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Iowa AgriTech Accelerator starts by pairing startups with mentors

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator

Tristan Wilson barely has time for a conversation Thursday morning because his schedule is booked completely with meetings all week-long.

Wilson and his company PyurSolutions—which developed a variety of nontoxic, biodegradable, plant-based pesticides, herbicides and insecticides for agriculture and the home—is one of six participating in the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s been excellent, I consider myself a sponge,” Wilson says before starting a meeting with a mentor.

For the six startups in the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator the first two weeks of the 100 day program is spent having meetings with over 70 mentors from various industries. The goal of these meetings is to identify three to seven mentors each company can work with moving forward to enhance various aspects of their business. Each meeting is 30 minutes long and held in the offices of the Global Insurance Accelerator in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.

Kurt Eaves is the Vice President of Underwriting and Production for Grinnell Mutual and serves as a mentor in The Accelerator.

He says his role varies on the company he’s working with.

“It depends on what they are looking for because as a mentor they can be looking for help on their business model or marketing,” Eaves said. “Many times it’s as simple as connections and networking. People that I know that can help them with what their problem is.”


Grinnell Mutual Insurance at Iowa AgriTech Accelerator
(From left) Amos Petersen meets with Kurt Eaves Thursday in downtown Des Moines. Eaves is serving as a mentor to the AgriTech Accelerator.

Megan Vollstedt, Executive Director for the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator, keeps everybody on schedule.

She receives feedback from each mentor and each startup.

“The mentor can tell me how they can help a certain team in a certain area and then we can match them up that way,” Vollstedt explains.

Vollstedt calls it, “Mentor speed dating” that started as early as 8 a.m. last week and ended at 5 p.m. It will be more of the same this week.

Ted Hinton of Hintech—A company that created a corn stock remover and crusher for facilitating no-till farming—said it’s that networking piece that he’s most excited about for his company.

“There’s a company that I’ve known who I may have some strategic fit with and I know the guy who is in charge, but I really haven’t been sure about how to approach him,” Hinton explained. “Well one of the people I talked with this morning knew who I was talking about and said they would get me introduced without a problem.”

Hinton says he’s lucky he got into the program during its first year.

“I’m just tickled pink,” Hinton says. “Once words gets out about this, it is going to become fiercely competitive. We might have gotten the easiest go at this because it was kind of an unknown.”

In the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator, six companies receive $40,000 in seed funding and engagement with investor and mentor companies. This compliments office time education, outreach, networking and presentation opportunities.

In total the program lasts 100 days and finishes with the companies pitching at a demo day during The World Food Prize in October.


Iowa AgriTech Accelerator starts by pairing startups with mentors | 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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