Bill Brown resisted getting involved with University of Iowa Venture School. “We fought it tooth and nail,” he said.
“We were already 6-8 months into the business, and I thought we weren’t a startup anymore,” Brown said. “I didn’t feel qualified to go into a program kind of geared for the startups.”
Todd Rausch, regional director of the Western Iowa Tech Community College Small Business Development Center, was the first to recommend that Brown participate Venture School. Then came prodding from a Venture School instructor.
Brown said that he and his wife Sue would go through Venture School and act like it was their first day in business.
“I was proud of the fact we went in with that attitude,” he said. “After the success and the insights we received the first time with TreePans, it was an easy decision to take our second product, Insulights, through Venture School.”
Brown likes to say, “We went through Venture School twice, not because we flunked, but because we believe in the program.”
Insulights are agricultural electric fence insulators that help farmers manage their electric fences. An LED light flashes with the pulse of the electric fence and stops flashing when there is a break in the circuit.
“The customer discovery process is the biggest area where Venture School helped,” Brown said. “It’s like (Director, University of Iowa statewide Venture School) Kurt Heiar always says, it is not what know, it’s what you don’t know. We had a lot of the structure in place, but Venture School helped us hone in and focus on the low hanging fruit. That was huge for us; we learned so much, even though we had been through Venture School before.”
Brown, who is president of Insulights, and his wife, Sue, vice president, have an office and facility in Akron, Iowa. Their first experience with Venture School (TreePans) was in Sioux City where they drove seven hours round trip to attend the Des Moines cohort in 2017 with Insulights.
Since the inception of Insulights, the company has had revenues of more than $300,000 with more than 8,000 customers. Insulights was nominated for Iowa Startup of the Year in 2020 and in 2021-22, Farm Bureau named it among the top 10 for Ag Innovation of the Year.
“Venture School gave us the foundation to not only communicate to our customers, but it also introduced us to the startup ecosystem,” Brown said. “From raising capital, to competitions, to building relationships, we know we would not be this far along if not for the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC).”
The proof was in the pudding when Brown stayed on to mentor during Venture School and was an instructor for the Sioux City cohort in 2022. In 2018, he drove to Iowa City to serve as a mentor and consultant for the Mandela Washington Fellows, another program sponsored by Iowa JPEC.
The Browns have three grown children: Ben, Andrew, and Maggie Mae. Maggie Mae handles shipping and assembly for Insulights.
Insulights.com has received the 2022 Venture School Business of the Year Award in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Honors. The University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center will recognize it Sept. 9 at Old Capitol Museum.