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Q&A: TAI’s Leann Jacobsen on Iowa’s inaugural ‘TriTECHta’

Leann Jacobsen, president of the 225-member-strong Technology Association of Iowa (TAI) for the past seven years says things really took off about five years ago for the state of Iowa. This week, as key appropriation bills make their way through the Iowa Legislature, Jacobsen (left) and her colleagues are ready to facilitate pitches and parties alike during its “TriTECHta” schedule of events beginning Wednesday, which includes the Prometheus AwardsPitch & Grow VIII and the inaugural i2iowa Investors and Innovators Forum.

Silicon Prairie News spoke with Jacobsen on Monday to discuss TAI and its upcoming events.

Note: Answers have been edited for length.

Silicon Prairie News: What made you call this event “The Prometheus Awards”?

Leann Jacobsen: The seventh annual Prometheus Awards will be a showcase of over 40 companies and individuals who really are “best-in-class” with innovation and entrepreneurship in Iowa. It is an annual industry party, and something we can all look forward to attending. … Prometheus was a Greek god of fire – the original innovation – and so we took the name off of that.

SPN: What are your goals for this year’s new event, i2iowa – where TAI is partnering up with the Iowa Economic Development Authority? (This event replaces the Iowa Venture Forum)

LJ: This event is to really put a spotlight on the young and exciting companies that are starting in Iowa. Our goal is to really combine it with the attention of the Prometheus Awards, leverage that energy into the next day. Our goal is to create a rich networking and educational event. … Our thinking is we might be celebrating some of these companies in the future at the Prometheus awards.

SPN: What does the TAI offer internet startups in Iowa?

LJ: When you look at our mission, we connect people. Many of our members get the greatest value through the connections that they receive here. Whether those connections are developed at the networking level. Maybe there are a hundred people at our events, but they are 100 cool people and those conversations lead somewhere. Because we are focused on the broad range of technology, we bring a broad range of people to these events. … There are three things we do extraordinarily well:

  1. We connect people with resources, information and education to grow their businesses.
  2. We focus on building up the business climate. Our public policy arm is really the voice of technology and we have spearheaded legislation to benefit the startup community.
  3. Workforce issues. We are committed to creating a highly-skilled pool of technologists that can continue to fuel continued momentum and innovation.

SPN: What is TAI trying to do at the public policy level for startups?

LJ: Iowa has historically not done well when it comes to access to capital. So through public policy we are working to develop the tools that will improve access to capital among the startup community. Last year it was the Angel Investor Tax Credit legislation —that really helped attract capital at the very earliest stages of business formation. That exists today and the rules are retroactive back to January 2011. Two-million dollars a year are now available in tax credits and again those go toward assistance in the early stages of company formation.

This year, we are supporting the effort to create a state-wide seed fund. Again, the idea is to assist at the next stage – to better enable flow capital toward companies who have moved on to the next stage and are looking for the next level of financing. The goal is to address that continuum of funding, so Iowa companies can have access when they need it.

“Through public policy we are working to develop the tools that will improve access to capital among the startup community.” – Leann Jacobsen

SPN: What can Iowa do to help startups?

LJ: If we move off of the capital discussion which is always critical for companies, I think the skilled workforce is absolutely critical for fueling growth in Iowa’s innovation community. That future skilled workforce is mission-critical to the nation and to Iowa.

SPN: What is your dedication to TechBrew?

LJ: TechBrew started three years ago. Its purpose was to create that forum where people could have a casual conversation and where serendipity would occur. They are the brainchild of Christian Renaud. We didn’t have that (critical mass) so we created that forum. Once a month, entrepreneurs, funders, technologists, business experts could just meet together to talk about what they are working on over a beer. … Now, on a Thursday evening, in Iowa, you know that there is a TechBrew going on somewhere.

SPN: What is Pitch & Grow?

LJ: Pitch & Grow came from the need for entrepreneurs to have an opportunity to practice their pitch. It’s a practice pitch session – it’s not a shark tank! It’s constructive and very friendly. You’re pitching to a panel of seasoned people, serial entrepreneurs, attorneys, marketing people, CEOs – best-in-class experts. It’s a 10 minute pitch with 20 minutes of feedback. It’s a spicket full of constructive feedback. Entrepreneurs can go back and grow their companies based on the feedback they’ve received.


Credits: Photo of Leann Jacobsen courtesy of Technology Association of Iowa.

Disclosure: Silicon Prairie News is a media sponsor of the Prometheus Awards and i2iowa Investors and Innovators Forum.

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