Simpson College, city organizations partner to build startup community
With the help of an economic development organization and a utilities provider, Simpson College is working to put Indianola on the startup map.
The partnership between the college, the Indianola Development Association and Indianola Municipal Facilities will work to give students access to the support and technology they need in an effort to make the town, located about 15 miles south of Des Moines, a hub for new businesses.
"What we hope to do is have an opportunity for students to look at their education and what their focus would be to help them grow a job into a business," said Chris Draper, the project's director. Draper and his company meidh recently graduated from Des Moines' tech startup incubator StartupCity.
The project, which is currently being called the Indianola + Simpson College Entrepreneurial Development Initiative, aims to bring together mentors, students and existing businesses to create a business incubator for new enterprises, products and services. It emerged out of a desire to create a meaningful business community with the already expanding technology infrastructure present in Indianola.
The city is outfitted with an extensive fiber optic loop, installed a number of years ago by Indianola Municipal Facilities, hooked up to public buildings, commercial properties and residential areas.
Todd Kielkopf, general manager at Indianola Municipal Facilities, said that growing the city's local business base has never been as strong as that of Iowa's capital city. He pointed to the fact that nearly two-thirds of Indianola's workforce commutes to the Des Moines metro.
"We think that this will be a way for us to grow along with the Des Moines metro as their technology scene matures over the next decade, as opposed to only relying on traditional attraction and retention methods," he said.
Kielkopf also hopes that the collaboration with Simpson College and the city's development association will help residents see the value in continuing to invest in technology.
"I think having the startup businesses in town will add validation to our investment in fiber optic technology, especially in the home," Kielkopf said. "It really has become an economic development tool."
"The business idea and the technology and whatever else, for us, is irrelevant," Draper said. "What we're doing is taking ideas, whether they come from college students or the industry, and building a team around those concepts to create a company."
Draper noted that many other startup communities are built through an approach that encourages programmers and technologically skilled individuals to be competent in marketing and customer service, as well.
"That's not working," Draper said of that model. "And it's not working because there's very few people who are great programmers and who are also great marketers."
Instead Draper hopes the startup incubator program at Simpson will draw individuals of different skill sets together based on interest in a business plan or creative idea.
"The solution is we don't need to expand everyone, we just need to be developing more fully functional communities," Draper said.
More than 25 Simpson students have enrolled in the program as part of their senior capstone projects. The students will be working on six different projects.
"Hopefully we can give a reason for people to really assess what their education means to them," Draper said.
On an even broader scale, Draper hopes to establish an area he calls the "Carver Corridor," which would work to more effectively incorporate engineering innovations at Iowa State University, resources and expertise from the Des Moines area and the new program at Simpson College.
"We started with an idea and only three or four people, now we have about 25 students and 20 to 25 community volunteers who really think this model can work here, and they're just as excited to start putting these pieces together," Kielkopf said.
Credits: Chris Draper photo courtesy of Draper.