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ISU Ag Startup Engine announces pair of investments

The Ag Startup Engine at the Iowa State University Research Park announced a pair of investments Monday.

Nebullam, an aeroponic and machine learning technology company for crop producers, received a $25,000 initial seed investment. Performance Livestock Analytics, a company that helps livestock producers become more sustainable and profitable, received a follow-on investment of $25,000, according to a news release Monday morning.

Performance Livestock Analytics initially received a $25,000 investment in 2016 from the Ag Startup Engine.

Both businesses are based in Ames and have been apart of the Iowa State Startup Factory for the past six months.


According to the release, these startups join Gross-Wen Technologies and Smart Ag in the portfolio of companies at the ASE. The ASE was launched to help address early seed stage investment and receive organized mentorship from successful Iowan and Midwestern entrepreneurs.

Joel Harris, co-director of the ASE, said these startups set the bar high for successful entrepreneurial efforts in Iowa and the Midwest.

“The ISU Startup Factory is fostering some of the best early seed agtech stage flow I’ve been privy to seeing,” Harris says. “My hope is through our investor members and mentors we’re able to solve small challenges early for these startups, before they become real roadblocks.”

The ASE provides agricultural entrepreneurs with a structured means of moving from a startup concept to a seed-ready business. And with working alongside the ISU Startup Factory Accelerator, the program is implementing an infrastructure for mentoring, rapid prototyping, product development, financing and customer acquisition.

The Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative was created in 2005 to broaden understanding of entrepreneurship among faculty and students of the College of Agriculture and Life Science at Iowa State. This is done by providing educational experiences to develop students’ entrepreneurial skills and increase interaction among students, faculty and agricultural entrepreneurs.

According to the release, over the next two years the ASE hopes to add six to ten more agriculture technology startups like Nebullam and PLA to the portfolio, ranging from animal health to precision agriculture.

Performance Livestock Analytics joined ASE in October of 2016 during its initial seed round. The company has over 100 paying subscribers since the launch of its “Performance Beef” platform services in January of 2017, according to the release.

“We experience much of our growth from our current users,” PLA co-founder Dustin Balsley said. “It’s great to see our customers so excited about our products and telling their neighbors and friends.

“We strive to make our products valuable enough to producers that they become active advocates for Performance Beef.”

ISU Ag Startup Engine announces pair of investments | 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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