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Explore Downtown: Gravitate (a Downtown Chamber member interview series)

Located on the third floor of the Midtown Building on 6th Ave., Gravitate is an innovative company dedicated to startup companies in the local area. Describing themselves as “the entrepreneurial center of gravity in downtown Des Moines,” Gravity acts as a workspace for growing small businesses, providing an open work area, the “Google Bullpen,” for professionals to work and interact with other small business owners, conference room space for meetings, and access to office hours with professionals who can provide guidance on growing your business. I had the opportunity to visit Gravitate during a “First Friday” event, which occur on the first Friday of every month, where community members are invited to visit Gravitate and use its workspace for free. From the moment the elevator doors opened and I saw into Gravitate’s office space, I knew this was a special place.

I spent some time in the Bullpen, which provides an amazingly unique environment. For those who want it, a pair of headphones make it a great quiet place to work with an internet connection suitable for any business running needs. However, even better, it is a place of collaboration, where business owners greet each other as friends, share their progress and brainstorm ideas.

I spoke with Geoff Wood, the founder of Gravitate, about the company and the startup community of Des Moines. Geoff describes Gravitate’s workspace as a “shared collaborative environment” where doors are open, not closed. It is a place for local startup companies to get connected, as well as a way for startup owners outside of Des Moines to connect with the community. Geoff describes Gravitate as a place for feedback, a place to get ideas, acting as the infrastructure they need to get started. This is evident through their educational events, where they bring in guest speakers and consultants, and through their open work space. Geoff chose to start Gravitate in Des Moines because it is a “small pond” where it’s easy to get connected, where every potential contact is only two phone calls away.

The work environment like Gravitate is very different from the usual workspace, a difference that many from more traditional established companies are hesitant to consider. Geoff notes that sometimes visitors from these companies express that they can’t understand how anyone gets any work done. As Geoff says, “it’s really something you have to try in order to see the benefits of it,” something Gravitate strives to convince companies to experience.

According to Geoff, Gravitate decided to join the Downtown Chamber to “participate more in the established business community,” stating “I think the Chamber values startup companies for the same reasons that this group does”. Gravitate and the Chamber share the same passion for helping businesses grow, so joining the Downtown Chamber was a natural choice, especially to help connect startup companies to the chamber.

Gravitate invites anyone interested to stop by on the first Friday of every month, where the office is open to visitors. Gravitate’s unique work environment is truly an innovation worth experiencing.

For more information you can learn more about Gravitate at,, and You can also contact Gravitate at or call 515.599.0350.

Food trucks get final OK for downtown Des Moines

Reported by The Des Moines Register 4/6/15

A food truck pilot program in downtown Des Moines got final approval from City Council on Monday.

The third and final vote on the contentious topic fulfills a culinary dream several years in the making, according to some food truck owners.

“This is the end of a three-year battle for people like me,” said Dwight Lykins, president of Legion of Foods, a Des Moines food truck association that formed last month in preparation for the six-month trial.

Lykins, owner of Let’s Toast food truck based in Ames, now has a green light to set up his restaurant on wheels in metered parking spaces downtown, restricted to four zones outlined in the new ordinance.

The city of Des Moines is planning a lunchtime food truck festival for June 17. The event is slated for the food truck zone surrounding Pappajohn Sculpture Park, according to Kandi Reindl, assistant to the city manager.

The Des Moines Social Club has also scheduled a May 30 food truck festival on its property at 900 Mulberry Street. The event will feature live music and beer pairings for each food truck.

The trial period runs from April 17 through Oct. 31 for vendors who complete a new local licensing and approval process that costs a minimum of $900.

The downtown pilot program will not impact the city’s current transient merchant policy that allows food trucks on some private properties — limited to one truck per property and requiring a separate $550 annual permit per location.

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State of the City Luncheon

For those of you interested in the PowerPoint slides or the referenced plan from the State of the City luncheon on March 24th, click the below links:

State of the City – 2015 (03-24-15)

Plan DSM Workbook

The Des Moines Business Record also reported on the luncheon:

State of the city of Des Moines: 

Achieving, with a forecast of challenges

BY KENT DARR | Senior Staff Writer | @KentDarr


Des Moines City Manager Scott Sanders, a former budget director and still a finance specialist, left the 300 slides of line items in the city’s $537 million budget back at the office for today’s State of the City presentation at the Wellmark YMCA.


Thank you, Scott.


Sanders joined Mayor Frank Cownie in outlining the city’s achievements, prospects for the future and challenges – some of them apparently buried deep in the history of the city and state – for business leaders and members of the Des Moines Downtown Chamber, Des Moines East and South Chamber and Des Moines West Side Chamber.


Those challenges, Cownie said, frequently come from a few blocks east of city hall at the state Capitol. The city’s budget must be certified by March 15, providing plenty of time for what might be considered a sneak attack of legislation before the Iowa General Assembly adjourns a month or so later.


He didn’t mention the financial blessing that lawmakers bestowed on Des Moines and other communities when it approved the Reinvestment District program that provided an opening for construction of a convention center hotel adjacent to the Iowa Events Center.


However, the hotel was among the development gems Sanders outlined in his presentation. In fact, there have been so many development deals and project completions that Sanders, nearing the end of his first year on the job, didn’t have time to complete all of those that were listed in a slide presentation of his speech.


Two key points of the presentation were the city’s ongoing efforts to redraft the city’s forward looking comprehensive plan and to have it completed with the city codes and policies in place to implement the plan. In addition, the city’s strategic plan is being updated for the first time since 2006.


Both documents should represent a realization that with revenues tight — the general fund budget for fiscal 2016 will grow by a mere 1.4 percent — the city “can’t grow with every whim.”


In addition, the city will continue to improve the levee systems along the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, work to revitalize neighborhoods, proceed with its corridor planning process and streetscape improvement projects, and seek legislative initiatives to reduce reliance on property tax revenue.


Cownie frequently played Sanders’ foil, interrupting his presentation to elaborate specific points, particularly during a brief outline of the upcoming budget. Cownie stepped in front of Sanders to point out that the City Council voted to preserve the current tax levy, the fourth consecutive year it has done so.


“Keep up the good work,” Cownie said as he stepped away from the podium.


“Thanks a lot, Frank,” Sanders said.


LEAP Mentoring Workshop Connects Aspiring Professionals

Article by Mitch Heacock, Downtown Chamber Member & Media Communications Intern (Drake University Student)

The women and men of the Downtown community “leaped” to share their experiences with mentorship at the first Leadership Education and Advancement Pipeline (LEAP) program. (follow #LEAPdsm on Twitter and Facebook for photos and conversation)


This was just the first workshop of the LEAP program, a ten-month series of programs designed by the Downtown Chamber and dedicated to exploring various topics important to professional women. “Through LEAP we hope to inspire professional women to become business owners and leaders, and to give them a network of support, and the opportunities they need to succeed at these goals,” said Jennifer Chittenden, Executive Director of the Downtown Chamber.

This LEAP workshop, focused on the topic of mentorship, allowed members of the community to discuss their experiences as mentors and mentees and share opportunities for becoming a mentor or mentee. This workshop, hosted on March 13th, featured speakers Jana Rieker of Million Women Mentors – Iowa and Amy Jennings representing the Community Connect program. Each of these organizations aims to connect members of the community as mentors and mentees.

Jana spoke about Million Women Mentors, a national call to action to mentor girls and young women to help them succeed in STEM careers. The amount of women in STEM careers is disproportionately low, and Million Women Mentors hopes to eliminate this divide through the support and guidance of successful female role models.

Amy, meanwhile, introduced Community Connect, a local program connecting participants to experienced community leaders. Community Connect is focused both on creating personal connections to learn from experience and also to help its participants connect their professional life to their personal values and purpose.

While both programs were very interesting to learn about, the real star of the event was the attendees themselves, who shared their experiences with mentorship, both as mentors and as mentees. Many of the attendees particularly voiced the importance of mentoring relationships as symbiotic, just as helpful for the mentor as for the mentee.


I had the opportunity to ask some attendees of the event why they’re interested in the LEAP program and mentorship, and while the answers varied, there was one very popular sentiment. Many gave similar answers such as, “I want to connect with other professional women” and “I came to meet other like-minded, career-focused women.” Others gave more specific reasons, such as “I need help to become a better leader, and the program sounded like a great way to learn more from experienced professionals.”

However, the desire for creating constructive professional relationships was clear among the attendees. Everyone at the event was excited to make new connections and facilitate the beginnings of possible mentor relationships, and programs like LEAP are instrumental in helping to facilitate these relationships.

While the workshop was focused on mentoring among women in business, mentorship is a very relevant topic to both men and women, so it was no surprise that several men attended the workshop as well. When asked why he was interested in the mentoring workshop, Matt Moore, of Saturday Mfg., said, “I wanted to expand my understanding of mentorship, not only to be a better mentor, but to better recognize those who have mentored me.”

This workshop was an amazing start to the LEAP series, perfectly illustrating why these workshops are so important in uniting the women business owners and leaders of Central Iowa with other aspiring professionals. Thank you to all who attended the workshop, you are all the most important part of the LEAP series! The series’ next workshop on Business Ownership will be held on April 17th from 8:00-9:30am at the Holiday Inn Downtown. Those interested in attending can click here for more information and registration details.


Nearly 75 people, men and women, attended the first LEAP workshop on Friday, March 13th at the Holiday Inn Downtown, which focused on the topic of “Mentoring” and featured Jana Rieker from Million Women Mentors – Iowa and also Amy Jennings to speak about the Community Connect program. LEAP (Leadership Education and Advancement Pipeline) is a new 10-month program of the Downtown Chamber and is designed for women business owners and women leaders in Central Iowa.

The next workshop will happen on Friday, April 17th from 8:00am-9:30am at the Holiday Inn Downtown. The topic of this session will be Business Ownership, and representatives from Ascent, ISED Ventures, and Solidarity Microfinance will participate on a panel. Attendees of the LEAP program are encouraged to engage with the panelists and other attendees through a facilitated Q&A and discussion.

Registration is open for the April 17th event. Interested attendees can register for the remaining series, or just that month.

Click Here to Register for LEAP

LEAP is a program offered by the Downtown Chamber, and is sponsored by: Davis Brown Law Firm, Rita Perea Leadership Consulting, The Principal Financial Group, Clarity Accounting Services, Veridian Credit Union, Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), EMC National Life Company, Portico Staffing, and the University of Iowa – MBA for Professionals and Managers.

Companies or individuals interested in becoming a sponsor of the LEAP program can inquire about details by calling 515-309-3229 or emailing: