Year in review: Ben McDougal’s Iowa startup community highlights

2015 was so crazy that it’s hard to highlight the entire year in a single article, but why not, let’s try. Here’s a chronological reflection on a few things that really made 2015 special within Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: Global Insurance Accelerator As 2015 began, teams from around the world were building their disruptive ideas inside…


2015 was so crazy that it’s hard to highlight the entire year in a single article, but why not, let’s try.

Here’s a chronological reflection on a few things that really made 2015 special within Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Global Insurance Accelerator

As 2015 began, teams from around the world were building their disruptive ideas inside the Global Insurance Accelerator. It was humbling to be a part of the mentoring process associated with this new startup accelerator in Des Moines and even have my thoughts included during the GIA Demo Day that was weaved into the 2015 Global Insurance Symposium. Needless to say, 2016 will be an exciting time for this Des Moines-based startup accelerator focused on inspiring innovative disruption within the worldwide insurance industry.

Educating future entrepreneurs

Moving along, it’s also been interesting to see Iowa’s educational organizations continue to expand their support of entrepreneurship. The group at Iowa State University started plugging into the central Iowa startup community, and it’s been cool to see Startup Ames reinvigorated and a new co-working space being weaved into that college town bubbling with fresh ideas.

Along with activity in Ames, The Lorentzen Student Hatchery is expanding at Drake University, The University of Northern Iowa continues to provide excellent programming, and The University of Iowa is doing wonderful things through JPEC, Venture School and so much more. I really enjoyed how all these school came together to support EntreFest 2015 as well, which we’ll highlight in a moment.

UGC Niagara


April arrived and it was time for another big event that quietly connects Iowa to Canada. This is something a bit more personal, but it was another outstanding achievement for Jet Set Studio to once again bring UGC Niagara to life, which is an annual eSports event that supports education in Canada. We hosted this 4th annual video game tournament that brought 1,000+ gamers together to compete, generated 750,000+ livestream viewers on Twitch, and awarded over $30,000 in cash and prizes. I’m sorry, but that must be a part of my year-in-review!

1 Million Cups Summit in KC

Literally the next week after UGC Niagara, it was time for an excellent event in Kansas City. The Kauffman Foundation invited 1 Million Cups organizers from around the country to come together for their annual organizer summit. This was a fun gathering focused on learning from fellow organizers and continuing to optimize an aligned movement for the 70+ communities hosting weekly 1MC events for startup communities throughout the country.

Needless to say, it was neat to see this many community builders come together and we had a great time, including a group trip to Kauffman Stadium and the KC Royals. The united attendees from Iowa returned inspired and ready to fuel the evolution of 1 Million Cups in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City and Cedar Falls.

1 Million Cups Des Moines


This is a perfect segue to highlighting the evolution of 1 Million Cups Des Moines this year. 1 Million Cups (“1MC”) Des Moines had been hosted at a quaint coffee shop for around two years. This was a cozy venue and a place a lot of us will never forget, but after seeing what 1MC was doing in Kansas City and Fargo, North Dakota, it was an honor to help lead the transition of this weekly gathering to a new downtown Des Moines location that would ignite a new understanding of what 1MC could be for the city of Des Moines.

After months of giving entrepreneurs a brighter stage to share ideas with even more people at the Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines each week, we’ve built 1MC to be the premier weekly event for people looking to connect with other, be inspired by new ideas and network over deliciously free coffee. As a part of the organizing team and your emcee here at the 1MC in Des Moines, I enjoy a little bonus energy every Wednesday.

In short, I would encourage anyone interested in what the 1MC platform provides to get involved, meet new people, pitch your startup business and help accelerate others. You’ll look forward to Wednesday, and it’s a beautiful way to break up the workweek with positive energy.

EntreFest 2015

EntreFest was definitely a highlight for the Midwest startup community. Hosted in Iowa City right before Memorial Day, this was actually my first time attending, and I immediately loved this event and the amazing people it brings together. We only went for a single day, but it was with a busload of folks from the Global Insurance Accelerator, and we sure had fun streaming on Periscope.

EntreFest 2015 was a three-day event, so only attending one day resulted in us being absent for the keynote with Seth Godin. Since missing this opportunity to meet Seth, I’ve learned audiobooks are basically free knowledge, and that Seth’s writings are important. I had no idea who Seth Godin was before EntreFest, but now that I’ve heard his writings, such as Icarus Deception and Tribes, I realized how much I missed out. In a nutshell though, EntreFest 2015 was super easy to like, and it’ll be big in 2016.



515 Alive in Des Moines.

Summer included amazing vacation travel at Turks & Caicos with my wife the week after EntreFest and then parlaying a crazy trip to Washington DC with friends the very next week. A few months later, 515 Alive would continue its reign as the best annual EDM event in Iowa, at which I was given sick access to create this highlight video with an opening cameo from Gravitate! We had a nice Startup Family Picnic for Des Moines, and then I flew back to relax in paradise before running another Jet Set Studio event at Central Michigan University’s Leadership Safari.

My progressive work at Drake Homes, a Des Moines homebuilder, continues to be a true blessing and it’s a pleasure working with such a great team. Along with travel and work, I played tons of golf at Glen Oak Country Club, which led to a cool opportunity to create this little piece of art. Summer was full of adventure, but the crazy continued.



You made it this far, we should celebrate with free drinks every month, eh? Well, if you were in Des Moines, this would be what you’d expect as dmStartupDrinks continued to be magnificent in 2015. We re-launched this monthly event with an aligned brand and have been bringing great people together each month ever since. It’s simple really. We bring the passionate Des Moines community to fun new places and provide a meaningful networking experience with a lot of free beer. Cruising around Des Moines with people who inspire and welcome newcomers on a monthly basis continues to be excellent and led to the statewide expansion that spawned crStartupDrinks and icStartupDrinks in 2015.

1 Million Cups Cedar Rapids/Iowa City

Speaking of our friends in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City community, let’s spotlight all the crazy stuff they’re building next. In short, it’s been neat working with and watching that community building fire by really working as a tribe. With excellent leadership, they also expanded their weekly 1 Million Cups event with a fresh new theater for the Iowa City event and 45,000 square feet of awesome for when it’s in Cedar Rapids, which also houses Vault Coworking and The Iowa Startup Accelerator.

Iowa Startup Accelerator Launch Day


Derek Brooks, Kasey McCurdy, Max Farrell and John Jackovin at the Iowa Startup Accelerator Launch Day.

Another natural segue, nice. The Iowa Startup Accelerator is a badass startup accelerator that graduated its second cohort of new companies in 2015. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re very familiar with the startup accelerator movement. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to share a community with them? Even better? Maybe you’ve even had the life-changing opportunity to work through a startup accelerator program and plug into a truly engaged network.

Although I’ve not gone through an accelerator myself, supporting others who have is always inspiring. Whatever your interest or experience with startup accelerators, you can appreciate bringing 750+ people coming together to help launch eight new companies. Our Des Moines crew even filled a charter bus and had a great time at this annual event in Cedar Rapids, where it felt like the entire state of Iowa came together.

Iowa Startup Weekend

We’ve reached November, which was highlighted by four different Iowa communities uniting to host Startup Weekend. The details from each event throughout the Iowa are highlighted in this report, but at the core, 24 different teams built something beautiful during this intense statewide effort.

Happy holidays

Halloween turned into this crazy EDM experience and the dmStartupDrinks Holiday Party was a moment to remember as we celebrated our Des Moines innovators. We also just hosted the final 1MC event for the year. This made for a total of 49 1MC events for 2015. With another 48 from 2014 and 38 from when we started back in 2013, we’re up to 135 1MC meetings in Des Moines alone!

Add our chapter’s activity to the 70+ other 1MC communities throughout the country, and it’s easy to see the 1MC movement is growing and bringing more fascinating people together each week. If you compound this 1MC movement with the other outstanding groups, events and startup communities all around us, it’s very clear to me that our world’s entrepreneurial climate is red hot and this tribe is just so much fun to be a part of.

Final thought

These are just a few of the hot highlights from 2015. It’s fun to think about so much inspired work being done by so many passionate entrepreneurs throughout the world. The connected era has given us all a chance to change the world, and it’s an amazing time to be alive.

Whether you’re in the Silicon Prairie, Silicon Valley or anywhere in between, it’s mind-blowing to think about what’s coming next for so many people building amazing things.

May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows, and keep building.

Ben McDougal leads marketing and innovation at Drake Homes, develops interactive video game events throughout North America with his own company (Jet Set Studio) and is even rumored to have a hot new IoT product in the works. As an energized community builder whose passion is the art of connection, Ben unites people through 1 Million Cups Des Moines, dmStartupDrinks, various startup accelerators and the Iowa entrepreneurial ecosystem overall. Ben is married to the love of his life and enjoys travel, golf, EDM, craft beer and experiencing adventures in life. “BENovator” is the nerd you need to know.


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