Hummingbirds app, PurposeBank, Count the Kicks
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Good morning and happy Monday! It’s an Emily party in this week’s newsletter.

Here’s what we’ve got on deck:

  • My colleague Sarah Bogaards wrote a story about Hummingbirds, which is a marketing technology startup that leverages local influence on social media to elevate local businesses. The platform was started by Emily Steele, a Des Moines-based local-business champion.
  • October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, so we’re running a piece by Business Record Editor Emily Barske about the Count the Kicks app, which was published earlier this year. Count the Kicks is an initiative of Healthy Birth Day, a nonprofit led by Emily Price that raises awareness about stillbirth prevention.
  • We’re also running a piece about PurposeBank, a newly launched subsidiary of VisionBank that’s geared toward providing lending services to minority- and women-owned small businesses.

All that and more below!

Have a great week.

– Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

Seeking new heights
How community-based marketing company Hummingbirds started growing like a startup
Emily Steele describes the first iteration of Hummingbirds — a marketing technology startup leveraging people’s local influence on social media to elevate local businesses — as an "experiment" and a "hypothesis."

It was 2018, a time when companies were beginning to introduce influencers to their marketing strategy as a way to promote their business to larger followings on social media. Steele was curious how the trend would evolve.

Steele noticed how often she was turning to friends’ social media posts to get recommendations for new businesses to visit and events to attend. She wanted to see what it would look like to build out the "influencer" concept on a local level with a network of everyday individuals and content creators who lived in Des Moines and partnered with small businesses to generate authentic word-of-mouth marketing.

"I had this moment where I was like, ‘I don't want to be an influencer, but I want to use the influence I have locally to help amplify small businesses,’" Steele said.

She combined her background in marketing and history as a serial entrepreneur to start growing a bouquet of "hummingbirds" — the people who share their experiences at businesses and local events on social media in exchange for perks, such as a gift card. Participating businesses also pay Hummingbirds a flat fee of $50 for each local influencer they hire for their marketing campaign.

Numerous hiccups occurred in the first campaigns, Steele said. However, the constant in the experiment was feedback that the hummingbirds’ involvement helped businesses grow and sparked interest from younger demographics.

The business survived the absence of in-person gatherings in 2020 and jumped back into gear in 2021 as companies flocked toward digital marketing to reconnect with customers.

The activity made Steele realize the grassroots, community-based approach to influencers had potential beyond Des Moines.

When Hy-Vee, Kum & Go and other large companies approached Steele, she said she began to see that "this isn't just benefiting local business; this is a really, really big opportunity."

In the past year, Steele has shifted Hummingbirds into growth mode and transitioned her mindset to thinking about scaling the brand to communities nationwide while sustaining the core mission of supporting local communities.

Joining the 2021 cohort of the Iowa Startup Accelerator was her first move to build on the company’s momentum. The accelerator’s adjacent venture capital firm, ISA Ventures, gave Steele $25,000 in exchange for equity in Hummingbirds.

Steele invested the money into building technology. She worked with Erin Rollenhagen of Urbandale-based software company Entrepreneurial Technologies to replace Hummingbirds’ basic technology platform with one that is self-service. The platform is designed so businesses can create their own campaigns and so local influencers in any location can see the campaigns available in their community.

"Large franchise brands with hundreds of locations could tap the database for specific locations, or regional enterprise brands wanting to do multiple locations in the Midwest could target Des Moines, Kansas City and Minneapolis," Steele said.

The Hummingbirds model has expanded into Omaha and Milwaukee, and Steele hopes the technology and additional investment will take the brand national before the end of 2022.

To scale to the size and influence of a marketing technology giant like Yelp or Groupon, Steele has consulted the playbooks of GrubHub, Instacart and Uber, companies that also expanded by specifically rolling out in new cities.

Steele also started raising her first round of venture capital funding in August. To date, about half of the $500,000 goal is raised in soft and hard commitments, she said.

Steele initially set out to raise capital from Iowa-based venture capital firms and angel investors, including as many women as possible, but has faced challenges. Iowa is "very familiar with agtech and insurtech" and less with marketing tech, she said.

Influencer marketing companies and technologies have quickly multiplied and are set for growth. The U.S. influencer marketing market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 33.4% from 2022 to 2030, according to a Grand View Research report. The ubiquity has made educating investors about marketing tech and differentiating Hummingbirds a priority for Steele.

Many of these companies could be working with numerous large brands and thousands of influencers. Steele has focused on building out a local brand, with which businesses and Hummingbirds’ influencers in each community can feel connected.

"The community we're building is about people with local social influence who want to make a difference in their local community," she said.

It’s important that the individual influencers are allowed creativity with the content they share and that each offers their different perspectives about how they experienced a business or event, she said.

Hummingbirds has had several years of tangible results, including growing to about 600 active influencers in Des Moines. That growth helps show investors the company’s potential, Steele said.

"There’s a lot to this story that isn’t just an idea. I’m not coming to you and saying, ‘I think this is the next thing.’ I'm saying, ‘This is the next thing, and here's how I can start moving it,’" she said.

Even as Hummingbirds expands to new communities, Steele’s roots in Des Moines won’t diminish.

Her long-term goal is for the company to be acquired and then she will reinvest the capital in the community. Her ideas so far include starting a venture capital fund or firm working with underrepresented founders.

The risks Steele took when starting Hummingbirds are paying off and she said she has felt "supported" in Des Moines’ startup community. But with fewer female founders to consult, she is passionate about creating opportunities for more women and underrepresented founders to take the same risk.

"I think for me, the legacy of the Hummingbirds … is the impact after an acquisition," Steele said. "That's why I'm so passionate about making this such a big thing for small businesses and small communities, but also for Des Moines [because] at the end of the day … I’ll circulate the wealth back into the community.

"It’s my passion. It’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years."

Tracking movement
Count the Kicks app, started in Iowa, hopes to decrease preventable stillbirths throughout the US
For Emily Price, the work of Count the Kicks is personal. It saved her son’s life.

In 2010, she noticed Hayden’s movement was starting to change when she was 30 weeks pregnant with him. This prompted her to talk with her doctor, who was able to address the problem in the last 10 weeks until Hayden’s healthy birth near his due date.

Price now leads the nonprofit Healthy Birth Day Inc. as its executive director and is responsible for the national expansion of Count the Kicks, an initiative that helps expectant parents track movements of their baby so they see what level is normal and can speak up if they notice a change.

The initiative was founded by five Iowa moms who each lost a baby to stillbirth or infant death and began working together to find solutions in the early 2000s. Count the Kicks was officially launched in 2008 to support research that showed kick counting and other movement tracking could reduce stillbirths. It started as written materials, and was launched as a web-based app in 2013 and became a mobile app in 2015.

The app is particularly important as 40 birthing units have closed in Iowa over the last 20 years and the state ranks last in the U.S. in OB-GYNs per capita. It serves as a tool to help patients track the health of the baby on their own.

Since its launch, it’s now spread to 16 states. That’s thanks to connections formed at conferences, policy efforts and organizations like the Iowa Department of Public Health that sing its praises in interactions with those from outside of Iowa.

"[The health department] didn’t have to work with five grieving women to implement something like this, but they did and they believed that this was important," Price said. "Our connections and advocates within the state health department, all the way up to leadership, have been instrumental in making it a success in Iowa by telling their colleagues in other states [they] should do this too. You need to save Missouri babies and you need to save Florida babies, and so on and so forth."

The materials continue to be adapted over time. The app is available for smartphones and computers, and other materials are also available for those without a good internet connection.

Addressing health equity is an important part of the organization’s mission. Black mothers were more than twice as likely to experience stillbirth compared with Hispanic and white mothers, according to a 2020 study published by the CDC. Social determinants of health – the economic and social conditions that influence individual and group differences in health status – and racial bias in the health care system contribute to the issue.

The Healthy Birth Day staff has also forged community partnerships to promote on its platforms, including providing expectant parents information about child care or mental health resources so they know they aren’t alone, since doing so can help reduce effects of postpartum depression or adverse childhood experiences, said Megan Aucutt, director of programs.  

We sat down with Price and Aucutt to learn more.
Left: British Prime Minister Liz Truss. Center: Actress Anna May Wong. Right: Philanthropist Mackenzie Scott.
In the headlines
Six weeks into her tenure, British Prime Minister Liz Truss has announced she will resign, following a disastrous economic plan that sent her government into chaos. Having been formally appointed by Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 6, just days before the monarch’s death, Truss is now by far the shortest-serving prime minister in British history and will be remembered as one of the most calamitous.

Actress Anna May Wong will be the first Asian American to appear on U.S. currency. Part of the effort that put the writer Maya Angelou and the astronaut Sally Ride on money, the U.S. Mint will begin producing coins pressed with Wong’s image.

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $84.5 million to the Girl Scouts of the USA and 29 of its local branches, making it the largest donation the organization has received from an individual since its founding in 1912. Since 2019, Scott has given $12 billion to organizations and nonprofits.

A new report by and McKinsey found that women leaders are leaving their companies at the highest rate ever, and the gap between women and men in senior roles quitting their jobs is the largest its ever been. The mass exodus is being dubbed "The Great Breakup." The report also found that it’s increasingly important to women that they work for companies that prioritize career advancement, flexibility and employee well-being as well as diversity, equity and inclusion — and they’re leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers when these needs aren’t met.

The Social Security Administration announced last week that people will now be able to select the sex that best aligns with their gender identity in records, a policy change meant to be more inclusive of transgender Americans.

The average cost of child care in the U.S. hit $10,600 per child in 2021, according to new data from Child Care Aware of America. The average cost to send an infant to a full-time child care center in Iowa is $11,459, according to the report.
Worth checking out
Women in the Workplace report 2022 (Lean In). She’s made 1,750 Wikipedia bios for female scientists who haven’t gotten their due (Washington Post). More than a ‘Weinstein survivor’: Women continue to reclaim their voices five years after #MeToo (The 19th). Companies are being forced to reveal what a job pays. It’s a start (Vox). ‘You don’t look anorexic’ (New York Times Magazine). This Iowa reporter came out as transgender on TV. That's just the beginning of her story (Des Moines Register).

We invite you to join us and others equally passionate about empowering Iowa women as we celebrate two years of the Business Record’s Fearless initiative. Women, gender-nonconforming individuals and male allies are all encouraged to be fearless with us.

To celebrate Fearless, a lineup of inspiring women will share their stories of fearlessness and courage. Attendees at the Nov. 17 event will be seated at a table with female leaders, including some of our past Women of Influence honorees, who will lead powerful discussions to share perspectives and insights on succeeding in work and life. Attendees will build additional connections with leaders and other participants as they rotate to different tables throughout the event.

As part of our Fearless core values, this event will create an atmosphere where everyone has a seat and voice at the table. This dynamic interaction will give you not only a chance to learn from others’ experiences and engage in topics facing women in the workplace, but you’ll also have the opportunity to develop and deepen your relationships with women across the state.

Details: Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, 10 a.m. to noon , Sheraton West Des Moines Hotel

Banking with purpose
Jenny Leonard and Christina Moffatt. Photo by Duane Tinkey.
After having had a successful business banking relationship with VisionBank for more than a decade, Central Iowa entrepreneur Christina Moffatt has joined the bank’s staff to promote PurposeBank — VisionBank’s newly launched subsidiary geared toward providing lending services to minority- and women-owned small businesses.

Women-owned and minority businesses have been among the hardest-hit by the economic turmoil brought on by the pandemic, said Moffatt, who became PurposeBank’s first employee earlier this year as business development officer. Moffatt is the founder of Crème Cupcake + Dessert in Des Moines, which she sold to Sammy Mila earlier this year, and most recently was director of small business resources with the Greater Des Moines Partnership before joining PurposeBank.

The Fear Facer: An Update
Ella Maners in 2019 at Fear Facers Summer Camp. Photo by Robyn Nelson/New York Times.
In 2019, the New York Times’ Daily podcast featured an 8-year-old girl named Ella, who spent a week at a camp that helps children learn to deal with obsessive-compulsive and anxiety disorders. Ella has OCD, and is terrified of tornadoes and getting sick, among other things.

The Daily team recently caught up with Ella, who is now 12.

Come for her story and advice on facing your fears, stay for the Southern accent.

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