← Techstars Blog

Startup Weekend Stories: Memories, reflections and lessons learned from Startup Weekend events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa. 

Today we meet Jesse Lane, a corporate employee who started showing up at events like open coffee longing for a side hustle. Two Startup Weekends later, he’s participated in multiple initiatives that mix social good with technology, and found the perfect project in Agropolis, an indoor farming service. He writes: “I hoped that I’d come out of the other side with a decent idea to keep working on and maybe a few people to work on it with me.” Members of the team are still working on the idea.

The Agropolis team at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014. Team lead Jesse Lane is holding the plant.

What was your involvement (if any) with the local startup community before the weekend?

Before my first one (Cedar Rapids last March), I had been attending the Open Coffee meetups for a few months trying to figure out how to introduce myself since I didn’t have anything in particular I was working on. By my second (Iowa City last October) I was much more involved in the community with 1MC, lunches, etc.

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect the first time so I didn’t have any hopes or goals. For my second weekend I hoped that I’d come out of the other side with a decent idea to keep working on and maybe a few people to work on it with me.

The idea:

My first weekend the idea that was pitched was some app/community/process to address the numerous “zombie” homes around Cedar Rapids left by the flood. By Sunday night we pitched an app we had built that would allow a user to report a home and have it logged to a database. That project kept going for a couple months and then petered out after talks with the city fizzled and the team dispersed.

The second weekend I pitched a vague idea to hack a business model for vertical farming (large-scale indoor farming in skyscrapers). Sunday we pitched a small hydroponic tomato operation to provide year-round tomatoes to local restaurants. Today the idea has morphed into an, as yet undetermined, product to help indoor farmers optimize their operations. We’re called Agropolis and we’re currently going through Venture School to crystallize our idea.

What was the most challenging part of the weekend? What was the most exciting? Were there any unexpected moments?

The most challenging part of the weekend for me is always team dynamics. Both times I worked with large teams which take a while to settle on an idea and then take a bit more management to make it through. I feel that both experiences helped me be a better listener and collaborator.

How has the experience impacted you after the weekend?

I’d say it’s upended my life at the moment! I work a full-time job and have 3 kids and now I’ve thrown Venture School on top of that. If it weren’t for my wonderful fiancée there is no way I could manage it all. She’s also recently started her own venture, New Leaf Redevelopment.

Thanks also to:

Dave Tominsky for drawing me into this community through the open coffees, his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship in the Corridor, and cajoling me into applying to Venture School.

Sarah Binder, and We Create Here for keeping me up-to-date about my community and organizing community building events.

Finally, all of the friends I’ve made in the entrepreneurial community in the past year or so.

Advice I would give to someone considering attending startup weekend:

Go and pitch! The first time I didn’t pitch an idea (fear of public speaking) and I regretted it. The second time around I practiced and just went for it and it paid off.

Startup Weekend returns to Cedar Rapids March 4th – 6th at the Iowa Startup Accelerator in the Geonetric Building. We’re also excited to announce Sunday Demo Day Pitches will take place at Whipple Auditorium in the Cedar Rapids Public Library. Get your tickets today.

Brian Kerr