Why Iowa? Q&A with Peter Hong
Why Iowa? Q&A with Peter Hong
A move to Iowa gave Illinois native Peter Hong the opportunity to not only build his career and work with a growing company, but also give back to his community, state and industry. Hong was named director of the ISU Startup Factory at the Iowa State University Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship in 2021, bringing his wide range of industry and public service experience and contacts to budding entrepreneurs in the university.
Hong graduated from University of Illinois with a mechanical engineering degree and spent 11 years in various positions in manufacturing and product engineering at John Deere’s Harvester plant in East Moline. He moved to Laurens, a small town in northwest Iowa, in 1990 to serve as president of Positech Corporation. He also served as mayor of Laurens for two terms, bringing the first municipally owned fiber optic high speed Internet access, cable TV, and cellphone utilities to rural Iowa, as well as, serving as the chair of the Pocahontas County Board of Health, director on the Laurens Industrial Foundation, and chair of the Ergonomics Council of the Material Handling Institute of America. He also served on the Iowa Manufacturing Extension Partnership board of governance, and various economic development boards for the State of Iowa including the Technology and Commercialization Committee, Advanced Manufacturing Committee, and Iowa Innovation Council.
In 2008, Hong moved to Ankeny to serve as chief operating officer of New Tech Ceramics and continue his business development consulting work with small-medium sized Iowa companies and as principal advisor to Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant recipients for federal agencies like the Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, NASA and more.
1. What brought you to Iowa and why did you stay?
What brought me to Iowa from Illinois was job opportunity and a chance to take what I had learned from a Fortune 1000 company and literally grow something. I stayed because I could make a difference. With a population of the size of Iowa, developing a professional network is easier, and there are plenty of opportunities to give back.
2. What resources does the ISU Startup Factory provide to entrepreneurs?
The ISU Startup Factory provides cohort members with the basic knowledge of starting and operating a business and access to an ever growing network of mentors, private sector service providers, and funding sources who are motivated to help founders.
A main focus of the program is to expand the founders’ thinking about applications for their innovation outside of the original problem their research targeted. The ISU Startup Factory helps founders move from “tech speak” to “business speak” so they can communicate more clearly what the opportunity their potential business represents. The funding focus is on non-dilutive sources to provide founders with the financial runway to get to first revenues while maintaining maximum ownership of a fledgling business.
3. What advantages does Iowa provide to startup businesses and entrepreneurs? What sets the state apart?
While there are many states and regional economic development organizations focused on helping entrepreneurs launch their startup businesses, Iowa is uniquely poised to have strong collaboration among its public and private sector players. From basic research assistance to business launch, the many members of Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem share resources and work together to create successful startups. Regardless of whether an entrepreneur is located in a rural or metropolitan area of the state, they are never far from one of the many entry points into the ecosystem.
4. What advice do you have for someone considering a move to Iowa?
For business looking to grow or relocate, Iowa offers a number of resources and benefits. Even with our low unemployment rate, there are many skills training assistance programs to get the workers needed. The work ethic of Iowans is well known, which can translate into needing fewer employees.
For individuals, the number of opportunities to apply current skills or learn new ones abounds across the state. With the presence of community colleges and world class universities, education is not a barrier to high tech businesses and those seeking employment. The commitment to entrepreneurship across the state means that not only will the strong industry clusters continue to grow, but new emerging industries are being added.
5. Please give us recommendations of 3 places to go or things to do in Iowa.
Situated between two major rivers, the Iowa landscape provides a wide range of opportunities to explore and enjoy. The eastern side of the state with its Mississippi River valleys across the central flat plains of center to the Iowa to the western Missouri River provides many interesting places to see and experience the cities and people of Iowa as evidence by those who participate in RAGBRAI (Register’s Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). The capital city of Des Moines and the surrounding metro provides a similar diverse microcosm of Iowa. And while there are no mountain ranges or oceans to visit, Iowans still hold onto the basic family values that makes cooperation and helping one another a cornerstone of Iowa.
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