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Immigrant Heritage Month: Starting a New Life in Iowa as an Entrepreneur

Des Moines Startups Cerebral Group

June 15, 2017

I came to the United States from India in 1998 to work as an IT programmer and have lived in Greater Des Moines (DSM) for almost fifteen years now. Back in India, I was a mechanical engineer by training, but I later became interested in programming. The company I worked for as an IT programmer in India also had an office in the United States and wanted to transfer one of us to come work here. They wanted an outgoing person for the position, so I was selected to move across the world.

A Journey to Des Moines

When I first arrived in the United States, I landed in Philadelphia, but shortly after, I was transferred to Florida. In early 2000, my wife joined me in the United States, when I moved to Moline, Ill. I enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Iowa while working as a full-time contracted IT programmer at John Deere in Moline. While completing this program, my wife was transferred to John Deere Financial in Johnston in 2002 to work full-time. After we moved, I was able to find employment at John Deere as an IT programmer. It’s funny because when we first moved to Iowa, the goal was to move from Iowa to the South once I got my green card, but we’re still here almost fifteen years later. I still don’t like the cold weather!

Finding Success with Cerebral Group, LLC

Just before my graduation from the MBA program at The University of Iowa, I incorporated my business — Cerebral InfoTech, LLC — in October 2004. I took a big pay cut during the financial recession and went many months without pay to ensure I could pay my employees. We later renamed the company Cerebral Group, LLC because the business expanded to do commercial general contracting and concrete services. The company grew from around $1 million in 2010 to $11.1 million by 2013. It was selected to be in the 2014 Inc. 500 list, which includes the fastest-growing 500 companies in the United States. We now have more than 50 employees located in six states.

Des Moines has great resources for aspiring entrepreneurs, including resources through the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Square One DSM and Plains Angels, startup and entrepreneurship initiatives of The Partnership, have been great tools for my success, and they are great resources for any aspiring entrepreneur. Tej Dhawan, co-founder and co-manager of Plains Angels, has been an especially helpful resource for me, as a mentor and through the programs and resources he and his organization provide. Additionally, I am part of the local chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), which helps me learn and grow through peer-to-peer learning from other entrepreneurs.

I would encourage other businesses to move to Des Moines because there’s affordable housing and real estate, a low cost of doing business and short commute. I also love working in Des Moines because of the affordability of housing — it’s an all-around great place to raise my family and it is great for my employees, too. I would encourage other immigrants to move to Des Moines because it’s affordable and has great schools, and the people here are just so nice.

As an immigrant and a naturalized U.S. citizen, I am very grateful for this country, and I am grateful for the support of my wife, Kavitha Kalyan: my family. There are ample opportunities to be successful and achieve dreams. I had no resources when I came to this country except for my education. If you have a great idea and work hard, I really believe you will find success. Iowa is truly a field of opportunities. My wife and I are immigrants and U.S. citizens, and we found opportunities and success in Des Moines.

Learn more about how The Partnership is working to further attract and retain foreign-born talent to the regional community. 

Kalyan Venkatraman

Kalyan Venkatraman is an energetic entrepreneur with over 20 years of progressive experience in construction, staffing and information technology. He is also an Inc. 500 entrepreneur. For more information about his startup, visit iCerebral.com.