Over the last two years, enterprising software engineers and coders representing a dozen startups hailing from as far as Ireland, Brazil, and Germany have arrived in Des Moines, Iowa, for a 100-day sprint to take their innovations to market. Organized by the region’s Global Insurance Accelerator, these entrepreneurs are equipped with $40,000 in seed capital and trained in sales, business development, marketing, and other business essentials. Insurance carriers, who each invested $100,000 in the accelerator, serve as mentors and experts, providing real-world insights while also getting a first look at emerging startups and innovations. Participants conclude the program by pitching their ideas to the hundreds of industry leaders from around the world that attend Des Moines’ annual Global Insurance Symposium.

The accelerator and the symposium are two prongs of an effort by regional leaders to position Des Moines as a global center of insurance innovation, reinventing the industry by developing the new technologies and services increasingly expected by digital-savvy consumers.

They follow a bold strategy to build on what makes Des Moines, home to 81 insurance headquarters, economically distinctive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Des Moines, best known for its agricultural roots and role at the center of American presidential politics, doesn’t fit the conventional image of a global city. But by smartly identifying and investing in core products and services that can compete and be sold globally, Des Moines and a growing number of U.S. cities and metro areas are showing that they have a role to play in the world economy. These cities join the ranks of New York, London, and Tokyo—the three megacities that have come to symbolize global cities since Saskia Sassen defined the concept 25 years ago.

Over the last five years, Des Moines and dozens of other metropolitan areas have redefined what it means to be a global city. These metros are now more globally aware and globally engaged thanks to their participation in the Global Cities Exchange, a research and planning process that used data and peer learning to guide metro areas in the development of export and foreign direct investment plans to boost their global competitiveness.

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