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Thanks to the Thinc Iowa community for helping raise the bar

About the author: Geoff Wood is the COO and main connection point in Iowa for Silicon Prairie News, the co-founder of VolunteerLocal and founder of Eggcrates. For more on Wood, see the note that follows this post.

Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and chairman of the Startup America Partnership, highlighted the Thinc Iowa 2012 speaker slate.

Some observers of college sports will tell you that athletes improve the most between their freshman and sophomore year. While I’m no coach, I believe that theory has to do with the idea that the initial year sets your baseline. After seeing how your particular skills and ability fit into the new environment, you take that first offseason to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. You make adjustments. And, in that second season, you enjoy the largest improvement you’ll make throughout your entire college career.

As I sat in those super-comfy chairs in The Temple for Performing Arts last week participating in Thinc Iowa 2012, I kept coming back to how much the sports axiom about improvement also rang true in this conference setting.

I loved the inaugural Thinc Iowa last year. I found it to be inspirational, educational and, overall, just an enjoyable experience. However, looking back now it’s easy to see that it was a freshman effort by everyone, from the speakers to the participants to our team. Of course, that makes a lot of sense because it was the first event of its kind in Des Moines and the first time we tried to facilitate this type of conference outside of Omaha. We complicated things last year by incorporating a new theme, and while I think that the idea of exploring how “startups and established corporations work together” has merit, we weren’t quite sure how to execute on it.

At this year’s event, it really felt like the Thinc Iowa community settled into its groove. We extended the conference by a day, dropped the new theme, brought the padded chairs over from Omaha and set the bar for what Thinc Iowa should be.

The speaker slate was one of the most diverse we’ve ever had join us for a Silicon Prairie Series event; from apparel-by-subscription to lifestyle design to mobile apps to education to hardware, the speakers represented a broad range of businesses and organizations. They spoke about success, and they spoke about failure. They spoke about engaging the local community, and they spoke about our role in the national economy. They spoke about building on the coasts, and they spoke about building in the Midwest. We had one speaker just months into founding her first startup and another who exited one of the largest internet companies over 10 years ago. Our emcee Antonio Neves kept the energy up and the flow moving at the perfect pace between each speaker, and that’s an element not to be overlooked.

Our partners really stepped up this year, too. Their resources helped with the execution of everything, and two areas – identity and design and stage production – were real highlights as they jumped off the chart compared to the first event.

Most importantly, the Thinc Iowa community was amazing this year. I’m referring, of course, to more than 400 attendees, sponsors, volunteers, speakers and staff from all over the country who chose to spend two and a half days in one place learning from each other, celebrating entrepreneurship, exploring Des Moines, focusing on what’s important for their business and getting energized about what’s next.

It was a pretty powerful thing, and on behalf of the Silicon Prairie News team, I want to thank you for making it happen.

The challenge after an event like this is always how to stay energized, stay focused and stay in community together. Our collective task is to find a way to make sure that the takeaways from this Thinc Iowa continue well into the future.

Give it a try and then come back and share it with your fellow community members at Thinc Iowa next year. While you’re at it, join the communities at our other Silicon Prairie Series events in Omaha and Kansas City, too.

While it was a big leap from year one to year two, that by no means suggests that further improvements will only be incremental. Our goal is to facilitate the best possible event each time we do it, and our pledge is to continually raise the bar higher and higher. After all, college athletes only get to compete for four seasons. Our team is under no such constraint.

Credits: Photos by Anna Jones and Phillip Harder

About the author: Geoff Wood is the COO and main connection point in Iowa for Silicon Prairie News, an organization working to increase the notability of the Silicon Prairie region – Des Moines, Omaha, Kansas City and surrounding area – as an innovation center and startup hub. In addition to a daily news blog, the Silicon Prairie News team also produces events like Thinc Iowa and Big OmahaWood helps organize Barcamp Des Moines and DSM Startup Drinks.

You can contact Geoff at geoff@siliconprairienews.com or find him on Twitter, @geoffwood.

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