A former communications intern is now leading the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator, the first of its kind in the Midwest.
It was announced Tuesday that Megan Vollstedt was becoming the Executive Director of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator. Vollstedt comes from Workiva where she spent the last six years in their communication department.
Tej Dhawan served as the interim Executive Director for the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator during the search process for a full time director.
Dhawan says what stood out about Vollstedt was not only her experience, but what kind of experience she had.
“She was embedded inside a startup, working with the board yet she was not apart of the founding or the executive team,” Dhawan explained. “What an accelerator director needs is that ability to see both sides: Be an outsider enough to be pragmatic and give good council and feedback yet know from the inside what the company needs to know to succeed.
“That was an experience nobody else had.”
Starting from the bottom
A native of Manilla, Iowa – population 777 – Vollstedt graduated from Iowa State in 2012 with a bachelor of arts degree in English and minor in advertising. She started her professional career as a communications intern in 2011 for WebFilings, an Ames-based startup. She was asked to help grow the communications team and their intranet.
As the company grew, the position Vollstedt grew with it. She would be hired full-time after graduating in May of 2012 to manage the internal communications team and help support public and investor relations.
“It’s not often you get to help a company go through a name change or an IPO (Initial Public Offering) process and grow a team,” Vollstedt said. “I was able to do that and I think that is something that will help me for what I will need to do here.”
What did she get herself into?
Vollstedt says she first met some AgriTech Accelerator board members at the Innovation Iowa event earlier this year.
“I was ready to grow more and figured I’d be able to do that with something I could help grow myself,” Vollstedt explains. “And The Accelerator is so exciting. The fact that you can marry technology and agriculture to help little startups grow, I love that support angle.”
This is a full-time position for Vollstedt who will live in Ames and commute to the East Village in downtown Des Moines. Five companies California, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri will converge on the East Village for a 100 day program that will potentially grow the size and value of a company.
Classes start July 10.
“This first year is what we are really going to grow off of,” Vollstedt explains. “Because we will extend our reach, getting more startups, more mentors and more help for startups. So this will be building for that too.”
She believes her communications background will help The Accelerator grow and ultimately be successful.
“It’ll be a lot of networking, being able to support and connect people, which is part of what I’ve done in the past,” Vollstedt explained. “Just getting our name out there and making sure we have a presence. We want a positive first year and first class, so we can share how great of an experience it is.”
She’s the boss
Vollstedt will be responsible for establishing and maintaining a collaborative learning environment for the startups who comes to Des Moines and participate in the program. With her help, the startups will receive mentorship from over 50 mentors and receive on-site experience to advance their innovations.
This isn’t her first leadership role but it is the first time in her career where she’s an executive director and the person everyone reports to.
“There’s more freedom but I still need to be reporting to my board and utilizing them to make the right decisions,” Vollstedt says. “It’s still going to be a balance between making decisions and utilizing the knowledge and experience of everybody on the board to do that.”
For the first year to be successful, Vollstedt hopes she can provide the support that is needed to the startups.
“Making sure the startups are getting what they need from the mentors,” Vollstedt explains. “And that the mentors are happy and able to provide the resources that they want.”