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Mentors are paired with startups as the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator goes forward

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator

Two weeks of mentor speed dating left the six startups in the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator with dates.

Now it’s time to work.

Following the traditional accelerator model the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator started its programming by finding each startup a team of mentors to serve as advisors for the rest of the 100 day program. Startups had nearly 60 individual meetings with mentors. After getting feedback from each side, Executive Director Megan Vollstedt paired anywhere from three to eight mentors with each company.

“The mentors are really specific to the team, so what do they need to achieve their goal?” Vollstedt said Thursday.

A breakfast held Thursday with the startups, investors and mentors of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator served as a celebration that mentor speed dating came to an end but also as a kick off to the rest of the program.

“It’s a lot more focused for each team,” Vollstedt says. “We don’t have the interruptions of meetings, it’s time for teams to work.”

The role of the mentor

The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator has 90 mentors that work with startups.

“Some mentors may be focused on some area of agriculture or business development instead of broad topics like finding a marketing person or legal person,” Vollstedt says. “It’s very specific to each team and based off the mentor feed back.”

Along with the mentors, Vollstedt says the startups will work with three entrepreneurs-in-residence and participate in panel discussions in the office and work on their pitch practices.

Megan Brandt works with over 100 mentors as the program manager of the Global Insurance Accelerator and called the mentor program at the Global Insurance Accelerator, “her baby.”

She said each mentoring relationship varies from mentor to mentor.

“When they go into the speed date meeting the startup teams are prepared to expose the areas they need help with the most and what sort of mentoring they are looking for to round out their team,” Brandt says. “Typically during that meeting, the mentor gets an idea on how and if they can be helpful.”

Molly Monk, Iowa Startup Accelerator Program Manager, agreed with Brandt saying each relationship varies from mentor to mentor.

“Overall though a mentor that matches with a team generally takes on the role of a traditional advisor,” Monk said. “As the startup grows, these mentors may form the startup’s first advisory board.”

Brandt said the way mentors have been “helpful” in the past ranges from introducing a startup to someone in their own network to helping in various areas of the company.

“They are only formally mentoring their matched team for the rest of the 100 days, but they can continue to work with the teams after that time frame if the relationship is still mutually beneficial,” Brandt says. “We don’t put any restrictions or structure to the post-program mentoring, as it should grow organically.”

Mentors are paired with startups as the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator goes forward | 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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