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Brent Comstock’s take on StartupCity Spencer in Iowa


2014 Startup Weekend at StartupCity Spencer. Photo credit: StartupCity Spencer.


Community leaders of Spencer first reached out to me after my TEDx Lincoln debut in November 2014 with the intention of learning more about the rural innovation program I’ve been working on for about a year now.

At first, our conversations were limited to brief email exchanges. It was great to see a group of community leaders interested in the program we were working on. In spring of 2015, after the conversations had slowed down for a while, a member of the startup community in Spencer reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to come speak at a board meeting about rural innovation and entrepreneurship; the obvious answer? Yes!

I made the ~ 4 hour trek from Auburn [Nebraska] to Spencer on June 1. As I pulled off the Interstate, I got excited to finally meet the community leaders in Spencer. What I wasn’t excited about was the 3 hour journey on the 55 MPH highways. Thanks, Iowa.

Now, I have to be honest. I don’t know what I was expecting to see when I arrived in Spencer. Spencer was actually the last “quick-addition” to the 2,000 mile rural innovation tour I completed in 2 weeks. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see a growing startup accelerator, a restaurant, a coffeehouse and wine bar, and frozen yogurt café–all in one building. Well, technically there were two buildings if you count the church that was moved across town to “top off” the awesome-ness happening along the river.

After some great conversations with the StartupCity board, I had an opportunity to visit the other companies in the building. Learn about the fantastic story behind the restaurant, Gary’s on the River, and the church that was transplanted to its current location.

StartupCity Spencer: Making change happen

While the space was awesome, the most exciting thing I took away from the trip was the level of community involvement. The StartupCity Spencer board is made up of not only entrepreneurs, but also young people, city government officials, attorneys and everyone in between!

And this isn’t your usual “board.” If you’re a leader in a rural community, you’ve been on a board at some point in your life that involved a lot of talking, a lot of arguing, a lot of people and probably not a lot of action. Here at StartupCity Spencer, I saw a close-knit group of individuals who come from every area of life that are determined to make change happen!

The community of Spencer is really a hidden gem. Their StartupCity model is fantastic and is a great opportunity to those young(er) people who are studying at the nearby community colleges and universities. Why not create the venture of your dreams while you’re young? The risks are small when you have space to work on your ideas, people to mentor you along the way, coffee next door and (when it really gets rough) a nice place to relax with a glass of wine…Yes, coffeehouse and wine bar all in one!

Sharing resources across rural communities

When I share with people around the world what we are working on, many of them smile and stare. I know what they’re thinking: That’s really ambitious for a rural community; he’s young, he’ll get tired of it. Spencer is a community that is rural (although a bit bigger than Auburn) and is truly looking to “shake things up.”

So, what next? Anyone who knows me knows that I love several things: coffee, talking to anyone and everyone who listens (hence the blog) and connecting people with resources they never knew existed! I’m excited to continue working with the Spencer community. We’re working on some cool things, including a city-exchange program to share resources ideas across rural communities everywhere!

Next time you’re cruising through Iowa (if that’s a thing) or heading to the lake, check out Spencer and be sure to get your wine/coffee/FROYO/food/start-up fix. Just look for Gary’s on the River!

This post is republished with permission from Brent Comstock’s rural innovation blog

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