Interview with Teresa Dentino
Founder @ Valley to The Prairie, The Financial 411

A platform for driving greater visibility and traction to the Midwest's technology and innovation scaleup ecosystem with a central focus on: Access to Innovative Thinking and Development Oriented Entrepreneurs within the Midwest region and Silicon Valley Access to Investment Capital from Silicon Valley to drive Development and Growth Robust Communication of Potential and Progress both regionally and to outside influencers. Check out Valley to The Prairie here.
Hi Teresa! Could you please introduce Valley to The Prairie and what led to your launching the venture back in 2015? What sparked your interest in bringing Silicon Valley advisors, investors and partners to the Midwest?
What sparked the idea of the Valley to The Prairie. I was sitting in my office in Silicon Valley one day, this is about five years ago, excuse me, four years ago, and I'm noticing several things at once going on about demographic trends, because I like to look and evaluate and project five years down the road, I was intrigued by the idea, first of all, the space crunch in Silicon Valley and as far as why the Midwest I am originally from the Midwest and so I being born and raised here and a couple of my alma matters here I'm quite familiar with the culture also understanding that this is part of the Rust Belt and cities that have had a significant manufacturing entity that is either no longer theirs had to scale back has left communities looking for ways to reignite the economic infrastructure. So I thought, why not now that we have distributed workforces, there are several formidable universities here, anchor universities, and why not come back here, it basically represents perhaps a new frontier for business for investors from the Valley who are looking for new places to deploy capital and the potential. I wanted to be here on the ground to evaluate the potential of this project going forward.
What are some of the main challenges facing smaller startup ecosystems in the Midwest? How does Valley To The Prairie invigorate these communities and markets?
So I think one of the biggest challenges is in these smaller communities in developing an ecosystem, not having a model from which to work or an example of what is the heart of Silicon Valley innovation culture and in everything that we are doing in Valley to the prairie it's imbued with that template so that these smaller communities can at least gain new insights they wouldn't have normally have access to. And as with any new frontier, because essentially that's what this is, is a lot of converting formerly manufacturing-reliant towns into more entrepreneurial ventures and that's what we do is we are able to demonstrate how that is done and at the same time, because it is this new frontier, from that aspect it's also a very exciting opportunity because there's so much that can be done, and so it's all additive from that perspective, everything we bring to the table just helps to drive things exponentially.
What have been some of the main benchmarks and milestones you've reached with Valley to The Prairie? Are there any particular companies or individuals who have found success because of the initiative?
So one of the things we've been able to do, since we've been on the ground here, is develop a very clear view of the various hubs, ecosystems or developing ecosystems if you will that exists throughout the 13 Midwestern states and we have also facilitated a couple of strategic partnerships and some introductions and these were previously siloed entities that hadn't quite reached that point of thinking about the collaboration and how it might help them in an exponential way basically. Also working with a Silicon Valley accelerator and in a partnership that encompasses a very strong engineering program at one of the universities here and we see this also as a way to basically bridge that divide and do it rather quickly.
You're also the founder of The Financial 411. How do you balance your work with Valley To The Prairie and The Financial 411?
So I get this question a lot and basically, the answer is that, first of all, The Financial 411 is a company I founded in 2002 and at that time it was the first educational platform, financial education exclusive of a money management service, and it was also the objective of the financial 411 was also to help democratize the financial services, customer experience specifically for women, because way back when I first started in San Francisco I developed financial education for women as a way to fill a huge need that was a market that was completely underserved and The Financial 411 still exists and you could say now that I am focused on Valley to the Prairie. Valley to The Prairie is a subset of The Financial 411 and it is very much in alignment with that same theme in addressing a need and wanting to bring a greater experience and a quicker experience to individuals and entities here in the Midwest that are looking to ramp up their startup ecosystems.
What's next for your work with Valley to The Prairie? What are the main initiatives, partnerships and sectors you'll be focusing on in 2019?
So we'll be continuing as we have before, in terms of initiatives and things that we have in our longer-range plans, add to that I'm excited about adding some cultural mission tours to Silicon Valley. I think it is imperative that the two cultures be introduced to each other, I know that each side has some assumptions about the other culture, and they really are two different cultures, not that either one is deficient, it's just they are by virtue of many things they're different, and I think in introducing the two sides and allowing people to actually immerse themselves in some Silicon Valley, business activity, startup activities, it would go a long way toward creating new partnerships, not only new partnerships but a much better understanding of the dynamism that is Silicon Valley. So we're looking forward to that. We're also, of course, being in the center of ag tech, we're looking at that, and just stay tuned. We have other things coming up that will be of interest to many of the smaller communities that are here and trying to develop their ecosystems as well.