I never thought that I would become more connected with the state of Iowa by heading to Texas, but that's exactly what happened. This past month, the Greater Des Moines Partnership sent two start-up business owners to the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival for their DM Startups take SXSW contest. The winners were able to represent and promote Des Moines but also make connections that will help them long term. I was lucky enough to be one of those business owners.
Each year a number of Iowans head down to Austin to network and learn. Some this year were veterans — one member of the group was heading down for his 10th time. Others, like me, were newbies. There were Iowans from all over the state but most of us seemed to hail from either the Des Moines or Iowa City areas. I went to inspiring sessions, got to sit on a Game of Thrones Iron Throne and even tried out Google's new Birdly invention. But getting to know these outstanding individuals and leaders in the Iowa start-up world was the highlight of my trip.
Looking back at the amazing five days I was in Austin, all of my highest points were Iowa-related: The impromptu lunches or drinks with Iowans I ran into on the street, and dinners with strangers that turned into dinners with new friends. The dinners included experiences I will never forget. (Note: when the menu says goat head tacos, they really mean an actual goat head. (Also, I promise I did more than just eat at the festival.)
One amazing experience included helping a new friend while he prepared for his pitch contest. Watching Riley and his company, Pear Deck out of Iowa City, win the Rise of the Rest contest, and $150,000, is such a happy memory. Best of all, directly after was the Iowa Hour sponsored by the Department of Economic Development, where hundreds of Iowans and ex-pats gathered to toast the state. The added bonus was we got to toast an Iowan winning the pitch contest, too.
One of my favorite sessions included a conversation between a journalist and Ben Milne about how he created Dwolla. The session read like a love letter to Des Moines with Ben talking about how being in Iowa is one of the primary reasons Dwolla is what it is. I can believe it, too. Iowa is a very special place both for business and quality of life. It's all about the people. The Iowans I met made my SXSW experience. They were the smartest, kindest, and most welcoming people I met during the festival. I could not have been prouder to represent our state with them.
I went to Texas to become more connected with Iowa.