By Dan Mika, Staff Writer at Ames Tribune
Note: the author’s entire conversation with Bill Adamowski is available on “Innovation Ames,” the Tribune’s new podcast on local startups and technology. Find it by searching “Innovation Ames” on SoundCloud. Future episodes are coming soon to iTunes and other podcast providers.
Bill Adamowski has spent the last three decades or so leading multi-million dollar companies, but he’s making his next big startup play right here in Ames.
Adamowski, a self-described Air Force brat, moved around a lot as a child and went to high school in Okinawa, Japan. After graduating from Syracuse University, he bounced around Fortune 500 companies as a software engineer with defense contractors and in management positions with accounting firm Deloitte, GMAC Financial services and, eventually, chief technology officer at Wells Fargo Home Financial in Des Moines.
When the dot-com days began booming, Adamowski started creating short-term companies and selling them off a rapid pace. As the tech industry changed, he worked on bringing mortgage company Ellie Mae to the stock markets and CoreLogic, a real estate data analytics provider.
But last year, he walked away from Silicon Valley to return to Iowa and lead the Startup Factory, Iowa State University’s year-long startup incubator.
Adamowski said Startup Factory is designed to take the best elements of other startup incubators, like the “lean startup” ideology from Stanford University, which forces prototypical ideas to have some interest from customers before developing forward, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s focus on mentorship.
In particular, Adamowski wants to bring the breakneck pace of business development from the west coast to Iowa, saying he rarely looks at companies for investment for more than three years at a time. He expects ideas to reach the prototype stage in days or weeks to reach target markets as soon as possible.
“If you think you have 10 years to build a company, you pace yourself to that 10-year journey,” he said. “But if you think there’s going to be an exit in three years, and you start going back from there, you’re not going to have much time.”
Adamowski said growing startups in the area will create new jobs, and not only in the tech industry. He believes talented entrepreneurs only have one thing on their mind when they decide to relocate: job opportunities. If the Iowa State University Research Park and other startups create strong opportunities to develop new products and make some money doing so, he said, they will come and spend income driving other amenities to come to town.
“You can Google where all net new jobs come from, but census data and the Kaufmann Foundation say almost all net new jobs come from startups,” he said.
He also said the average Ames resident can get in on the action without leaving their day jobs to form a startup. The Startup Factory cohort is comprised primarily of scientists and developers, a group that build products but might not have the skills to market them, Adamowski said. Startup Factory accepts volunteers to help develop its startups, whether it be in advertising, finance or some other skill useful to a business because more often than not, the startups produced at ISU are solo or small-group researchers whose specialty lies in engineering or science.
He emphasized that the Startup Factory doesn’t require its mentors or volunteers to make long-term commitments, and can help out based on when it’s convenient for them.
“Almost anyone can help out if they really wanted to,” he said. “We’re not looking for people to make large commitments. We’re hoping serendipity occurs and you want to in the end.”