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Growing the Silicon Prairie: Connecting with our expats

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

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (middle, right) stops by Pinterest’s Palo Alto headquarters in 2011 to visit with founder and Iowa native Ben Silbermann (middle, left).

Growing the Silicon Prairie startup community has been part of our organization’s mission since its earliest days. That includes drawing attention to new startups, shining a spotlight on those making strides, sharing news about great events in the region and highlighting the folks working hard behind the scenes.

When I presented “Silicon Prairie News, the Startup,” at 1 Million Cups – Des Moines a few weeks ago, one of the questions asked of me was: “What are you doing to bring new people into the startup community?”

The answer I gave was something to effect of “lots of things!” (with admittedly little detail). We do have several ideas that we’ll be rolling out over the next 18-24 months and I want to highlight the first of them today: connecting with our expats.

While the conventional use of “expatriate” is to refer to an American living and working abroad, in this case we’re referring to people with significant ties to the Silicon Prairie who have moved on to New York, California, Louisiana, London or anywhere beyond our bounds.

Personally, I don’t begrudge anyone who leaves. There are as many reasons to leave as there are to stay and the rationale behind the decision is unique to each individual. When someone does leave, I want them to be proud of the Silicon Prairie and what’s being built here. I want them to know that they always have a home, and I want them to talk positively of the region’s progress.

With many of the stereotypes – fair or not – that are applied to people in Middle America, we’re starting behind the eight-ball already, so why compound that by having expats talk poorly about the startup community in their hometowns?

We actually started this last summer when we created the Silicon Prairie Ambassador category at the Silicon Prairie Awards to honor the expat who is doing the most to advocate for the region wherever they are now. That inaugural Analog went to Rahul Gupta, the Big Wheel Brigade co-founder who relocated from Omaha to San Francisco in early 2012 and later organized a meetup for “Omahans and Expats” during Apple’s WWDC event.

Meetups are a great way to make that connection and, with the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, we’ll be holding five “Silicon Prairie Expat Meetups” around the country this year. The first is less than a week away. Bay Area area expats are invited to join our own Jeff Slobotski at the Press Club of San Francisco at 5:30 p.m. local time.

Another way we’re going to connect is to draw attention to the many expats out there here on the blog. I’ve assembled a list of “Ten Iowa Expats in Tech” – you’ll know a few but I think many will be a surprise. We’ll publish that post next week, and I’ve challenged our team to generate the same list for Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Of course, we’ll also recognize a second Silicon Prairie Ambassador at our Silicon Prairie Awards in August in Des Moines.

What’s your opinion? How else can we connect with our expats? Who should be on the list for each region? Let us know in the comments below.

Credits: Photo from Ben Silbermann on Facebook.

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 Big Des Moines (formerly Thinc Iowa), Big Omaha and Big Kansas CityWood 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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