Bill Brown has participated in Iowa JPEC's Venture School with two different businesses. He attributes Venture School to helping both businesses point out potential problems and avoid unnecessary spending.  "If you are thinking about starting a new business and are serious about this venture I highly recommend investing in Venture School. Why would you not give yourself every opportunity to be successful?" Brown says.

 

What made you start your first company, TreePans?

I believe that there are probably a lot of great ideas out there in people's heads. It’s the pulling the trigger moment that’s tough. In 2012 our daughter Maggie was diagnosed with Hereditary Angioedema (HAE). Because of the HAE, there are days she can’t go to work, and we felt many employers would have an issue with that. That was my trigger moment. I wanted to create a company that she owned so if she could not physically go into work one day she didn’t have to. That was the same year that our sons Ben and Andrew were working in a local orchard during the 2012 Northwest Iowa drought. They were doing the industry standard of mulch and more mulch to keep the moisture in for the trees. The process of placing absorbent wood chips around a moisture starved tree didn't seem right. So we did some funnel testing and sure enough, the wood chips absorbed 50% of the water that was meant for the trees. TreePans funnel 100% of the moisture to the trees and the moisture stays in for 13 days longer. Since 50% of trees planted in our communities do not survive longer than two years, moisture really helps in those developmental years along with eliminating mower and string trimmer damage.

What led to the creation of your second company, Insulights?

Insulights actually was something that I thought of long before TreePans. I grew up on the farm and like many of us farm kids, I was tasked with checking the electric fence with a pair of pliers to make sure it was working. That, as you can imagine, can be an electrifying job so I always thought, what if the fence just flashed to let you know it was working? Our customer interviews during and after Venture School also proved that Insulights saved saved hours and provided peace of mind for the livestock owners using our products.

Why did you decide to go through Venture School twice (once for each business)?

John Paul Engle with the University of Iowa actually had to talk us into Venture School in 2015 with TreePans. We had an overpaid consultant at the time and he was telling us we had to go into retail with TreePans. Engle persisted and so we finally entered Venture School. Long story short, we won the Pivot Award which ultimately saved our company. We now work directly with cities, counties, and schools because they understand the benefits of TreePans. With success like that it was a not a hard decision to take Insulights through Venture School too.

What did you learn the second time around that you didn’t learn the first?

Iowa JPEC has given us so much support that really has not stopped since the class ended. To this day I still call for help and they all have been just awesome at providing resources and assistance to my businesses. I’ve really learned from two times through Venture School that you just need to trust the process and there will always be someone there to help.

What did you find most beneficial about Venture School?

Greg Barcus tells you, “you don’t know, what you don’t know,” and that is so true. The customer discovery process helped our business weed out the issues before we wasted time or money on things we just thought we understood. I personally benefited from the weekly rapid fire questions after the pitches as they really helped me prepare for potential customer objections or questions.

How has Venture School helped the success of your two businesses?

Venture School has been instrumental in our company’s direction. Venture School helped with rooting out issues before it was too late or would cost us unnecessary money. I also feel like I am part of the University Of Iowa and Iowa JPEC family with the support they still provide me to this day.

Why should other startups go through Venture School?

If you are thinking about starting a new business and are serious about this venture I highly recommend investing in Venture School. Why would you not give yourself every opportunity to be successful?

What’s one piece of advice you would offer someone before they started Venture School?

One piece of advice would be to be patient and come to class with an open mind. We entered Venture school with a lot of pre-work done and a lot of things in place. My wife, Sue, and I entered saying that we are going to start fresh and be open to change and it worked for us.

What’s coming up next for your businesses?

TreePans are being shipped across the US, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. We have a distributor partner in the United Kingdom with multiple tree studies across America. We have also partnered with The Arbor Day Foundation. Insulights.com is launching in August 2018 at a major trade show and actual production has started. Insulights also just won 2nd place in the Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition, earning us $25,000.