Three years ago, the Iowa Legislature noted an opportunity for the state to move ahead in the advanced manufacturing, information technology and bioscience industries. To take advantage of that opportunity, they created the Innovation and Commercialization Division within the Department of Economic Development. Its mission is “to grow Iowa’s economy by fostering entrepreneurship and supporting the workforce, commercialization, and marketing activities of these industries.”
Shortly thereafter, Doug Lewis was brought on board to help administer programs assisting those industries. One such program, the Iowa Demonstration Fund, awards up to $150,000 in a two-for-one match to companies with existing technologies that are demonstrable and ready to take to market. The program has only been in existence for a few years, but Doug says the results are promising.
“You take a company like Visual Medical Solutions (of Ames), with their BodyViz product,” (pictured) he explained. That product is reaching out across educational institutions and clinical settings where people can actually take renderings of CT scans and other things and deliver that in a 3D image so that students and physicians can review that and plan surgeries…it’s really going quite well for them.”
Doug continued, “it’s not just that it helps the one company expand their market but it helps the entire industry because we’re seeding things that will benefit the whole industry.”
The division offers six other programs around these industry clusters, including the Networking Fund, which helps to defray the costs (up to $5,000) of putting on events designed to gather people interested in moving the targeted industries forward within the state. Startup Weekend Des Moines and TEDxDesMoines are two examples where the Networking Fund is being put to use.
In Doug’s two and a half years with Iowa’s Department of Economic Development, he’s seen their efforts begin to payoff. “The focus on these three targeted industry groups is much stronger than it was, even three years ago, and so we’re much more concentrated on helping the companies that fit into those areas. I think, overall, it’s also helped just to spur additional innovation and development throughout the state, regardless of the industry.
“There’s a lot more interest in entrepreneurship and helping entrepreneurs in whatever capacity they need – if it’s finding additional talent for their business or additional financial resources or whatever it might be,” Doug said.
In the video interview below, Doug talks more about these programs, other resources for entrepreneurs in Iowa, and how innovation and entrepreneurship is changing throughout Iowa.
Contributor Note: The startup I work with, VolunteerLocal, is a recipient of the Demonstration Fund.