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How to fast track Iowa’s future: Education + business partnerships

Education in 2017 is about connecting the classroom with a career path.

For Kris Byam, Principal of Boone High, he knows elementary students enjoy it when the athletic, music or theatre students visit. So he uses that same concept to expose younger students to various academic programs at Boone High School.

Byam uses a continuum from the Work Based Learning model that focuses on exploration, awareness, preparedness and training to meet the needs of his students but while local businesses.

But for high school students to complete the entire continuum in four years was difficult, Byam says.

“So you have to start earlier,” Byam explained. “We wanted to go down into our elementary and bring our students so they could see from our own kids what the programs are and the pathways that they can do. Then bring in our business partners so they can help facilitate that also.”

Byam spoke during a panel discussion at Wednesday’s “Fast Track Iowa’s Future” conference inside Iowa Events Center. The conference – sponsored by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council – featured emergent and established business education partnerships from communities across Iowa.

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(From left) Nick Glew, Kris Byam and Jennifer Hartman during a panel discussion Wednesday.

A total of eleven different panels and presentations were available along with snapshots of dozens of nationally recognized best practices in Iowa.

Hundreds of community business leaders, K-12 administrators, principals, educators, higher education, workforce and economic development professionals and policy leaders were represented.

Gov. Reynolds priority is an educated workforce

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke during the conference and said connecting the classroom experience to a potential career transforms the educational system.

“You are teaching students to be collaborative, innovative and how to think like an entrepreneur,” Reynolds said. “It’s exciting to see their eyes light up with curiosity and confidence when they talk about what they’re learning.”

Reynolds mentioned two of her top four priorities since becoming Governor of Iowa is to educate and prepare the next workforce, while educating the current workforce.

“It’s not just about how many Iowans are working, it’s about whether Iowans are fulfilling their full potential,” Reynolds said. “We need a ready, well-equipped and available work force that is prepared long before high school graduation and doesn’t end there.”

She will achieve her goals through public/private partnerships that have been created through STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) in Iowa. Partnerships between businesses, schools, nonprofits and economic development.

“This effort is inclusive and I’m looking forward to working with you to make sure we reach our goal of having 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce having education or training beyond high school by the year 2025,” Reynolds said. “It means opportunities for Iowans and a workforce ready to meet the demand.” unnamed-2-1.jpg

Adapting is a skill

When acting Lt. Governor Adam Gregg graduated high school in 2002 the jobs and problems of today didn’t exist.

That still rings true in 2017.

Gregg used an example of a Facebook employee who is supposed to make sure ads are targeted to the right audience.

“In 2002, a job targeting ads on Facebook was a job that didn’t yet exist, using a technology that wasn’t invented to solve a problem that we didn’t know existed yet,” Gregg said. “Students have to have the skills to adapt in a rapidly changing economy like ours.”

Byam said he’s asked Reynolds to adapt some policy to allow some business professionals to work with students.

He said somebody that teaches adults how to become an electrician, plumber, welder or whatever it is should be allowed to work with students.

“That’s something we’ve talked about with the Governor is we have to find ways to incorporate our businesses and allow them access to teach and help our students,” Byam said.

How to fast track Iowa's future: Education + business partnerships | 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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