The relationship between Ames and Des Moines

Ames and Des Moines have developed a symbiotic relationship. I think a lot of entrepreneurs feel it’s a odd relationship but aren’t sure why. For reasons unbeknownst to us the technology communities haven’t historically collaborated well but that’s changing.

I was thinking recently about why the connection between the two cities feels so important and what I realized is that for me, it’s actually somewhat similar to the geographic relationship between Palo Alto and San Francisco.

When I lived in the bay, San Francisco and Palo Alto trips were just a part of normal life. My trips between Des Moines and Ames are starting to feel very similar.

Ames appears to have:

  • More technology returns to re-invest back into technology companies.
  • Technology companies that have gone public.
  • A university with a focus on growing entrepreneurs and investing in them.
  • Strong University support for research and new innovations.
  • A groundswell of super smart people as a result of all of the above.

The impact of the University is clear when talking to student entrepreneurs there. There is a similarity among ISU students I talk to. When they come into my office and talk to me about their companies they are honest, humble, and excited about the future. They also seem to take feedback really well. They seek knowledge rather than introductions. I’m not sure how ISU is doing this but I’ve seen it enough times now to see a likeness amongst the students going through ISU programs.

Trends in behavior is something that is also clear when talking with a lot of YCombinator or Techstars companies. Social similarities form in cohorts of people who go through the accelerator. There are positive behavior similarities in the people going through ISU programs. These organizations become magnets for like minded people with similar values. I’ve seen enough output from ISU at this point to be confident one of these magnets has formed there.

Des Moines appears to have:

  • A larger and active city center for people that want to live in it
  • Wider diversity in neighborhoods. If you want to own a few acres or live in a high rise, you can.
  • Active corporate technology centers.
  • Is walkable and you can live without a car.
  • A groundswell of super smart people as a result of all of the above.

Where you choose to live just depends on what is important to you and what lifestyle you want.

Whether or not people will agree with this… In Iowa, Des Moines is kind of like the San Francisco city center and Ames is kind of like the Palo Alto pace. There are a number of differences but the cities are complementary and the distance between them makes it easy for the communities to interact and support one another.

I’ve noticed that Des Moines is also where almost everyone initially comes in search of capital outside of where they live. They rarely find it there but I do believe they find connections to it. 90% of the investors I introduce founders to are not in Iowa. I’d be surprised if more of that capital didn’t start coming from Ames in the future. There some very big and quiet pools of capital there.

The connection between towns is important to the eco-system because the connectivity of these two cities is decreasing the risk to people who are starting companies and for teams joining them. Finding a place to work is not a problem if your idea blows up and a lot of the same people are starting to show up in the different cities. For the first time I can remember, cross pollination is actually happening in a quantitative way I can speak to. It also gives individuals who build growth skills the ability to find exciting new places to use them. We’re even starting to see “startup tech people” accept leadership positions in large established local companies. This creates a connectivity to the tech community that never existed before.

When thinking about why I’m spending so much time in Ames and how easy it is I realized I have this built in 30 minute travel barrier I’ve subconsciously created for myself. When deciding how far I’ll travel during a day it’s become my default.

On a good day, these are cities that I feel like I make the commute to in 30 minutes. Which means it normally takes 45 minutes but I can assume it will normally take less than 60 minutes. I mentally weigh my decision on the optimistic side because it’s possible. It almost never happens and it takes a truly committed person to make that type of drive, everyday, but it makes it a lot less challenging than than knowing you know will always be an hour or more of commute.

I don’t know why this mental barrier of time matters but it seems like it does. It reminds me of other decisions that I know I make about where to go. If I’m in Manhattan going to Brooklynn it feels like the time investment is similar to going between Des Moines and Ames, SF and Palo Alto. Similarly when I’m in Boulder it feels too far to go to Denver and anytime I make the trip to Iowa City I like to spend the night.

I looked at Google maps for the first times to see what the distance is and the time barrier was fairly similar to what I thought.

I can’t help but wonder if the time/distance/travel barrier between Ames and Des Moines has something to do with all this positive momentum here and continued momentum in other complementary cities.

Ames and Des Moines are starting to create co-dependancies between the cities that exist in other healthy ecosystems and that’s really exciting to me.