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Founders in AgriTech Accelerator reflect on their time in Des Moines

All Edward Kepler wanted was a slice of pizza.

Kepler—founder of Phenomics Labs—is one of five startups participating in the inaugural Iowa AgriTech Accelerator. Each founder is finalizing their pitch presentation for demo day at 9 a.m. on Oct. 17 at the World Food Prize. Each founder will pitch their company and its product for between five to eight minutes during the 90-minute event.

Each founder in the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator has a room at the Staybridge Hotel in downtown Des Moines, within walking distance from the AgriTech Accelerator offices on Walnut Street.

One night after work, Kepler said he wanted a slice of pizza and heard Fongs was known for its pizza.

“How do they not deliver?” Kepler says laughing. “Fongs should deliver. I would have paid double for a pizza delivered. Maybe that can be my pivot, delivery for Fongs. That would make a ton of money.”

All joking aside, Kepler says he’s enjoyed his time in Des Moines but has yet to eat pizza from Fongs.

Did Des Moines treat you well?

Kepler said he’s been impressed with Des Moines and specifically, the East Village.

“It’s got an old school feel to it,” Kepler says. “I’m originally from Chicago so I like the East Village because it reminds me of Chicago.”

Kepler says he’s also attended a few concerts at Wooly’s and if his two kids make the trip to Des Moines, he’s taking them to Zombie Burger and Raygun.

Ted Hinton—founder of Hintech—says the Ceviche Bar is like, “A Cuban Cheers.”

“Being in Des Moines is like a pair of comfortable shoes,” Hinton says. “I don’t venture out as much as I should. I have spent some time in the East Village, it’s really cool and is this new hip place.”

Zack James—founder of Rabbit Tractors—said he was impressed by the Sculpture Park.

“You wouldn’t think Des Moines has that much art,” James says. “Once you actually go look, it’s pretty world renown and is comparable to a lot of bigger cities.”

Has it been worth relocating to Des Moines?

As a native of Indiana, James said he would like to headquarter his company in Des Moines.

“Des Moines makes a lot of sense,” James explains. “The colleges and engineering schools, I’m right in the middle of my customers market and the community support is pretty great. It’s something I’ve never seen in Indiana.”

James believes the AgriTech Accelerator will benefit him not only short-term, but long-term as well.

“Before I got here this was just an idea in my head that I thought it made a lot of sense,” James says. “But I was still questioning when I got it out and showed it to the right people what would happen. This gave me a chance to do that.

“And I think it will benefit me years from now,” he continues. “I have a direct line to guys at John Deere, something most startups don’t have. If I could come back here in the future, I’m connected to a community already.”

Companies participating in the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator receive intensive mentoring and $40,000 in seed funding.

For previous coverage, click here.

Founders in AgriTech Accelerator reflect on their time in Des Moines | 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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