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Columbus VC firm Drive Capital is exposed to Iowa

Events like the one held Tuesday afternoon at Research Park on the Iowa State University campus are designed around exposing venture capital firms from outside of Iowa, to what’s happening inside the state.

Nick Solaro, a partner at Drive Capital—a Columbus-based Venture Capital firm—spent nearly two hours talking with entrepreneurs Tuesday afternoon.

It was exactly what organizers hoped would happen.

Drive Capital is the largest venture capital firm in the Midwest and focuses on investing in Midwest startups. It launched a $250 million fund in 2014 and a $300 million fund in 2016. The meet and greet Wednesday was to connect local community leaders and entrepreneurs in the startup community who are actively raising capital, with Drive Capital.

Over 30 people attended the event at Research Park Tuesday.

Bill Adamowski is President of the Iowa State University Startup Factory and had several entrepreneurs participating in his program at the meet and greet.

“Today is primarily to show these guys there’s good deal flow out here,” Adamowski explained. “We are trying to get more relationships with VC’s from outside of the state. They need to come out here and understand the reality.”

Adamowski said spots are available for entrepreneurs to join the Iowa State University Startup Factory.

A crowd of over 30 people attended the meet and greet Tuesday afternoon with Drive Capital, a Columbus-based venture capital firm.

Steve Carter—President of the Iowa State University Research Park—said the 14-month-old Research Park building is ready and willing to host any event that could help an entrepreneur.

“Anything that provides an opportunity for the entrepreneurs to expand their networks, connect with potential resources and learn some lessons, those are all good things,” Carter said. “That’s what this place is all about.”

Carter said his office doesn’t have a yearly goal to host a certain number of events like the one held Tuesday.

“This was an opportunity so we took advantage of it,” Carter said.


Columbus VC firm Drive Capital is exposed to Iowa | 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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