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The Emerge Foundation: Providing capital to startups at Simpson College

College Startup

A nonprofit in Indianola is offering its business incubator services to enterprises with high commercialization potential and an affiliation with Iowa’s private and community colleges.

The Emerge Foundation at Simpson College formed earlier this year and will work with ventures on business modeling, organization development, and financing.

Todd Kielkopf is the executive director of The Emerge Foundation and told Clay & Milk Monday that the idea is to leverage business startups from Simpson College—initially—staff, professors and students.

“We’re exploring this gap in the marketplace outside of the regent universities,” Kielkopf said. “We know Simpson has stakeholders that are not part of the ecosystem. And it makes me think there are probably others in the same spot.

“So we are kind of showing a prototype model in ourselves.”

According to a press release on Nov. 20, the Emerge Foundation Board of Directors adopted a $300,000 funding plan to launch its operations and initial ventures with $200,000 pledged from early supporters. The foundation is also developing a $5 million Seed Capital Fund to be a lead investor for college-affiliated ventures.


For its first venture, The Emerge Foundation is working with DNP123—a company founded by Simpson College Chemistry Professor Dr. Derek Lyons and Dr. Aaron Santos. They are developing ways to structure nanoparticles into cubes and those cubes into specific shapes.

“Trying to do some market discovery for them to see what type of technology spinouts are commercially viable,” Kielkopf says. “Collect the information and essentially be a lead investor.”

And because Simpson College works with other two and four year colleges, Kielkopf sounds hopeful that through those relationships, more schools will get involved.

“We understand each college that does entrepreneurial programming does it in their own way and for its student body the best,” he says. “We aren’t looking to stamp a ‘best practices’ on the program side. But the components that work, those should be talked about.”


The Emerge Foundation: Providing capital to startups at Simpson College | 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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