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This post was written by Nirav Amin.

Honolulu, Bozeman, Little Rock, and Iowa City/Cedar Rapids.  Which one doesn’t belong? Keep reading to find out the answer.

I hail from Chicago.  Big Midwest city with the thick pizza and the river that gets dyed green.  Beyond that, Chicago serves as an ecosystem in which entrepreneurs can thrive and offers a plethora of information through advisors, events, venues and so much more.  Access to that information and resources is not always the easiest though.  You end up playing the role of a small fish in a big pond, which can go to show that larger ecosystems have their disadvantages.

It wasn’t until 2 weeks ago, when I attended the UP America Summit in Iowa City/Cedar Rapids (ICR), that I learned the impact that smaller communities and ecosystems play in fostering entrepreneurship.  I walked in to the summit asking the question, “Why would anyone ever host an entrepreneurship summit in Iowa?”  Over the next three days, I had a chance to meet some of the most amazing people and learn about the impact that they are making in their own community, through entrepreneurship.  In the process my question was answered.


Andy Stoll spent 4 years traveling the world, living and working in 40 countries before coming back to ICR, and starting Iowa’s Creative Corridor movement along with Amanda Styron.  They’ve not only succeeded in building a co-working space and encouraging the community to innovate and inspire, but also created community building in a region that was ravaged by the 4th largest natural disaster in US history, only 5 years ago.

Troy Miller is the owner of Naomi’s Kitchen, where they build innovative food concepts.  He also is the founder of Koala Pay.  Troy and I met right after I landed in ICR and we found a similar interest in educating our youth in technology.  He told me a story of how his 12 year old son, Issac, wanted to code and tried learning online.  Ultimately Issac wanted to learn more than just a video lecture and Troy set him up with a coding instructor.  He not only learned how to code, but built his own version of Pong that is motion controlled.   Inspired by Issac’s story  and using my own experience of immersive learning, Troy and I are talking about starting a small program for kids where they can get together and work on tech projects in Iowa.

Issac. Sorry about the red eye!

Carl Blake owns Rustik Rooster Farms, and was kind enough to supply the dinner for our last night in ICR.  Carl breeds award winning pigs and innovated a champion German pig by breeding a Chinese pig and a Russian pig.  He’s been featured on The Colbert Report as well.  As Carl talked to us about what he does, and how he created his concept of a champion pig, I realized that he too is a leader in entrepreneurship.   He identified a problem with the way US pigs were raised, and created his own solution, causing an impact in the pig farming industry.

The exposure didn’t just stop in Iowa.  Lee Watson is championing entrepreneurship in Little Rock, AR.  Avani Parekh is pushing for diversity in entrepreneurship in North Carolina.   Rob Irizarry and Nate Stephens are leading the charge in Bozeman, MT.  Bryan Butteling, Omar Sultan, and Rechung Fujihira are putting Hawaii on the map for more than just tourism.  And the list goes on and on.  I came out of this summit realizing that just like the big cities, smaller communities are making large strides and creating an impact in the growth of entrepreneurship.  Organizations like UP Global are working hard to create entrepreneurship opportunities in cities all around the world through Startup Weekend, Startup America, Startup Digest, and Next.  Events such as the UP America Summit do an amazing job at connecting these cities, large and small, enabling them to learn from one another.  After 3 days, I did get an answer to my question.  However I also was left with a feeling of wanting more.  Why couldn’t I connect to more people like this on a regular basis?  What could be done to make that possible for all the people who couldn’t attend the summit?

So comes the answer to my initial question to you.  Which city doesn’t belong?  The answer is none of the above.  They all belong.  They all have a place.  They all create impact.  And with this answer comes a call to action.  I personally found a project that is near and dear to my heart and have begun working on it.  Startup Sister is a new idea that was innovated through my many conversations at the UP America Summit.  The idea is to create a startup sister city program that allows leaders, members, and companies of joint communities to connect on a more regular basis.  We need to have a program that allows communities to act as resources for one another so that innovation and creativity continue to grow.  They can teach one another, learn from one another, and introduce concepts that may not otherwise have come to fruition.

Having a summit in Iowa taught me more than I could imagine.  From meeting all the new and amazing people I did to learning about what they do, I truly left with new goals in mind.  I look forward to the next summit when everyone comes back to talk about what they have done since Iowa.



  • AndyStoll

    Thanks Nirav! Great post! Pleasure to meet you! Looking forward to future collaborations! Let us know how we can help!

    • Nirav Amin

      Thanks Andy! It was great meeting you and the entire Iowa team! Look forward to staying in touch!