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
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
Craig Elliott, founder and CEO, Pertino, Inc.
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
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
Ashton Kutcher, founder of A Grade Investments
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
Online: @aplusk and AngelList
Steve Lee, director at Google, “Project Glass“
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
Aayush Phumbrha – Founder & Senior Vice President of Chegg
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest
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
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).
- Lindsay Crittendon (San Francisco) – Director of customer experience at Chute. Formerly director of marketing at Singly. Crittendon grew up in Keokuk and attended the University of Iowa.
- Brent Grinna (Boston) – Founder and CEO of EverTrue. Grinna grew up in Postville.
- Graham James (New York City) – Head of U.S. communications at Spotify. James grew up in Des Moines and attended Drake University’s graduate program.
- David Kadavy (Chicago) – Author of “Design for Hackers.” Kadavy attended Iowa State University.
- Jason Kottke (New York City) – Blogging pioneer who writes at kottke.org full-time. Kottke attended Coe College.
- Trevor Owens (New York City) – Founder and CEO of Lean Startup Machine. Owens attended Iowa State University.
- Joey Pomerenke (Seattle) – Chief marketing officer of Startup Weekend. Pomerenke grew up in Northwest Iowa and attended Iowa State University.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 City. Wood helps organize Barcamp Des Moines and DSM Startup Drinks.
You can contact Geoff at email@example.com or find him on Twitter, @geoffwood.