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The Middle Bit: Week of March 26

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.



University of Illinois biotech startup, InnSight Technology, has received a $750,000 grant to help develop its handheld device that can quickly detect severe eye injuries. The News-Gazette

Navya, a Lyon, France-based startup that makes fully electric and autonomous shuttles, announced today that it is opening its first US office in Chicago. ChicagoInno


Six locations in Iowa will host local competitions for the Small Business Administration InnovateHER Challenge. NewBoCo

IAM AGTECH, a photonics and laser optics technology startup firm founded in Ottumwa Iowa, is the newest occupant of the Regional Entrepreneur Center (REC). Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation

Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa (RRIA), a statewide economic development initiative done in partnership with Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Iowa, Iowa Agriculture Finance Corp., and CIPCO, has teamed up with the Ag Startup Engine (ASE) at the Iowa State University (ISU) Research Park to bring education, mentoring, and financing resources to young Iowa entrepreneurs. Iowa Farm Bureau


Twin Cities tech executives form new company, buy Cypress chip plant in Bloomington. Star Tribune

Minnesota hospitality engagement software startup Kipsu raises $900kTechMN


St. Louis-based Benson Hill Biosystems announced the close of a Series B funding round at $25 million. Silicon Prairie News

Nile Valley Aquaponics, a sustainable greenhouse with the aim to empower one of Kansas City’s most underserved communities, launched on Friday after two years of raising funds. Startland News


Now in its sixth year, Startup Weekend Madison runs Friday, April 7 through Sunday, April 9 and is held at Madison’s University Research Park. In Wisconsin

Promentis Pharmaceuticals Inc, a Milwaukee company that is developing drugs to treat schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders, has raised an additional $17.2 million from investors, bringing the total in its third round of financing to $26 million. The company was an outgrowth of research done by Marquette University and has a licensing agreement with Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel




The Middle Bit: Week of March 26 | 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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