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NewBoCo hires Aaron Horn as C.O.O

Aaron Horn is doing what he wants to do.

Horn began work Tuesday as the Chief Operating Officer of NewBoCo—a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit—becoming the organizations 19th employee.

Horn has been involved with the Iowa Startup Accelerator in part-time roles since 2014 ranging from investor, mentor, board member and board chairman.

His full-time job was Director of IT for the Iowa Interstate Railroad.

“I’m really passionate about entrepreneurship, especially building the ecosystem,” Horn, 36, says. “And that’s something NewBoCo is passionate about as well and has a lot of things going on that drive towards that.

“My involvement has just kind of continually grown to this point, to where I get to do it full-time. Which is awesome.”

Horn—an Adel native and Iowa State University graduate—was the Global Head of IT for Becker Underwood until it was sold for $1 billion in 2012. After moving to Eastern Iowa in 2014 a mutual friend would connect Horn with NewBoCo Executive Director Eric Engelmann as the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

“We got connected via somebody and I remember it was a phone call when I first chatted with him, and I was like man, this guy sounds like a cool cat,” Englemann says. “I’ve got to get him plugged in to some of the things that are going on so he can find his tribe in Eastern Iowa.”

Englemann says Horn will be providing more “bandwidth” for NewBoCo.

“We are going to compliment each other very well,” Englemann says. “I have a little bit more of the visionary mindset and he’s more of how the heck we get it all done.”

Englemann said Horn will also focus on specific projects and programs offers, like the Corridor Angels Investor Group.

“That’s something I’ve launched but it needs somebody to really focus on it and I think he’s going to spend a lot of time focused on that program,” Englemann says.

Horn says he’d like to have 100 investors in the investor group and that he will work on expanding the DeltaV Code School to Des Moines.

“It’s funny because I have been involved since the beginning so it kind of felt, even though it’s my first day, it was un-ceremonial,” Horn, said. “We sat down at a desk and just kept going on all the stuff that we were working on.”

NewBoCo hires Aaron Horn as C.O.O | 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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