This isn’t just a community of dreamers — it’s a community of doers.
Want to start a business? Cedar Rapids, IA, will welcome you with open arms – and support you every step of the way.
This resilient community in Eastern Iowa (and one of Livability’s Best Places to Live for 2019) has a bit of a startup mentality itself. After flood waters devastated the city in 2008, residents and businesses banded together to rebuild and revitalize Cedar Rapids. Like an entrepreneur, the city and its residents are motivated, creative and willing to work hard to turn a great idea into a reality.
Ready to learn more? Here are 11 reasons you’ll want to put Cedar Rapids at the top of your list for starting a business.
1. It’s a very supportive environment.
Though there’s definitely a healthy level of competition among businesses in Cedar Rapids, they also tend to support one another. “Everybody understands that one entrepreneur’s success is another’s as well,â€ says Tim Carty, director of talent attraction for ICR Iowa, a regional development organization for Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. “People here legitimately care about one another.”
Plus, there’s tons of structured support available to new businesses through the Iowa Startup Accelerator, a 12-month program that provides entrepreneurs with everything they need to launch their business (including $20,000 in seed money!). There’s also support for women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities who want to start a business through the statewide Targeted Small Business Program.
2. You can find funding for your ideas.
If you’ve got a great idea, chances are you can find money in Cedar Rapids to help you get started. Startups can connect with angel investors via Corridor Angel Investors, which gives new business owners a platform for pitching and connecting with individual investors.
On top of that, local banks are invested in the success of new businesses, both literally and figuratively. “It helps that there are a number of community banks here that want to see entrepreneurs succeed and grow,â€ Carty says.
Plus, with median home prices below $150,000, Cedar Rapids is an affordable place to live and work, which means you’ll have an easier time recruiting employees to come work at your new company.
3. This community is resilient and engaged.
Cedar Rapids suffered a devastating flood in 2008, but that hasn’t stopped the city’s forward progress. In fact, the floods inspired many business owners and residents to re-envision the city’s future, especially the downtown area.
“Businesses could have moved away from downtown and stayed away but everybody banded together, cleaned up and pumped new life into what was just a regular downtown,â€ Carty says. “It was something that really could have crumbled the city, but the entrepreneurial spirit helped pull it back together and proved its resiliency, proved that it’s a great place to have a business. Now, downtown is full of local restaurants, local retailers, bookstores – just all of that cool stuff that gives you a special feeling.”
4. You’ll be able to find a mentor (or two).
As you can probably tell, people in Cedar Rapids are super friendly, which means you can easily find business mentors who will offer some friendly advice or help you make connections in the area. “Other business owners and executives are always willing to help out when we need to bounce ideas arounds,â€ says Gerald Beranek, founder and CEO of BeraTek Industries, which helps business with design, manufacturing and marketing. “I have many mentors here in the area that help me out when I need it.”
There’s even a more formal “wingmanâ€ program to help newcomers connect with residents in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids corridor.
5. You can easily find and hire top talent.
Cedar Rapids is the second largest city in the state, behind the capital, Des Moines. It’s also located 30 miles from Iowa City. Collectively, the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor is home to roughly 500,000 people. That’s important because it means there are lots of people already living here to fill jobs. Plus, there are several colleges and universities nearby, including the University of Iowa, Coe College, Mount Mercy University and others, so there’s a steady stream of recent graduates who are ready to get to work.
There are also several initiatives underway to recruit, retain and train employees in Cedar Rapids. Adults can learn how to code through a program called DeltaV, which is an initiative of NewBoCo, a Cedar Rapids nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship (the name stands for New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative, in case you’re curious). NewBoCo is also training teachers so that they can pass along computer science knowledge to K-12 students across Iowa – in essence, they want to help fill the pipeline with high-skill workers.
6. You’ll find continued support after launch.
Once your business becomes more established, you’ll still find resources and support to help your company continue to innovate and grow. NewBoCo offers its Intrapreneur Academy to help employees inside existing companies think and act more like entrepreneurs. “How do we help existing companies be just a little bit better tomorrow than today?â€ says Eric Engelmann, NewBoCo’s executive director, explaining the motivation behind the academy.
Cedar Rapids is also home to a chapter of 1 Million Cups, a national business organization that hosts free, weekly events for entrepreneurs and the leaders of established companies, and is in its second year of hosting EntreFest, a two-day conference for entrepreneurs.
7. People here know how to get stuff done.
This isn’t just a community of dreamers – it’s also a community of doers. When people here see a problem, they work together to come up with a solution and execute a plan. That type of attitude goes hand-in-hand with the spirit of entrepreneurialism. “People can draw out a vision for what they want to see in the community,â€ Engelmann says. “It’s not laughed at. It’s not rejected out of hand. No one rolls their eyes. They say, ‘That’s an interesting idea, what would it take to make it happen?’ People tend to rally around ideas and that attitude is important.”
8. You can choose from several awesome coworking spaces.
If you need a space for client meetings or you just want to get out of the house and work among other creative people, there are a handful of cool co-working spaces in Cedar Rapids, including Vault Coworking, Office Evolution, Groundswell Cafe and The Dostal House, a women’s co-working space.
9. People here love to shop local.
Local residents seem to go out of their way to support startups and small businesses here. Just ask Rebecca Davison, who restored a historic building in the city’s Kingston neighborhood to open Dash Coffee Roasters in 2017. People in Cedar Rapids show up for small businesses in the same way that they show up for each other, she says.
“We are privileged to see a diverse population of Cedar Rapidians gather at our coffee shop, whether there for a business meeting, to have some family time, to study for finals, to coach people reaching for their life goals or to develop a deeper friendship, it is certainly true that Cedar Rapids shows up for others,â€ she says. “We love seeing how one space can house building blocks to all sorts of relationships.”
10. There are plenty of awesome after-work activities.
This is a family-friendly place to live, with tons of activities, sporting events and arts and culture opportunities to take advantage of when the work day ends. The University of Iowa, which is just 30 minutes away, has Division 1 football and basketball programs if you’re a fan of college sports. For something a bit closer to home, you’ll want to check out the two minor league teams that call this city home: the Cedar Rapids Kernels (baseball) and the Cedar Rapids Roughriders (hockey). There are tons of walking and biking trails, too, including the 12.6-mile paved Cedar Rapids Trail.
11. You can find lots of tasty food and drinks.
When you need to take a break from working and refuel, there are some truly delicious places to eat and drink in Cedar Rapids, including Lion Ridge Brewing Company and The Pig and Porter, just to name a few. There’s also a downtown farmers market with more than 200 vendors so you can stock up on fresh groceries for the week.