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Ten Iowa expats in tech you should know

About the author: Geoff Wood is the COO and main connection point in Iowa for Silicon Prairie News.

Iowa expat Ashton Kutcher announces his investment in Des Moines-based Dwolla on PrairieCast. (April 2012)

Iowans are everywhere; at least that’s how it feels to me.

I’m the type of person that loves to catalog and share random knowledge, and when I learn that someone has a connection to this state I make a mental note of it. Those connections – people born, raised, educated or who otherwise lived here for a significant amount of time but have now moved elsewhere – are what we’re calling “expats.”

As I wrote last week, we’re looking to better connect with our expats in 2013, thus, I set to the task of assembling a list of 10 Iowan expats doing interesting things in the tech industry. That list is now complete and it boasts some of the most notable founders, investors and technologists in the world today. It’s also, however, conspiciously male and mostly white, showing that Iowans are not immune to the tech community’s struggle with diversity.

Ten Iowa expats in tech

(Listed alphabetically)

Marc Andreessen, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz

Menlo Park, Calif.

The Netscape founder turned venture capitalist has been called “the most powerful man in Silicon Valley.”

Expat status: Born in Cedar Falls

Silicon Prairie ties: Andreessen Horowitz is an investor in AgLocal (Kansas City-based) and Solum, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that operates a labratory in Ames.

Online: blog, LinkedIn and AngelList

Craig Elliott, founder and CEO, Pertino, Inc.

Cupertino, Calif.

Former Apple general manager who took Packeteer, his first networking startup, to IPO and is now building, Pertino, his second. Elliott was famously given a Porsche by Steve Jobs in 1984, the year Macintosh debuted, for selling the most units.

Expat Status: Grew up in Iowa and attended Iowa State University

Silicon Prairie ties: Board member for Ames-based Global Vet LINK

Online: LinkedIn and AngelList

Scott Heiferman, co-founder and CEO, Meetup

New York City

Meetup, a way to organize local groups online, was founded by Heiferman more than 10 years ago and reports to be used by more than 11 million members each month.

Expat status: Attended the University of Iowa

Silicon Prairie ties: None identified

Online: @heif, LinkedIn and AngelList

Ashton Kutcher, founder of A Grade Investments

Los Angeles 

Perhaps the most well-known celebrity tech investor, Kutcher has invested all sorts of well known startups from Skype to AirBNB.

Expat status: Cedar Rapids native and attended the University of Iowa

Silicon Prairie ties: Kutcher’s funds have invested in Dwolla (Des Moines-based) and Zaarly (founded by Kansas City’s Bo Fishback). He was a guest on PrairieCast episode in April 2012.

Online: @aplusk and AngelList

Steve Lee, director at Google, “Project Glass

San Francisco

Project Glass is Google’s augmented reality project that’s built into wearable eyeglasses that debuted with a dramatic skydive/bmx/rappelling demo at the Google I/O conference in 2012.

Expat status: Grew up in Slater, Iowa and attended Iowa State University

Silicon Prairie ties: none identified

Online: @moneyball, LinkedIn and AngelList

Aayush Phumbrha – Founder & Senior Vice President of Chegg

Palo Alto

Almost every college student in Iowa knows about Chegg, the textbook rental company, but few know of its birth in Ames as a college town version of Craigslist. Phumbra, a Chegg user, purchased the site from its student founders and pivoted it into the “Netflix for textbooks” that is today.

Expat status: Attended Iowa State University

Silicon Prairie ties: Phumbhra was a guest on an early episode of PrairieCast in July 2010.

Online: @aayushchegg, LinkedIn and AngelList

Chris Pirillo, founder of LockerGnome and tech personality


Pirillo is the technologist, TV/web personality, entrepreneur and author behind LockerGnome.com and the GnomeDex conferences.

Expat status: Grew up in Des Moines and attended the University of Northern Iowa

Silicon Prairie ties: Founded and held the Gnomedex conference in Des Moines from 2001-2003.

Online: blog, LinkedIn and AngelList

Tom Preston-Werner, co-founder of GitHub, founder of Gravatar

San Francisco

Preston-Werner co-founded GitHub, self proclaimed as the “largest code host in the world” in 2008. Priot to GitHub he created Gravatar and sold it to Automattic, the company behind WordPress.

Expat status: Grew up in Dubuque.

Silicon Prairie ties: None identified.

Online: @mojombo, LinkedIn, AngelList and GitHub

Harper Reed, former CTO of Obama for America, former CTO of Threadless


Reed, the lead technologist of the Obama 2012 campaign, and his team have been the subject of numerous news and magazine stories about how technology played a role in their November election victory.

Expat status: Attended Cornell College

Silicon Prairie ties: Recruited two Des Moines-area developers, Derek Brooks and Nick Leeper, to join him on the technology organization of Obama’s reelection campaign.

Online: @harper, LinkedIn and AngelList

Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest

Palo Alto

Pinterest, self-described as a “tool for collecting and organizing things you love” is one of the world’s most popular websites, was founded by Silbermann and launched in March 2010.

Expat status: Grew up in Des Moines

Silicon Prairie ties: Spoke at the inaugural Thinc Iowa in 2011

Online: @8en, LinkedIn and AngelList

Bonus Iowa expats

Initially, I wasn’t sure that I could get to ten Iowa expats for this list. But, it seems that once you start to look for Iowa expats you find Iowa expats (over and over again). In that spirit, here are seven more to get to know (listed alphabetically).

This list is far from complete and it changed many times over the past several days. Who did I miss? Leave their names and information in the comments below. I’d love to see this list grow.

Read more about our focus on expats: “Growing the Silicon Prairie: Connecting with our expats“.

Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri expats in tech – Know of one? We’re assembling our lists now. To add a name, please leave a comment below or email editor@siliconprairienews.com.

Credits: Andreessen photo via Fortune Live Media on Flickr. Elliott photo from Linkedin. Heiferman photo from heiferman.com. Kutcher photo via Red Touch Media on Flickr. Lee photo from Linkedin. Phumbra photo via Chegg.com. Pirillo photo from LinkedIn. Preston-Werner photo from github.com. Reed photo from Twitter. Sibermann photo by Anna Jones | Art of Photography / Ikonix Studio / Thinc Iowa.

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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