Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Des Moines, IA

Des Moines, IA

Des Moines is home to numerous major insurance headquarters and a bustling tech hotspot for businesses.

Located on the banks of the Des Moines River, it’s the state’s capital and largest city. The city is home to both headquarters and major locations of a number of insurance companies, making it one of the nation’s top cities for the industry. In fact, Des Moines has even been nicknamed the “Hartford of the West.” This references Hartford, CT’s status as one of the world’s largest and most influential hubs for insurance companies. That said, aspiring entrepreneurs don’t have to work in the insurance industry to find success.

The city was ranked as the 13th-best for entrepreneurship and small business in 2018 by Silicon Prairie News’ State of the Silicon Prairie report (with nearby Ames finishing sixth). Des Moines and West Des Moines also ranked 1036th and 103rd overall, respectively, on WalletHub’s 2019 list of the best small cities to start a business finishing 40th in the “Access to Resources” category. Des Moines was also listed alongside Amers in a 2019 article published on CultivationCorridor.org of cities that are emerging as new tech hotspots. Moreover, SmartAsset ranked the city sixth on their list of the best American cities to work in tech in 2019. The location also inspired Inc.com contributor Jeff Barrett to predict in 2018 that it would produce the next great startup thanks to the resources available in the area.

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

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

The Central Iowa Women Entrepreneurs meetup group meets monthly to allow its members to make connections, learn from each other and support other women in business.

On the second and fourth Thursday of every month, entrepreneurs from around the area to meet in Urbandale for the Des Moines Area Business Networking Referral Group.

Located down the road in Johnston, Taking Care of Business is a networking group that provides local entrepreneurs and business professionals the chance to meet on another.


Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

Entrepreneurs in the Des Moines area can attend 1 Million Cups’ weekly Des Moines meetings on Wednesdays at 8 am to watch presentations and make connections.

Hosted just outside of De Moines in Urbandale, the Central Iowa Business Conference is an annual event designed to support connecting, learning and more.

The Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit has regional conferences throughout the Midwest and an annual national event in Des Moines.

The Young Entrepreneur Convention, a conference celebrating and supporting successful young entrepreneurs, has been held annually in either Des Moines or Ames since 2016.


Startup Competitions:

Drake University hosts a pair of annual pitch competitions: The Bark Tank, a school-specific pitch competition with a small cash prize, and the Pappajohn Student Business Competition.

Students at Iowa State University in Ames can participate in the school’s numerous startup competitions, including the statewide Pappajohn Student Business Competition.

Students at colleges and universities throughout the state of Iowa can compete in the Pappajohn Student Business Competition for major cash prizes.

Every year, the Young Entrepreneur Convention hosts a competition in which entrepreneurs have 90 seconds to deliver an elevator pitch for the chance to win cash and other prizes.


Co-working Spaces:

Located in Ankeny, Blue Bean provides a variety of co-working and event spaces, aimed at different sizes of groups.

Collaborate DSM is a co-working space specifically designed for entrepreneurs and small business owners that provides a wide array of amenities, including beer and kombucha on tap.

Just south of downtown, The Depot is a unique space located in a former railroad depot that offers private office space for rent in addition to traditional co-working space.

Gravitate Coworking is a co-working space that offers six levels of membership plans to its members at either of its two locations in Des Moines and West Des Moines.



Opened in 2011, the Ames MakerSpace provides a wide array of tools and equipment, with open meetings every week and regular workshops as well.

Area 515 is a large makerspace that allows its members to use the space to host related events and classes to help inform less-experienced members.

Des Moines Area Community College’s West Campus has a makerspace available to all ages that include 3D printing, programming kits and more.



The Iowa Small Business Development Center, which runs programs throughout the state to support small businesses, has locations in both Des Moines and Ames.

Students at Drake University can apply for the Lorentzen Hatchery, an incubation program for students that takes place over the summer and offers potential cash grants.

The West Des Moines Business Incubator works with the Iowa Center for Economic Success to provide support to small business owners and entrepreneurs in the area.



The Global Insurance Accelerator is a program provides mentorship, funding and other support to promising insurance-based startups.

The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator is a 100-day program that invests $40,000 in money and $31,000 more of goods and services in promising agriculture technology companies around the world.

Techstars, a major accelerator with programs around the world, has a program in Des Moines that focuses on Iowa’s strengths, including insurance and agriculture-related tech startups.



Des Moines Area Community College offers its students a certificate program in entrepreneurship as well as several other support resources.

Drake University’s Buchanan Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership organizes classes, while the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship Outreach organizes outside-the-classroom resources.

Down the road in Ames, Iowa State University offers both a major and minor in entrepreneurship as well as organizing a number of competitions and other opportunities.


Angel Groups/VCs:

Plains Angels is an angel investment group that works with promising early-stage companies across a variety of industries.

Located in West Des Moines, ManchesterStory Group is an independent venture capital firm that focuses on investing in InsurTech startups.

Next Level Ventures invests in advanced manufacturing, bioscience and information technology startups located throughout the state.

Prairie Crest Capital invests in early- and mid-stage technology companies throughout the Midwest, with a particular focus on agricultural technology startups.


Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

Clay and Milk, a website that covers startups, technology, and entrepreneurship throughout Iowa, offers a daily newsletter.

The Des Moines Business Record offers a variety of newsletters that focus on different aspects of the area’s business, technology, and entrepreneurship environments.

Among the newsletters offered is the Iowa Business Update which covers business headlines throughout the state.

Silicon Prairie News offers a newsletter that delivers daily updates about technology and entrepreneurship throughout the Midwest.

The Technology Association of Iowa offers a newsletter to keep subscribers up-to-date on news and events related to the organization and Iowa’s tech scene as a whole.

Are you familiar with an entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Des Moines, IA 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?

Cedar Rapids, IA, Ames, IA, Lincoln, NE

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.