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The Middle Bit: The week of Jan. 9

Each week, Clay & Milk will curate a rundown of startup, tech and innovation news from “the middle.” Check back every Friday for that week’s Middle Bit.


Uber will test cash payments for the first time in the U.S. in Colorado Springs, with a roll out to other cities planned in the future. Via The Colorado Springs Gazette


Instead of “unicorns,” some in Chicago are arguing the city’s tech community needs more “redwoods,” or startups that go public and grow far beyond the $1 billion mark used to describe unicorns. Via The Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation

Mac & Mia, a concierge service for children’s clothes (think Trunk Club for kids), raised a $3 million investment round. Via The Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation


Mother Jones recently took a deep dive into the growth of aquaculture venture VeroBlue Farms in Webster City. Via Mother Jones

Gov. Terry Branstad kicked off speculation that Amazon is looking to construct a physical location in Iowa due to the Internet retailer’s decision to being collect sales tax from orders made in the state. Via The Des Moines Register


FarmLogs, which recently expanded in Des Moines, raised a $22 million Series C. The company’s CEO, Jesse Vollmar, also told AgFunder News he’s not interested in selling the company to a big agriculture company. Via AgFunder News/Crain’s Detroit Business

Uber plans to build an autonomous vehicle research center in Wixom, Michigan. Via The Detroit Free Press

Missouri & Kansas

Kansas City-based investment group Mid-America Angel Network announced that it invested $3.6 million in 15 deals last year. Via Startland News

Five Elms Capital, an investment group in Kansas City, announced it led a $7.4 million round in San Diego-based security firm Trackforce. Via Startland News

A Silicon Prairie News contributor highlighted some of the growing startup efforts in Wichita, Kansas. Via Silicon Prairie News

North Dakota

A site started by the “Guru of Geek” in Mandan, North Dakota is helping to shine a light on the state’s technology scene, The Bismarck Tribune reports. Via The Bismarck Tribune


Milwaukee-based insurance firm Northwestern Mutual announced it would establish its own $50 million venture fund to invest in startups working on ways to “transform how consumers experience and achieve financial security.” Investments will range from $500,000 to $3 million. Via Insurance Networking News/press release

Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at

The Middle Bit: The week of Jan. 9 | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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