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Top 10 Moments of Year 1 in Des Moines

Screenshot of our September 2008 interview with Lava Row.

The Des Moines launch, our virtual “Grand Opening” of sorts in this community, took place on January 14, 2010 to coincide with the launch of our site redesign (see “Welcome to Silicon Prairie News Version 2.0). Our first post on a Des Moines company, however, dates back to September 2008 when Jeff Slobotski talked with Nathan T. Wright and Hillary Brown of Lava Row – “SPN interviews Nathan Wright & Hillary Brown of Lava Row (above) – but we didn’t start regular coverage until a full year later when I became the first official Des Moines contributor.

Looking back at our first official year in Des Moines, here’s our Top 10 Moments of 2010:

10. Official Launch of the Des Moines Edition

The site redesign, which premiered in January, allowed us the technical capability to have a branded “Des Moines edition” that provides a unique experience to our community throughout Iowa. The redesign assures that the most relevant content is shown to our readers based on their geography and has been the basis for many of the successes that we’ve had in the past year as we’ve grown from an Omaha startup into a regional one. (See: “Welcome to Silicon Prairie News Version 2.0)

9. Our first Des Moines-event, the Creative Capital Pitch Session

A few weeks after the Des Moines edition launch, we held a Creative Capital Pitch Session (CCPS) in town. It was the fourth CCPS produced by Silicon Prairie News (the first three were in Nebraska) and was one of our most popular. We had 22 people submit pitch ideas for round one and the top eight were chosen to present live to a capacity crowd of over 60 people. A panel of judges narrowed the field to three finalists and Alexander Grgurich was voted the winner for his idea of a collaborative workshop space for home brewers, Brewspace DSM. Thanks again to everyone who participated, particularly our sponsors the Technology Association of Iowa and Paragon IT Professionals. (See: “Brewspace DSM wins the Creative Capital Pitch Session)

8. PrairieCast, the first SPN podcast, premiers

I’m a huge consumer of podcasts for education and entertainment and was very excited for the opportunity to launch a podcast based on Silicon Prairie News content. I immediately connected with Andy Brudtkuhl of 48Web, a well-known pioneer of technology podcasting in Des Moines, and he agreed to co-host and produce the show. We launched in February and had Ben Milne, founder and CEO of Dwolla, as our first guest (see: “PrairieCast: Ben Milne of Dwolla). The podcast was produced weekly for most of the year but went on hiatus in early Fall due to conflicts on time commitments. We’ve been working on a PrairieCast “redesign” the past several weeks and look for a premier of the reformulated show this month. (See “Teaming up with Andy Brudtkuhl, PrairieCast podcast launches)

7. Dorm room startup stories: Chegg, Hatchlings and Gamerosters.com

Three of my favorite stories from the past year involved the formation of successful companies that sprang out of dorm rooms at Iowa State University. Each has evolved and grown out of the dorm room-startup classification and are now doing business on a very large scale. These entrepreneurs, Aayush Phumbhra, Brad Dwyer (left) and Brian Kaldenberg, respectively, each took a risk to build a company out of a need or want they discovered as a student and that risk has paid off for them thousands, or millions, of times over. (See Silicon Prairie News tags: Chegg, Hatchlings and Gamerosters.com)

6. The Silicon Prairie Party at SXSW: Des Moines Companies represent!

Early in our planning for the annual visit to the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas we decided we wanted to put on a party to celebrate and showcase companies from the Silicon Prairie region to the rest of the world. Officially dubbed the “Silicon Prairie Party presented by Big Omaha,” the party was a lot of fun and was quite packed both before and after Big Omaha-presenter Gary Vaynerchuck showed up with dozens of cases of wine for an impromptu “Secret Wine Party.” We asked companies in the area to participate with us and I was quite proud of the number of Des Moines companies answered the call. We were only a month or so past our Des Moines-launch but Performance MarketingPalisade Systems, Uppward, Lava Row, and SmartyPig all jumped on board. Preparations are already well underway for another Silicon Prairie Party at SXSW so contact me if you’re interested. (See “SXSW: The Silicon Prairie Party + #SecretWineParty = Lots of fun)

5. Event coverage: Prometheus Awards, Startup Drinks, BarCamp, TechBrew, Lava Camp, 80/35, Heartland Greenup, etc.

It’s been our pleasure to cover both local and regional events aimed at the Des Moines creative class this past year. We do our best to be involved in as many such events as possible. Sometimes that means planning the event, sometimes it’s attending it, and sometimes it just means adding it to our comprehensive events calendar. The ones named above are just a few of the great ones in the area. If you’re planning one that’s not on our calendar – let us know!

4. Pongr comes home to Iowa – an anecdote from Zach Cox

I met Zach Cox, the co-founder and chief software architect of Pongr, at Startup Drinks this summer. In our first chat I mentioned to him that I work with Silicon Prairie News and he not only said he was aware of us but that our coverage of startups in Iowa was a small factor in his decision to move back to Iowa. He’s a Marshalltown native whose career had taken him to Boston and Toronto where he eventually co-founded Pongr. He said that reading Silicon Prairie News from afar helped him in realizing that there was a burgeoning startup community in that area and that it would be a good place to grow Pongr. We certainly don’t take any credit for Pongr’s success but love to hear that our work played even the smallest part in Zach’s decision to bring Pongr here. (See “Pongr’s Zach Cox talks about mobile tech & expanding Iowa team)

3. Dwolla Stories

If I were to tabulate our 2010 stories based on topic, I’m guessing Dwolla would be near the top. It’s a combination of founder Ben Milne’s willingness to let us behind the scenes of his business as well the fact they made so much news in 2010. That willingness was never more apparent than on November 22, the day the news broke that Dwolla had completed their fundraising, when Ben gave us an exclusive, in-depth look at his Series A capital raise (see “Dwolla closes $1M Series A Round). As always, Ben was open, candid, and extremely appreciative of what Des Moines and the Silicon Prairie region has contributed to the success of his idea. It’s been great for all of us at Silicon Prairie News to get to know Ben over the last year and we wish him and his team much success with everything on their plate. (See our Dwolla coverage at siliconprairienews.com/tags/dwolla)

2. Partnership with the Des Moines Register’s Juice Magazine

We’re always looking for ways to further get the word out about the innovative companies in the region. We started a few content syndication partnerships earlier this year with Omaha media companies in the hopes of getting our coverage in front of new readers (See “Announcing our partnership with Omaha.com). This fall, a similar deal came together with the Juice Magazine here in Des Moines. Juice is primarily a print publication and is widely read by all facets of individuals in the young professional demographic and we’re excited that this will put our content out in a new form (print) as well in front of a much wider audience each month. (See “Announcing our partnership with Juice)

1. The Des Moines Edition Contributor Team expands

Nearly a year after the Des Moines edition launch, we’re finding there is more content than our team has bandwidth to cover. For that reason, we’ve brought on three new contributors: Levi Rosol (right), Christopher New (not pictured) and Dan Beenken (left) to help out. Levi and Christopher are contributing locally while Dan is breaking us into the Cedar Falls market. We’re looking to expand the team even more in the next year because we know there’s more stories to cover in places like Ames, Iowa City and in other parts of the state.

In Review

We’re delighted with the response we received in our first “official” year in Des Moines. We want to thank you, the Silicon Prairie community, for both where we’ve been and where we’re going. As many of you know, I’m now on board full-time, in Des Moines, and that’s just one example of the investment we’re making in growing Silicon Prairie as a regional startup. We are so excited for the opportunities in front of us locally and nationally in 2011 and can’t wait to share them with all of you.