Ecosystem Exploration

Mar 09, 2022

Techstars Iowa continues to explore various entrepreneurial ecosystems throughout the Midwest.

Along with virtual and in-person visits around Iowa, Kerty Levy and Ben McDougal are traveling to learn from community builders, celebrate startup communities, and meet with passionate founders ready to scale. After visits to Nebraska, Utah, Minnesota, and New York, Kerty and Ben recently returned from a whirlwind in Wisconsin. To peek into what these entrepreneurial explorations entail, we hitched a ride on their rocketship fueled by serendipity.

For this Wisconsin trip, Kerty and Ben flew from Des Moines to Milwaukee, then drove back and stopped in Madison and Beloit on their way back to Iowa. The curious exploration was designed to celebrate, support, and connect the Wisconsin entrepreneurial ecosystem, while unlocking regional opportunities to collaborate. Along the way, caffeinated conversations invited founders to learn about Techstars, while infusing fresh value into past portfolio companies and our global network overall.

While in Milwaukee on the first day, Kerty and Ben started at Marquette University’s 707 Hub, and then participated in an unscripted lunch & learn with UW Milwaukee’s Lubar Entrepreneurship Center. The afternoon included meetings with founders at Ward 4 and a chance to catch up with friends at Gener8tor. An impromptu community happy hour emerged at Third Space Brewing down the street, which led to a fun brewery tour for local MKE entrepreneurs and community builders. At each stop, inspired conversations imported/exported knowledge and created fabric for future collaboration.

When a Milwaukee media outlet asked for thoughts on their ecosystem, McDougal shared how he could feel Milwaukee’s neighborhood culture. He talked about how this fosters a wonderful sense of place, loyalty, and pride. Along with appreciating how much good can come from localized unity, Ben extended this narrative through a long-term lens supported by the framework of complex adaptive systems. He explained how over time, generational disconnects within a community can actually devolve into a fractured environment where a scarcity mindset may harmfully nurture a self-limiting, zero-sum attitude. This caffeinated community builder leaned into renewing opportunities to be more collaborative throughout the MKE startup community, while also celebrating, supporting, and connecting so many other extraordinary communities throughout Wisconsin. Ben said, “when startup communities share a #GiveFirst mentality, everyone is invited to do more with less in our connected era.”

By staying radically inclusive and leaning into what we have to attract more of what we want, Ben reminds us how local, statewide, regional, national, and global entrepreneurial ecosystems can be set free to think bigger and transform more ideas into reality when a positive-sum mindset is collectively shared. This community-driven culture assumes positive intent and encourages a notable sense of abundance. Over time, this unlocks more two-way streets built for the speed of trust, which invites everyone to spark more creative action in a thriving community that genuinely embraces those who believe that “if you win, we win.”

On day two, Kerty and Ben met a fellow founder over coffee at a downtown MKE coffee shop, then hit the road. Along with enlightening virtual conversations with WARF and Creative Distraction Lab - Wisconsin, they soon arrived in Madison. They began by touring StartingBlock, which is a fantastic example of how corporate collaborations can help evolve a startup community. While enjoying this magnificent coworking space, they continued learning about the Madison startup community, talked about the next chapter for 1 Million Cups Madison, helped host an online “Inside Techstars” event, and then enjoyed startup stories over cheese curds. After lunch, Ben and Kerty headed toward the capitol for a mesmerizing visit to 100 State. The epic rooftop view was paired with a deep dive into crypto technologies and the (he)art of connection. One of the community members described this visit as a “splendid startup visit from Mars." Happy hour soon arrived, so it was time for a quick beer flight nearby, then it was back to the capital district for a special dinner to celebrate with those who helped connect dots every step of the way.

On the third and final day of this Wisconsin excursion, more coffee was poured in Madison before the Techstars duo hit the road back toward Iowa. Before Ben and Kerty returned to Des Moines, a planned visit to Irontek provided a wonderful opportunity to meet with more friends, hear from gBeta Beloit teams, and talk ecosystem development with the Beloit Chamber of Commerce. What a ride, eh! For bonus content, check out this @TechstarsIowa twitter thread.

As this story of innovation in action comes to a close, the team at Techstars Iowa would like to express sincere gratitude for the hospitality from so many ecosystem allies throughout this exploration saturated with serendipity.

Entrepreneurship truly is a community sport!

About Techstars Iowa

Techstars Iowa is in its third year within the global Techstars network. With partnerships between Grinnell College, Iowa State University, and the University of Iowa, Techstars Iowa is a hybrid accelerator program dedicated to helping remarkable startups scale through a connected, energizing, and community-driven experience. Founders with teams interested in the upcoming 2022 program that starts in July, are encouraged to apply before April 6th, 2022. Learn more at