Mike Ralston, president of the Iowa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, moderated a panel discussion Thursday at the Gateway Hotel Convention Center in Ames. Panelists, left to right, are Mitchell Messmore, Director of Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence, Inseer Inc., Craig Ibsen, Managing Partner, Next Level Ventures, and Gabe Glynn, CEO, MakuSafe Corp. Photo by Kendall Antle, ABI Foundation
Choose a great team over a great idea.
That’s Craig Ibsen, managing principal of strategic investment firm Next Level Ventures, during a discussion Thursday with Ames’ Iowa leadership at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. Suggestions made.
Ibsen participated in a panel discussion held at the Gateway Hotel Conference Center as part of the ABI’s Connecting Leaders Discussion Series across the state.
He was joined on the panel by Mitchell Messmore, Director of Computer Vision and AI at Inseer Inc., an ergonomic safety assessment company, and Gabe Glynn, CEO of MakuSafe Corp. Hazards and risks in the workplace. The discussion was moderated by ABI President Mike Ralston.
In a discussion focused on technology and innovation, Ralston posed a series of questions to the panelists, from the current state of innovation and technology in Iowa and the challenges facing the state, to how investment decisions are made and what innovations they will be making Watch closely in the future.
Here are the gist of the conversation. Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Tell us what you think of innovation and technology in Iowa.
very messy: The University of Iowa has a great math program and a great data science program, and Iowa State University has a really good software engineering program. So if you’re trying to build a company, these are great places to find people to build your product. Also, it seems like everything is cloud-based and the infrastructure is being built in Iowa. We have more and more access to different cloud-based computing across the United States so all of these come together to help us build local companies, software companies have the resources here.
Ibsen: we’re involved in a lot of conversations — Is there enough funding in Iowa, and are people with great ideas having trouble getting it?i will be biased [enough capital] Because I’m on the capital side of the equation.I think leadership in Iowa is like [Iowa Economic Development Authority Director] Debi Durham and many other players do have a robust set of programs designed to get young businesses funded. Funds like mine wake up looking for investments every day.then there is an active angel [investors] Ecosystems seeking investment.
How do investors decide where they want to invest?
Ibsen: It always starts with a great idea and a huge potential market. We are in the business of risk. When you bet, when you do business with people, the relationship will last up to 10 years, sometimes longer. So you’ll be doing business with people for a long time. I learned that there are a lot of bumps in the road. There are macroeconomic events, most of which are less severe than the pandemic, but recessions do happen. Some factors are out of your control and you will have to live with them. What I’ve learned is that an idea will change over a period of years.Your initial thoughts on investing not at all, almost always The business being sold. So if we have an opportunity to invest in a great team whose idea seems a bit vague but we can support it, or we think it is An amazing idea and a team, we have some questions and every time we have to pick a great team because we know great individuals, great leaders will come through and figure it out. Therefore, we attach great importance to the human business. The most important thing we look for is a team. We are looking for people who want to change the world and we think they have the potential.
What is the right thing Iowa is doing?
Green: Iowa State does a few things really well, which is part of why I decided to stay here when we had the opportunity to secure funding and move to Silicon Valley. Visiting people to get test data and see if what I’m doing actually works. Or in the discovery stage, I could sit down with the owner of a manufacturing company, sit down with leaders who would open doors and spend time with me, and I could ask them about their honesty and frankness and vulnerability about my stuff The question I’m trying to create, how does this fit into their business and what does the model need to look like? I don’t think you understand this in many places. Whenever you talk about funding and money there are all sorts of political challenges and I tend to be a very conservative person financially but I can tell you that I wouldn’t be in the world today if it weren’t for some financial planning Here it is.
very messy: We have two big research institutes and they help us a lot. We are located in one of the University of Iowa’s research centers in Iowa City. They’re more or less an incubator for local start-ups, and we’ve been given reduced rent and a lot of resources from the get-go.In Iowa, we partner with CIRAS [the Center for Industrial Research and Service] So we can go to the client and say, “Hey, are we accurate?” and provide that data to the students. Another thing about Iowa is that it’s small. You can open a textbook and see one of the authors is from Iowa, call them up and say he’d be happy to work with you as a consultant or something. And local companies are willing to help you build your product. I don’t think a lot of people have that much exposure to Iowa, so if people come here and the technology thrives and there’s more of an atmosphere, I think it’ll really grow.
What’s your next big innovation?
very messy: It’s a custom thing for machine learning. The analogy is self-driving cars. Now your car can parallel park for you, it can do lane assist, but full self-driving isn’t here yet, and a lot of that has to do with if that car crashes, who’s to blame? I’m curious to see how a company like Tesla would change everything if they could transition to fully self-driving cars and the machine learning algorithms that are now responsible for that output.
Green: I think from our perspective, the most important thing right now is cybersecurity. There are many challenges. We’ve been lucky to work with many Fortune 500 companies. We also work with many local companies in Iowa. It took us about a year or a year and a half to get through a cybersecurity agreement with a Fortune 500 company. We’re a team of 26 with limited resources here in Iowa. It’s just an extreme challenge, so we continue to watch the cybersecurity technology market and some of the advancements that are happening there.
Ibsen: I’m not involved in any business today; they don’t seem to have an AI component. I had a board meeting with an innovative company using imaging for lung diagnostics. Clinicians have been looking at X-rays for decades, but machine learning, artificial intelligence, can do it more efficiently and see things earlier. So that business is really taking off and doing wonderful things in that space. You talk about AI and driving, and we’re seeing that in agriculture, with tractors and planting. There are also several innovative businesses emerging in Iowa that are studying how artificial intelligence can affect agriculture. I’m very excited to see businesses popping up there.