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Developing the Innovation Economy in Eastern Iowa

[vc_row padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column fade_animation_offset=”45px” width=”1/1″][text_output]In a recent WalletHub study on the most innovative states, Iowa ranked 44th . The ranking was based on R&D spending, patents, entrepreneurial activity, venture capital activity and other factors. While we could quibble about the ranking itself, there’s no doubt there’s a significant opportunity for improvement in our region’s innovation economy.

That ranking reflects that just about every aspect of creating new, innovative products is changing.

And many Iowa companies aren’t ready.

It’s true in software: new practices allow companies to deliver higher quality products, rapidly, with fewer errors. Geonetric, in Cedar Rapids, uses techniques to dramatically reduce defects by automatically testing their software. They have the ability to release new versions to customers in minutes, instead of weeks or months. Though many larger organizations still haven’t adopted these software techniques in Iowa, they’re commonplace in Silicon Valley and elsewhere; virtually every startup uses them.

It’s true in manufacturing: Boeing is 3D-printing parts for the 787 Dreamliner in titanium, saving millions per plane. Saab’s Gripen fighter aircraft is being developed for a fraction of the cost of the F35 – without the multi-billion dollar cost overruns – and is designed to be upgraded quickly and reliably. Startups are threatening older manufacturers by taking advantage of the plummeting cost of developing new, customized products. They’re designing their companies to require less manufacturing overhead, shorter supply chains and to be more flexible than established manufacturers.

It’s true in professional and service businesses: new business models are aiming to disrupt even the most stable companies in travel, finance, e-commerce, and just about every professional industry. Startups around the world are taking aim at established companies. Consider Warby Parker, who is “The World’s Most Innovative Company” and has been on Fast Company’s Top 50 list 4 years now. They are a $1.2 billion company, who’s only seven years old which sells prescription eyeglasses online and allows you to try them on at home and ship back the styles you don’t want, at a fraction of the price of traditional retailers.

And it’s true in how organizations are designed: flatter hierarchies, more engaged workforces, and organizations that are designed to thrive in rapidly changing market conditions rather than merely tolerating them. Company cultures can be built explicitly for the purpose of continuous innovation over time. Both older and new companies are doing this, ranging from WD40 to Zappos to New Belgium Brewing Company. But few in Eastern Iowa are.

At NewBoCo, our team of 18 is focused on exactly these kinds of problems, and on bringing new ways of thinking to our region. We’re teaching advanced software techniques in our DeltaV Code School and consulting with local companies to implement them. Our prototyping labs and our team work with manufacturers to reduce cycle time and improve quality. Our startup accelerator works with dozens of early stage companies to identify new trends and business models, and helps them grow here. And we are pioneering new ways to design organizations for the 21st century and we’re showing others how to do it.

But we’re certainly not doing this alone. We’re working with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance to produce EntreFEST in Iowa City in May – and one of the founders of Warby Parker is our keynote speaker. (It’s not too late to get your tickets!). We’re working with the University of Iowa to speed commercialization of new ideas generated by researchers and students, like SwineTech. And we’re plugged into a worldwide network of innovators and thinkers at the bleeding edge of this movement so we can bring those ideas to life here in Eastern Iowa.

And we’re growing, too: we’ve hired Mandy Webber as our Director of Innovation to lead these initiatives. She’s heading up our new Corporate Innovation program to give local companies in Eastern Iowa a means to harness the entrepreneurial mindset and tap into these kinds of ideas.

While we might rank 44th right now, we see a bright future for regional innovation in Eastern Iowa.

Eric is the former CEO of Geonetric, in Cedar Rapids, and now leads The New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative (NewBoCo), a nonprofit that operates Iowa Startup Accelerator, DeltaV Code School, Corridor Angel Investors, and many other programs to accelerate world-changing ideas, from Iowa.

Sources: states/31890/ project-management- at-dod/ titanium-parts- boeing-dreamliner- 787[/text_output][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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