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From the editor: Opportunities available for those willing to work

Joey Aguirre

As Laird Hedlund-Nossuli told me during our interview for, Dad’s business evolves with daughter, son-in-law behind the keyboard, being an entrepreneur isn’t for everybody.

“It’s not for people who can’t just put their head down and say this is where I’m going,” she explains. “You either get there on your own or with somebody else and their help. But be prepared to recognize your mistakes really fast.”

Laird estimated three of every four decisions she’s made have been considered bad.

And Mike Colwell, Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives for the Des Moines Partnership, said numbers show most startups don’t last.

“And sometimes the best thing is they don’t make it,” Colwell says. “Because a lot of things separate an idea from a valuable company.

But resources are available to give companies a chance, if those involved have an idea, plan and are willing to work.

Figure it out faster

Following in a global trend Iowa was introduced to accelerators with the Iowa Startup Accelerator in 2013 and again in 2015 with the Global Insurance Accelerator.

Colwell explained that an accelerator is meant to grow the size and value of a company in a short period of time. It forms when investors provide seed money to entrepreneurs, who then participate in an intensive mentoring environment for nearly 100 days.

He stresses the importance of the mentoring, which is led by local industry leaders. Over 200 mentors from Des Moines particapte in the Global Insurance Accelerator with various professional backgrounds.

“In your first three weeks, you have over 100 meetings with mentors. You pitch and get feedback in what we call mentor speed dating,” Colwell explains. “In that time alone you will build a contact database of people from that industry trying to sell to your customers and telling you how to make your product better.”

In the three years of the Global Insurance Accelerator, 18 companies have graduated.

“The idea is to take that feedback and build those contacts so eventually you can get to market faster,” he says. “Because you can talk all day long about clicks and likes and whatever. But unless someone buys your product it’s bullshit.”

Each year the graduates of the Global Insurance Accelerator give their pitches to the 550 executives at the Global Insurance Symposium in Des Moines.

Colwell said the first-ever Iowa Ag Tech Accelerator starts July 17 and its graduates will pitch at the World Food Prize during the Borlaug symposium in front of a thousand people.

VentureNet Iowa

Iowa-based companies for at least one year can apply through VentureNet Iowa and the Iowa Economic Development Authority to potentially receive matching grants from $25,000 to $500,000 in the business areas of:

• Bioscience

• Advanced manufacturing

• Value-added agriculture

• Information technology.

Adrienne Greenwald, Communications and Public Relations Director of VentureNet Iowa said they accept applications on a bi-monthly basis and that she visits with companies at the GIA to explain what they offer.

To decide yes or no for the grants the state of Iowa has a Technology Commercialization Committee. Their decisions are based on focus groups organized by VentureNet Iowa that evaluate each company and project applying to the state. Companies fill out an application that includes a business plan then pitch to a focus group and have a question and answer session.

“It’s not the technology specifically,” Greenwald explains. “It’s about the commercialization strategy to build a business, so it’s a sustainable business in Iowa that’s creating high quality jobs.”

The latest application deadline just passed and eight companies were selected for the process to possibly receive funding; Greenwald says they can take up to 12 each application deadline.

Greenwald says the entrepreneurial scene has grown in the last five years and points to SquareOne DSM who helps raise capital for entrepreneurs, the Iowa Startup Accelerator, GIA, Venture School at the University of Iowa and the Iowa State University Startup Factory, as key reasons why.

“It’s a very collaborative environment,” Greenwald says. “There are a lot of resources out there for entrepreneurs.”

Greenwald says people who tend to be successful may not be experts at everything.

“Clearly they know what they are doing but they also realize they don’t know everything,” Greenwald explains. “Successful people listen to advice. A lot of times people are so focused on what they’ve developed and making it better that they get on a path and put blinders on.

“Surround yourself with people who want to help and want to see you succeed, then listen to those people.”

From the editor: Opportunities available for those willing to work | 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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