Tagged: Iowa

Civic Duty

I just can’t get over how blatant the republican politicians around the country are being about how much they don’t care about their constituents – including those that voted for them.

There’s of course those in the federal government trying to ram things through as fast as they can before people notice what they’re doing. But there are also problems at the state and local levels.

One main example is South Dakota – one of the most corrupt states in the country. On election day, voters passed the South Dakota Anti-Corruption Act. The purpose was to stop the bribery going on in their government. Within days of the new legislative session starting, the South Dakota GOP used emergency powers to repeal the new anti-corruption law. I read through some of the finer points of it and the only problem with the law was that it made it difficult for politicians to accept bribes.

The GOP government in Iowa is acting the same way – proving again and again that the voters are irrelevant. A couple recent items are 1) their net reduction in funding of public schools (again) and 2) their work to remove workers rights on collective bargaining.

At a recent hearing on the collective bargaining bill, a police officer stated, “Half of law enforcement folks I work with are Republicans. And we voted for Republicans because of conservative values. But we didn’t vote for Republicans to get stabbed in the back while we’re trying to dodge cars and bullets.”

I don’t personally have a horse in the race on the collective bargaining issue, but I do care about education, a lot. Education is one area where this country (and Iowa) has been slipping recently. I feel for those in the public education system in Iowa since these two issues combined must feel like a personal attack. Teaching is hard enough. People say, “we could always use more good teachers.” Are these legislative choices going to help or hurt the education of our children?

Iowans have been showing up in large numbers at hearings at the capitol, and at a legislative forum in Ankeny, IA. It doesn’t seem to be doing any good, however. They’re being pretty brash about saying they won’t make changes no matter what their constituents think.

A reason for the GOP’s actions? Money. Plain and simple.

At the Ankeny forum, Iowa state representative Kevin Koester indicated one sure fire way to fight back, saying that he’s “on the ballot every other year, and that’s one way you hold me accountable.”

In this last election cycle, a way higher percentage of registered republicans went and voted compared to other groups. So if you don’t like what’s going on with our government, get your ass to the polls next time!

 

 

Thoughts on NestMint

NestMintlogo_taglineNestMint is a new “idea-stage” equity fund for startups in Iowa.

I was recently asked about my thoughts on NestMint. Specifically: “Do you think it’s valuable to the community? Why? What impact do you foresee this investment fund having on the overall economic health of our startups in Iowa?”

I’m no expert on the subject, but here are my thoughts:

I definitely think there’s value to the community in NestMint. To me it feels like the money portion of a startup accelerator.

Prior to business validation, most entrepreneurs use their own money and possibly money from friends and family to start building their company.

Before NestMint, the standard advice to startups (in Iowa) thinking about raising money was to “build it first and prove the business (via traction, etc.) and only then seek angel investment”. That’s still good advice (and that’s what I’m doing with Locusic), but doing it that way usually means building the startup part-time. That’s because you still need to keep your day job to earn a living – unless you’re fortunate enough to have three to six months worth of living expenses in the bank. So, because you’re only working on the startup part-time, things take a bit longer. And because you still have a day job there’s less of a sense of urgency to make your startup succeed, so things take a bit longer still.

NestMint gives another option for early stage startups in Iowa – especially for younger entrepreneurs whose expenses are lower. Seed, or idea-stage, financing from NestMint could allow a startup’s founder(s) to focus 100% of their energy and time into building their new company. And when you’re able to go “all-in” there are many psychological effects in play that pressure you to succeed (or not fail).

Possible negatives:

The requirements to apply seem a bit onerous to me – specifically the business plan and financial plan. It’s a bit ridiculous to require a “plan” for a startup at the idea stage, since you really don’t know what you’re building yet. Your plan will most likely be flawed, so if you precisely follow it you will most likely fail. Startups at this stage need the flexibility to pivot to different business models as they learn new information about their customers, market, etc. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the NestMint fund might be a bit out of touch with the dynamic nature of startups. But knowing that Mike Colwell and Tej Dhawan (two key supporters of the Iowa startup ecosystem) are involved with NestMint, I bet I just don’t understand enough of the details about these requirements, or what they mean by “plan”. The site alludes to a plan “template”, but it hasn’t been posted yet.

Contrasting with an accelerator:

A startup accelerator, like Y Combinator, Techstars, Gener8tor, or the new Iowa Startup Accelerator, provides similar amounts of financing for startups. Y Combinator hopes to get one “home run” out of the 50 or so startups they accept for each “class”. Y Combinator accepts only the best of the best of early stage startups from around the world, they provide world class mentoring, and their startups are immersed in a culture of other startups all working very, very hard to achieve success.
NestMint will only be accepting applicants from Iowa. They may accept applicants from early-stage companies other than high growth potential startups. It’s unclear (to me) what kind of mentoring or other scaffolding will be in place, if any, to help their companies succeed. I hope the NestMint investors are realistic and the fund won’t be called a failure if it doesn’t get the same rate of return as a world-class accelerator.
To me it seems a bit easier to apply to an accelerator than for financing from NestMint. Although, it might be easier to actually receive financing from NestMint than be accepted to an accelerator.
Accelerators usually require the startup to relocate to near the accelerator’s location, at least temporarily. With pure financing from NestMint, an Iowa startup could stay where they are – around the resources, talent, and potential customers they already know.

I’m interested in or curious about:

  • what kind of additional mentoring, if any, that NestMint financing recipients will receive from the people backing the fund.
  • which kinds of businesses, besides high growth potential startups, will receive funding.
  • what additional burden does taking this funding put on the entrepreneurs (e.g. paperwork, reporting to the partners, a board seat?).
  • for the more successful startups that receive NestMint funding, will the people (managers, investors) behind NestMint help those startups secure additional (A round) financing?
  • terms – as I write this, the investment terms for entrepreneurs hasn’t been posted to the NestMint site.
  • Are there restrictions on how the founders can spend the money?
If the fund continues to invest in startups over the next several years (and they evolve and work out the kinks during that time), I think it could be a key contributor to the success of the Iowa startup community.

Iowa Student Learning Institute

ISLIIf you’re interested in improving education (and you live in Iowa), there’s an event coming up next Saturday, October 5th, you should check out.

It’s called the Iowa Student Learning Institute (ISLI). It’s a conference that was totally spearheaded and organized by students – specifically Ian Coon and Jack Hostager. I think they did a pretty impressive job getting it all setup. I’m also just impressed that they did this at all. It really shows some great initiative. The idea behind it is to get input from students on what’s happening (or should be happening) in transitioning schools to 21st century teaching/learning practices.

In their own words: “ISLI is like an edcamp- except for students. ISLI is a day being planned by a group led by two Iowa teens designed to enable students, with the support of their teachers, to make their voice heard by sharing ideas about improving education. ISLI will combine presentations from education leaders with edcamp style breakout sessions.”

Next Saturday, follow the #isli hashtag on twitter to join the conversation.

You can also follow the conference on facebook and twitter.

Here’s the full schedule.

I (Jake Kerber) will be on a panel from 12:25-12:50 (during lunch) entitled, “What I Wish I Knew in High School”. I’ll also be giving a talk that I call, “Put Students in Charge for Success”. (I originally thought of calling it “What Monkeys, Marshmallows, and Games Can Teach Us About Education”.)

Here’s what my talk will be about:

I’m a businessman, technology entrepreneur, parent, and researcher on the psychology of education.

In my talk I’ll enumerate the problems I see in the current education system:
– Students aren’t properly prepared for college (or careers)
– Students aren’t happy
– Some students are held back from achieving and others are forced through the system
– Student creativity is crushed

I’ll explain the science that tells us what schools should be doing instead and present a possible comprehensive solution.

Finally, we’ll discuss how we can work together as a group to make the change to a better system.