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Demo Day: Iowa AgriTech Accelerator startups showcase themselves

The first cohort for the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator completed the 100 day program Tuesday by pitching their companies Tuesday morning during “Demo Day.”

Over 100 people gathered inside the World Food Prize in downtown Des Moines to hear from the four AgTech startups as they pitched their companies; Each pitch lasted less than ten minutes.

The four companies that pitched were:

Pyur Solutions and Phenomics Labs left the program prior to Demo Day to work on their business model and product development.

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator Executive Director Megan Vollstedt said the last 100 days felt like a blur.

“It’s been fantastic to witness the change and growth in these companies over the last 100 days,” Vollstedt said. “I’ve enjoyed watching the comradery and collaboration between the teams. While focusing on their own goals, they have encouraged, challenged and learned from one another’s experiences.”

Vollstedt said each founder will return to their home to continue building their business.

“They had a really full schedule because they are working on their businesses, but then also working with us and the mentors to grow,” she explained. “It’s been a lot for all of us but that’s where growth comes from is when you’re pushed, all of us have experienced that.”

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator
Arsalan Lodhi is the founder and CEO of Wisran. He was the first founder to pitch during Demo Day for the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator.

Starting with an idea

Each of the companies in the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator were paired with anywhere from six to eight mentors during the 100 day program. Founders would also receive feedback on their pitches from other mentors through the program.

Gregg Barcus—Small business consultant and adjunct lecturer at the University of Iowa Venture School—spent three days with the founders providing feedback on their pitches.

His feedback was about staying focused on the product or solution, and not worry about any distractions that don’t help the pitch.

He said he was impressed by the improvement each founder made.

“The progress they made is just great,” Barcus said. “Well now the real hard part comes. They know more about where their product and solution fits into the ecosystem and then just going out and finding partners and concentrating on what it’s going to take.

“Because a lot of times you reach the graduation day like today and the tendency is to feel like you made it, when really it’s just the beginning.”

Jeff Underwood—Kent Corp. Vice President for Supply Chain—said both the mentor and entrepreneur benefited from the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator.

“This group of entrepreneurs is deeply committed to delivering a value to their customers and shareholders through innovation,” Underwood said. “Which encourages the mentors to think outside the box when they return to their business teams and colleagues.”

Dad was proud

Steve Vollstedt attended demo day and said he was proud of the work his daughter did, but also that he was impressed by each of the four companies.

His father and grandfather were both farmers on a 160 acre farm and thought each company could save farmers money.

“It just makes sense,” Steve said. “We were really impressed. Ever since Megan started the job it’s just so unique and so cool that’s its Ag related. That’s what drives the economy. I could see these products working, I could see it helping a lot of the farmers in rural Iowa.”

Moving forward, Megan said she’s going to review how the first year of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator went and begin recruiting for the class of 2018.

Applications will begin being accepted in January.

Demo Day: Iowa AgriTech Accelerator startups showcase themselves | 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 mpatane@clayandmilk.com.
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