True or False: Iowa Is More Innovative Than Silicon Valley
Yesterday I was talking with Rob Miller, a humble guy living in Iowa City, IA. The home of the Hawkeyes (Big Ten baby!).
He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2009, and like most of us, didn’t much know what he wanted to do. He even took the Degree at Large program because he didn’t know what he wanted to major in. But, there was something in him that was intrigued by startups and so he began dropping in on the classes he wanted, namely the Entrepreneurship ones.
In a weird twist of fate, we both had one of the same teachers, nearly 6 years apart, a chap named Joe Sulentic. He kept the entrepreneurial fire burning deep inside me for nearly a decade. Thanks Joe.
After graduation, Roby joined the work force, but after seeing a friend of his family start a technology company (which, by the way, just sold for $22 million on September 1st), Roby decided that career path might be something he wanted to follow.
He saw his dad, a Pharmacist, having to close down some of the small Pharmacy shops he owned in rural towns around Iowa. So, his dad was losing part of his life’s work, Pharmacists were getting laid off, and people in those communities had less access to the prescriptions they badly needed to survive.
So, with nothing more than hope and $15,000 in the bank to survive, Roby quit his job. He had very little knowledge of engineering aside from a bit of HTML, and no experience in starting his own company. But you know what he did have? Work ethic and a desire to help not just his family, but also his community. Shoot the tank.
Now that’s what being from the Midwest is all about.
Roby lost the investor who had planned to fund him nearly immediately after quitting his job, and had no idea what to do. So he just started reading. And trying. And reading. He learned how to code. He built a very basic prototype. With the money that he was conserving, he hired an off-shore development team to take the product to the next level. He started contacting Pharmacies in Iowa. He built a relationship with the Iowa Board of Pharmacy.
Then something magical happened. He was invited to Pitching Grow, a seed accelerator in Iowa to talk about his startup. He wasn’t prepared and had no idea he was even going to pitch. But somehow, his passion shined through, and he won. He got a $75,000 grant and about 40 business cards. Then investors started contacting him.
Then, the original investor who backed out saw everything he had accomplished with nothing more than gumption (yes, I just used the word gumption) and put in $100,000. And then, another $100,000 came in last week.
Today is Telepharm’s beta launch in the first Iowa Pharmacy. The governor of Iowa is even coming. The concept is simple: video conferencing between Pharmacists in a remote location, the technician who’s filling the prescription, and the customer who needs the prescription.
If Roby can prove that it works and it’s safe, then the Iowa Board of Pharmacy will approve him to not only launch in other stores, but also help write the laws that will guide all Telepharmacy businesses in the future. A that will be all the traction he needs to move into other states.
To review, in 6 months, here’s what Roby’s accomplished:
- Taught himself how to code
- Built a working piece of beta software
- Signed up a beta test store
- Relationship with the Iowa Board of Pharmacy
- Raised a quarter million dollars
- Has over a year of cash runway if no other investors come in
- Still owns 3/4th of the company
- Saving Pharmacist jobs
- People who need prescriptions to survive don’t have to drive a hundred miles
- Beta launch with the Governor of the state
And so I ask you:
True of False: Iowa is more innovative than Silicon Valley.