Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Ames, IA

Iowa State University in Ames, IA

Nearly half of Ames residents are students at Iowa State University, fueling a young culture focused on advancement and innovation that serves the city’s entrepreneurship scene.

Ames, IA, is located just north of the state’s capital Des Moines. The seventh-largest city in the state, Ames’ population is made up largely by students of the university. So, since nearly half of Ames residents are students at the university, they are fueling a young culture focused on advancement and innovation that serves the city’s entrepreneurship scene. Back in 2017, the city was featured at eighth overall in Livability’s list of the best cities for entrepreneurs.

Recently, Ames has continued to rank well in terms of entrepreneurship. Silicon Prairie News, a website dedicated to covering technology and innovation in the Midwest, ranked Ames sixth overall in its 2018 “State of the Silicon Prairie” report. Therefore, this puts Ames ahead of the much larger cities in the region. The city also appeared 28th overall on Verizon’s rankings of the most innovative metro areas in the US. Finally, Ames made WalletHub’s 2019 list of the best small cities to start a business by ranking 70th overall in the “Access to Resources” category. This suggests there is a framework in place to support aspiring entrepreneurs.

Based on these rankings, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that make up Ames’ entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

Based in a suburb of Des Moines, meetup hosts regular networking events for women entrepreneurs throughout central Iowa.

Formerly known as Young Professionals of Ames, FUEL Story County is a group dedicated to supporting young entrepreneurs, small business owners and other professionals.

A large networking group, Startup Ames hosts a wide variety of regular events to support entrepreneurship and innovation in Ames and the surrounding areas.


Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

Ames is home to one branch of 1 Million Cups, a large organization that hosts weekly events in cities across the country that give entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their businesses.

The Ames Chamber of Commerce hosts regular business events, including networking opportunities, awards ceremonies, educational events and more.

Iowa State University’s Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship hosts events open to students and the Ames startup scene.

Traditionally held annually just down the road in Des Moines, 2019 marked the first year that Iowa’s largest entrepreneurship event was held in Ames.


Startup Competitions:

Every year, Ames Seed Capital hosts an event called the Entrepreneur Showcase and Pitch Competition to allow entrepreneurs to compete for funding.

The Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship at Iowa State University organizes and hosts a variety of competitions, including five for students and one statewide venture competition.

Part of the annual Young Entrepreneur Convention is the Pitch Competition, a chance for 30 entrepreneurs to go head-to-head with elevator pitches in front of judges and an audience.


Co-working Spaces:

Offering both the traditional “floating desk” style and a permanent desk membership option, Catalyst CoWorking supports area business by providing a place to work.

In addition to a number of resources designed to incubate and grow startups and small businesses, the Iowa State University Research Park offers working space to companies.

Regus, a large company that offers office space for rent in a number of cities around the country, has three locations down the road from Ames in the greater Des Moines area.



Ames MakerSpace which offers tools, equipment and working space to the Ames community, hosts weekly Meet2Make events on Thursday nights.

Located down the road in Des Moines, Area515 is a large makerspace that offers informal classes to help educate its less-experienced members.

Until the Student Innovation Center is opened, Iowa State students access to tools and equipment is limited to the Student Activity Center, which includes a woodshop.

Scheduled to open in Spring 2020, Iowa State University’s Student Innovation Center will be a 140,000 facility offering students a makerspace and other resources to support innovation.



A business support program offered by Iowa State University is the CyBIZ Lab. The incubator connects businesses to teams of students that can help them tackle and solve problems.

The Small Business Development Center in Ames is located at Iowa State University and provides a variety of services to support area small business and entrepreneurship.

The Iowa State University Research Park provides a number of incubator services, including a BioTech Wet Lab and three plant sciences-related department-focused incubators on campus.



Students and recent graduates at Iowa State University can participate in CYstarters. The 11-week summer accelerator program that offers its members funding and business support.

Based in Des Moines, the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator offers its members $40,000 in seed funding and a two-month accelerator program to support agriculture technology in Central Iowa.

Iowa State University’s Startup Factory is a unique accelerator program that runs for 52 weeks. The program consists of 26 weeks of a formal curriculum and 26 weeks of a customized program based on each members’ needs.



Des Moines Area Community College offers a certificate program in entrepreneurship at its locations in Ankeny and Des Moines.

Through the Buchanan Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurial Outreach, Des Moines’ Drake University offers a variety of resources.

Iowa State University offers a wide variety of entrepreneurial resources and education. Furthermore, this includes a major and minor in entrepreneurship and a number of competitions.


Angel Groups/VCs:

A program of the Ames Economic Development Commission, Ames Seed Capital invests in local companies to help them grow and contribute to the area’s economy.

Next Level Ventures provides between $1- $4 million dollars in funding to promising companies around the state of Iowa.

Plains Angels is an angel investment group based in Des Moines. Moreover, the variety of investors are looking to work with high-growth companies across a variety of sectors.

ISU is one of four centers across the state of Iowa where you can submit requests for funding from the Wellmark Venture Capital Fund.


Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

The Ames Tribune offers several newsletters with differing focuses. Primarily, daily newsletters that include the biggest business headlines.

Both versions of the Iowa Business Journals focus primarily on suburbs of Des Moines and offer newsletters.

The center offers the EntreBOLD monthly newsletter, which covers the biggest news in Ames entrepreneurship.

Are you familiar with the entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Ames not included in the article above?  If so, let us know via a comment below, and we will add it to the article. 

Interested in Ecosystem Spotlights of other cities in the USA?

Lincoln, NE, Toledo, OH, St. Paul, MN

Quinn Pilkey

Quinn is a journalism major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He also serves as a freelance author for Hashtag Basketball where he writes about the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and at FundingSage where he researches and writes about entrepreneurial ecosystems.