potential flights.
Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, WalletCard is a platform for companies that need to stay on top of required workplace training. The platform stores information about training that has been completed and reminds executives of when workers need new training.
WalletCard also connects companies with groups that conduct training.
Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at [email protected], 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.
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