Builders and Backers celebrate successes, preview summer cohort

Builders and Backers
The first ever Builders and Backers Iowa City class celebrated during the Idea Accelerator Capstone. CREDIT IOWA CITY AREA DEVELOPMENT GROUP

A collection of local entrepreneurs gathered May 5 to celebrate the progress they have made on their small businesses after completing the first ever Builders and Backers Idea Accelerator in Iowa City.

The program is a partnership between Heartland Forward, Builders and Backers and the Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD). Heartland Forward brings its Community Growth Program and Toolkit (CGPT), a first-of-its-kind idea accelerator–and Pebble Fund and Buildership program, powered by Builders + Backers, to Iowa City. The cohort of 10 builders in Iowa City is part of Heartland Forward’s commitment to funding and supporting 1,000 builders across the heartland by 2023.

“I think we can all agree there’s no shortage of problems to be solved,” said Builders and Backers COO Kathleen Hale during the event’s fireside chat. “We believe to our core that ideas are not concentrated in one part of the country, one type of person or one type of funding mechanism. There are ideas everywhere.”

Participants in the 90-day virtual program were encouraged to focus on solving problems —not just having ideas — to flesh out early-stage ideas. Each ‘builder’ in attendance shared their journey, some talking about how their idea changed over time.

[One Builders and Backers participant wants to level the tech playing field for women]

“Coming into this program I was going to [become] a social media influencer and create content,” said Thom Johnson, a builder and personal trainer looking to create a fitness-centric business. “Well, I ran into a lot of roadblocks … so I made a pivot. Instead of trying to do some big influencer campaign, I created a Facebook page to meet people locally. I love this community and I want to help people here. The program helped me shift my focus to right here at home”

Others spent their time speaking on the problem they want to fix.

“10 million kids have memory problems, including myself,” said Mike Quinn, one of the builders. “It makes it hard to pay attention to organize your thoughts to learn but it also impacts a kid’s ability to regulate emotions. So when my daughter was struggling with this, I dug in, and I found 50 years of research that showed these skills can dramatically improve with training. But unfortunately, a lot of the research is stuck in scientific journals. So I am here to break it out. We are building an online learning platform for skills to help kids who fall behind.”

Ideas ranged from sport and music apps, programs to increase wages for childcare workers, mentorship programs, Afrocentric gardening products, an apparel and merchandise business and more.

Applications for the next Iowa City-based accelerator open May 11 and the program begins June 16. Ms. Hale expects the Idea Accelerator will expand from four cities to nine this summer, and that the number of ‘builders’ will double.