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How four seasons of the Iowa Innovation Podcast had an impact

Two years ago, Jennifer Smith wanted to create a show that featured the stories she saw every day in Iowa: Educators, business owners, and everyday Iowans who were finding new and innovative ways to do what they do. 

That show became the Iowa Innovation podcast.

Since launching in April of 2022, Iowa Innovation has featured guests ranging from Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell, to entertainer Alisabeth Von Presley, to Brucemore CEO David Janssen, to Alissa Gardner of Farm to Health Organics. In 2023, the show recorded its first-ever live episode from the stage of the Englert Theatre, and featured an interview with Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Iowa Finance Authority.

When Smith co-hosted the show’s 50th episode on Dec. 12, she marveled at how far the podcast had come in such a short time.

“I was so excited about what we had created, the potential of it, the feedback, and the response we got,” she said. “All of those entrepreneurs who we interviewed, and being able to tell some of their stories for the first time on a podcast — it was just like, there is something special that can be done with this. And I hope it continues to thrive.”

The big 5-0 

One of those entrepreneurs, Malia Gutenkauf, appeared on Iowa Innovation in 2023 to talk about her Cedar Rapids consulting company, Little Miss Finance. Her story of helping peers save and invest money was soon being shared worldwide via Apple, Google, Spotify, and other platforms. 

“In my eyes, the Iowa Innovation podcast is about sharing stories, and getting real about what’s happening with individuals in our communities,” Gutenkauf says. “The hope is always that by being vulnerable and transparent, others may be inspired or learn something new, to better their lives.”

Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell appeared on the podcast June 14, 2023 and then returned in September to discuss the Mayor’s Youth Summit. She said she appreciated the relaxed, conversational tone of the podcast. “It was a chance for me to exhale a bit, and talk about our city ‘friend to friend,’” O’Donnell said. 

Iowa Innovation co-host Anthony Betters, Jr. says the show is still focused on its main goal:  Tto gather local stories of innovation and entrepreneurship, with the goal to inspire listeners who are working in similar areas. 

“Anyone can benefit from being informed about what is happening right in their backyard,” Betters said. “And we try to give it an energetic twist.”

Jessica Abdoney, who works by day as NewBoCo’s Marketing Coordinator, served as co-host alongside Betters when the podcast recorded its live episode with Debi Durham at EntreFEST 2023. 

“It was nerve-wracking to have an audience watching us,” Abdoney said. “But I think it made us a better pair as interviewers, because it was just us and Director Durham. We couldn’t turn to our producer or ask to take anything out.”

“The experience was an amazing first for me,” Betters agreed. “I was a little bit terrified of being on stage live, because we are not used to that. But the energy of the crowd, and having a professional like Debi Durham there with us, made it very enjoyable.”

Abdoney said the Iowa Innovation podcast gives NewBoCo the opportunity to showcase a side of Iowa that many don’t see. 

“When you think of Iowa you think corn, Midwest, and fields, but there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are doing big things here, and who deserve recognition and support,” Abdoney said. “It’s awesome to interview people who are making a positive impact.” 

Heading to video

To produce each episode, NewBoCo teamed with another local company, Upload Media Group (UMG). Episodes are recorded weekly out of UMG’s studio in Czech Village, and shared to a variety of popular podcast platforms, from Spotify to Apple.

“We’ve had the pleasure of working on a lot of podcasts, but Iowa Innovation remains one of our most impactful success stories,” said Logan Schultz, Founder and CEO of UMG. “Iowa Innovation goes above and beyond to change lives, share diverse and meaningful human stories, and represent the best ways in which Iowa is leading the charge in innovation. We’re certainly proud to have a hand in such a meaningful project.”

For the fourth season, UMG went from its producer role, to being the media sponsor for Iowa Innovation. As part of that partnership, episodes are now recorded on video, and made available via Facebook and Vimeo for those who prefer to watch rather than listen. 

“One of our primary goals as a company is to elevate the voices of our community through podcasting,” Schultz said. “We found an immediate alignment with NewBoCo and Iowa Innovation, so it was only natural for us to continue to invest in and support the show as both we, and the podcast, grew.”

Other sponsors of the show have included the Nyemaster Goode, P.C. law firm,; the City of Cedar Rapids, (which partnered with Iowa Innovation on multiple episodes in Season 3); and Van Meter Inc. ( which sponsors the current season). 

“Iowa is the nation’s best kept secret when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship, but Midwest humility means we don’t tend to pat ourselves on the back and show off,” said Mike Heaton, former NewBoCo Director of Development. “The podcast offers a perfect vehicle to share and inspire others who have the drive to think and build outside of the box.”

Building a library

All four seasons of Iowa Innovation are available at NewBoCo’s website. Episodes are also available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google, and other popular podcast sites. Season Four released its final episode on Dec. 19. 

“For me, when there’s a new episode in my feed, I get excited because it’s great content,” said NewBoCo board member Aaron Horn, who helped launch the podcast last year and served as a co-host for one episode. “The people they’re interviewing are doing amazing things, and considering how many brilliant Iowa innovators are out there, there’s plenty of content for seasons and seasons to come.” 

Antonio “Tone Da Boss” Chalmers with Kaitlin Byers of Kiva Iowa.

Betters hopes that people will be more willing to give Iowa Innovation a try now that the show has built a library of more than 50 episodes. He also hopes listeners will get behind the podcast’s mission of learning just how much innovation is taking place in Iowa. 

“We’re talking about cutting-edge information happening in our state that is affecting the world,” Betters said. “Our podcast will help people see that what we do in Iowa really matters.” 

Rob Merritt, NewBoCo’s Director of Communications, has been a co-host of the Iowa Innovation podcast for all four seasons, and appeared with Betters and Smith on the 50th episode.

“There are exciting and innovative things happening in the state of Iowa, and you don’t have to go to the East Coast or the West Coast to find those things,” Merritt said. “I think it’s been a big part of NewBoCo’s mission, as well as the mission of the podcast, to make sure people know that. For me, it’s been an honor and a privilege to be a part of this.”

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