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Iowa Innovation Corporation connects Iowa companies to Federal funding

Iowa Innovation Corporation

The state of Iowa has a nonprofit organization that helps connect Iowa companies with Federal funding from the $2.5 billion Small Business Innovation Research program.

It’s the Iowa Innovation Corporation and its mission is to grow Iowa’s economy by working with anyone in the business of creating jobs and growth.

Jordan Hobfoll is the Program Coordinator for the Iowa Innovation Corporation and works closely with businesses, educational institutions, federal program managers and statewide service providers on projects with commercial potential. He says his main mission is to help companies take technology innovations to commercialization, and meet them wherever they are on that scale.

Those companies can be in any industry but must fit the criteria of a small business (less than 500 employees and US owned).

He focuses on the—very competitive—Small Business Innovation Research program, a $2.5 billion program supported by 11 Federal agencies like the Department of Defense and Education, NASA, National Institue of Health, National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

“My goal to the extent possible is to make sure that all the relevant companies and people know about the program and are making an educated decision on whether to pursue it,” Hobfoll says.

“And if they pursue it, we will give them their best chance at success.”

With help from the Iowa Innovation Corporation, 21 Iowa companies received $8.3 million in federal funding during fiscal year 16.

Through the fiscal year 2017, $5.8 million in funding had been awarded to Iowa companies.

“The money is great, you can pay salaries and the credibility is fantastic,” Hobfoll says. “The constant battle is the timing is hard because you can only apply at certain deadlines.”

Free resources at your disposal

The Iowa Innovation Corporation is a private/public partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Being considered a nonprofit and not as a state agency is believed to be more appealing to startups and entrepreneurs.

It offers two programs:

  • A one-hour proposal idea review with a SBIR consultant to talk about the idea and see if it’s a good fit
  • A third party proposal assistance where Hobfoll matches the company with a consultant who is your coach and helps you with everything that has to do with your proposal, except for writing the core material.

The one-hour idea proposal meeting is free; The third party proposal assistance requires an application be filled out and a $1,000 refundable deposit.

“The proposals are challenging, so that’s where we come in,” Hobfoll explains. “They could be seven to 20 pages of material, associated documents.”

But the payout could be worth the time and energy, Hobfoll says.

If a company receives a “Phase 1” award it could be anywhere from $100,000 to $225,000 over six to 12 months for a proof of concept/feasibility/research program.

A “Phase 2” award could be between $600,000 and $1.5 million over two years for prototype development, field testing or scaling up technology.

“There’s not a limit to how many of these you can get as long as you aren’t doing the same work multiple times,” Hobfoll said. “Whenever you submit you always get feedback. Often times it can be more productive to have the consultants be your partner. And sometimes you don’t get it on the first try.”

Technology companies vs Capability companies

Hobfoll said technology companies can pursue these grant programs but capability companies that like to solve problems, should be aware of the Department of Defense and NASA.

“If you don’t have an idea but are a strong engineer or programmer, the Department of Defense has 350 topics that cover everything from IT to war games and a rugged kitchenette to take into the field,” Hobfoll explains. “Or something that’s a big problem is how to deal with urination as a female pilot.

“The current technology they are using is a diaper.”

But regardless of whether your a tech company seeking a grant or an engineer looking to solve a problem, Hobfoll wants to help.

“The application process can be daunting,” he says. “You can’t go talk to them, all the reviewer sees is what’s on the page. You have to put everything on the page.”

Iowa Innovation Corporation connects Iowa companies to Federal funding | 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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