3 Reasons to Build Your Tech Company in the Silicon Prairie

September 26, 2019 | Dan Murray

Dan Murray, Founder and CEO, Vertex Software

As a six-time entrepreneur with two IPOs under my belt, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of keeping businesses close to home. In fact, all of my six businesses started and grew in or near Ames, Iowa, my current home, and a mere 40 miles from my hometown of Jefferson, Iowa. I’m taking the same approach with Vertex Software, which is situated in Iowa State University’s backyard.

For me, it’s not so much about the fact that my businesses have been in Iowa specifically—although I can’t speak highly enough of my experiences here. It’s about building and growing start-ups in Silicon Prairie, “flyover” states, the heartland or any other name you call the Midwest. I truly believe that our location is helping us shape the future of manufacturing and Iowa-based technology growth.

Be where your market is.

Right here in central Iowa, Vertex Software is shaping the future of product development and manufacturing. Our 3D collaboration platform is a way to bring together teams that have been historically disparate using decades-old technology. We can have a real, meaningful impact on the way these teams do their jobs. It truly makes a difference in connecting people.

Something I noticed from very early on is how important our location in the Silicon Prairie has been to our customers. Especially when Vertex was still in “stealth mode” before the product officially launched, our location has been critical. The manufacturing landscape has historically been in the heartland, with Detroit as a main automotive hub and Illinois as a key player in heavy machinery. Our location in Iowa makes it easy to quickly arrive on-site to our customers. But beyond that, our customers recognize our Midwestern roots as differentiators. There’s a shared understanding of the Midwestern work ethic and getting your hands dirty that our customers relate to.

Give to the community and they’ll give to you.

When it comes to building a successful company, the community is the first place to start. I learned from a very early age that when you dedicate time and resources to your community, they’ll give back to you. My dad ran the town newspaper in Jefferson, Iowa, and was the kind of guy who would get up in the middle of dinner to go help anyone who called. He created incredible bonds within the community, and the two-way street rewarded him with a strong, sustainable business.

I’ve operated with the same philosophy I saw in my father, and I focus on benefiting the community and employees. By investing in them—both by creating jobs with my businesses and by giving my time and resources to the city—my community has in turn supported me and my businesses. Central Iowa has helped me grow my businesses by introducing me to talent, helping me secure funding and finding me just the right spaces for growth. That sets up my latest company Vertex for success.

“Iowa Nice” can be a huge competitive advantage.

The stereotype of “Iowa Nice” goes several steps beyond simply being a community that gives back. Iowa is known for being a great place to raise a family thanks to our amazing education system, low cost of living, and air of hospitality and cordiality. Yes, the people in Iowa are known for being “nice,” but I also know them for being smart, hard-working and curious. Iowa produces strong families, tight knit communities and driven but humble workers.

I’m not the only one who recognizes the type of worker in the heartland. In fact, a lot of articles recently have been talking about the growth of startups in the Midwest, such as this one from Entrepreneur.com. And many articles, including one from Livability.com and MarketWatch.com, call out Ames, Iowa, as having vast career opportunities. This means that harvesting the heartland’s top talent for Vertex and other Iowa-based technology companies helps to nurture our state’s culture of community, humility and curiosity. 

Creating a successful business certainly starts with making sure that whatever you’re selling is valuable, but it’s the people along the way that truly launch start-ups into a fully fledged company. That’s one of the reasons that Vertex is sponsoring the upcoming Advanced Manufacturing Conference, to bring together Iowa’s companies to network about best practices and technologies.

Dan Murray is founder and CEO of Vertex Software in Ames.