Cohesive Creative and Code creates home-grown success story

With appreciation to my loyal following (thanks, family) and Silicon Prairie News' inability to recruit a decent writer from the Cedar Valley, I’m back for another go-round of what’s happening in eastern Iowa. Much of my focus will be on bringing awareness to some of the firms that make up the growing tech scene that

Chris Corkery (left) and Mike Tyer have helped Cohesive Creative and Code expand from a code-centric shop to a more robust operation since joining the company in 2010 and 2009, respectively. Photo by Dan Beenken.

With appreciation to my loyal following (thanks, family) and Silicon Prairie News’ inability to recruit a decent writer from the Cedar Valley, I’m back for another go-round of what’s happening in eastern Iowa. Much of my focus will be on bringing awareness to some of the firms that make up the growing tech scene that is springing up around me. As manager of University of Northern Iowa’s Innovation Incubator, I have a front-row seat from which to watch much of it. I also have a direct charge in my job description to help foster and grow it. That vantage point has given me great access to Waterloo-based Cohesive Creative and Code, a graduated company of our incubator.

Cohesive was already a successful shop when I got to Northern Iowa in late 2009, and by early 2010 they had graduated out of our space to their own digs. So, try as I might, I can’t take credit for anything they’ve been able to do. It’s probably a similar story for most of my current incubation tenants, so I sure hope this Silicon Prairie News gig takes off.

Watching them operate from afar, I see Cohesive as exactly the type of shop we need more of to build our region in today’s global economy. Many new startups exist and grow at the expense of other firms in the area. They come in with a lower price or otherwise “steal” part of the economic pie away from others and carve out their own slice. In my opinion, that’s a zero-sum game, as the overall pie stays the same. What Cohesive has done is truly grow the pie by executing on an insourcing strategy that has enabled them to pull work from the coasts and other areas.

Screenshot of Cohesive Creative and Code

For Cohesive, things got started in early 2008, when co-founder Neal White moved back to Iowa from Chicago to start a family and a new business venture with co-founder Arend Miller. White had always wanted to venture out on his own, but finding the right crew was essential. The obvious move was to head back to Iowa and talk some of his former co-workers into starting something of their own. Miller was first on board as the two had previously worked together for an area marketing firm. So for those keeping score, Iowa’s “Brain Drain” is a net positive on this one.

Said White of the move back to Iowa: “The technology we use in our industry makes it easy for us to be located anywhere and still work with clients across the nation. We chose the Cedar Valley because it’s where many of us grew up, met our spouses and met some of our closest friends. There’s a great deal of opportunity here, a strong sense of community, and we have access to amazing talent and resources to do great creative work. There’s also a real push to develop the technology sector in this area, and we like the idea of being part of that progress.”

Initially, Cohesive was more “code” than “creative,” as Arend and White focused on their skill with Ruby in developing interactive social platforms and apps for the likes of VH1 and MTV. Much of their work came from partnerships with designers and creative shops that they had worked with in the past.

Over the last couple years they have aggressively expanded the “creative” side of the firm with the additions of Mike Tyer and Chris Corkery, also former colleagues at various ad and marketing shops in eastern Iowa. Tyer came on as the third partner and creative director in 2009, and Corkery joined as senior art director in 2010. It’s changed their model from a code-centric shop to something much more robust.

They’ve morphed their service offerings from web and app development to include design, marketing strategy, and campaign development services. Cohesive now offers more of the soup to nuts type of ad agency services that helped bring them together in the first place.

Cohesive Creative and Code co-founders Neal White (left) and Arend Miller started the company in 2008 and have used an insourcing strategy that has enabled them to take business from the coasts and other areas.

With the added services has come more complex project work from the likes of Redbox, Fox River Socks and Handwear, and others. For Tyer, the decision to cut ties with a W-2 wasn’t so hard.

“We made the move from being employees to owners so that we could better provide the kind of service and creative we weren’t able to do at other firms,” Tyer said. “While it was a concern at first to give up security, the recession really did prove that job security is relative and fleeting at best. Today the world is a widely competitive place and the timing was right for us to take a chance on ourselves. We really felt that clients would be better served by small, nimble groups who could service their needs directly without the layers of administration.

“Plus, what we really enjoy doing is helping clients meet their goals and objectives. We make their goals our goals. That’s what’s made our clients truly value our service, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Talking to them and seeing their work, I get the sense that this is really just the start. And of course as manager of the Innovation Incubator that hatched them, I take full credit whenever I can…

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