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Episode 30: Tej Dhawan Talks Growth of the DSM Startup Community

How to Be a Successful Startup

July 26, 2019

Tej Dhawan, Chief Data Officer at Principal Financial Group and prominent Greater Des Moines (DSM) startup and business innovator, recently spoke with Greater Des Moines Partnership Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives Mike Colwell.

Leaders and Feeders

Tej and Mike start the discussion about a book, “Startup Communities” by Brad Feld, that defines the leader and feeder roles in the startup ecosystem. Tej explains that the leaders and feeders idea became a focus when the Greater Des Moines (DSM) community was moving into the second and third phases of technology startups. While our community wasn’t new to these startups, there was a stronger focus on supporting them. In reading the book and having various conversations, Tej found that the very purpose of a startup community is to support the startups within it. The feeders are those who input things into the entrepreneurial community and leaders are the entrepreneurs themselves, and together they move the ecosystem forward. 

Thriving Entrepreneurship Communities

The conversation then moved on to talking about a research report published by Endeavor Insight Group and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Fostering Productive Entrepreneurship Communities, a longitude study that focus on the startup community from global perspective. Tej and Mike talked about the significance of the content in this study and how today’s startup world has different challenges and opportunities. They compare and contrast the findings in this study alongside what has and has not worked for the Greater Des Moines (DSM) startup community over the years. 

What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur

Tej talks about how successful entrepreneurs are those who are building a company to solve a problem. They are people who are not seeking attention but rather seeking to bring attention to the startup community. For those who are doing this successfully, they have a responsibility to push the startup agenda forward in our region. They have the power to inspire to new entrepreneurs, and that is part of their obligation now. 

Moving Forward

Next steps for evolving, growing and positing the DSM USA entrepreneur community are finding those willing to invest their resources in high potential startups. Tej and Mike also recommend entrepreneurs get rid of distractions and solely focus on moving their new business forward. They also note that startups need to continually push harder and grow faster. We have to look bigger and think bigger and where there is potential, we have to go all in. One final piece of advice from Tej: If you’re a successful entrepreneur, carve out time to help other entrepreneurs. 

Inspired by this Startup Story? Subscribe to the Startup Stories DSM podcast and check out upcoming events, videos and other free resources dedicated to helping startups and small businesses accelerate in Greater Des Moines (DSM).

Tej Dhawan

Tej Dhawan is chief data officer with the Principal Financial GroupĀ®. As the chief data officer, Dhawan is responsible for developing and carrying out the strategic vision for company-wide data and applications. Dhawan works closely with the chief information officer and chief digital officer to help shape, evolve and drive our digital experience. He also partners with business and technology teams from around the company to build a customer-focused digital experience that addresses the ever-changing needs of our global customers. The experience takes into consideration a mix of data, analytics, user experience, and augmented intelligence. Dhawan's experience includes small business ownership, startup advocacy, accelerator mentorship and use of data to influence and adopt innovation. Dhawan earned his bachelor's degree in math and computer science at Central College.