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Kitchen Council: Food startup incubator opens in Council Bluffs

Kitchen Council

Using the concept of a business incubator, the Kitchen Council held its launch party Tuesday night in Council Bluffs as the first food startup incubator in the region.

The Kitchen Council is a shared commercial kitchen for entrepreneurs to get their food business off the ground. There are various monthly membership tiers based on the business need, similar to a coworking space.

Holly Benson, Managing Director of the Kitchen Council, said the concept started 18 months ago between the Iowa West Foundation in Council Bluffs and the Greater Omaha Chamber.

Benson said by the end of 2018, she hopes to have between 20-25 businesses using the space and hosting various workshops for members and the community. She hopes to have a broad portfolio of companies working in the space, from those working on products to food truck and traditional restauranteurs.

One business is currently working in the space and two more have signed up, Benson says.

“This general region is a fantastic spot for the food economy,” Benson said. “We’ve got great producers in our backyard and some great food companies based here that invest in initiatives like this.”

Benson said the project has also received funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Con Agra.

“We are really trying to build a community of food entrepreneurs that can not only work side by side but potentially collaborate in the future,” Benson said.

The Kitchen Council will offer members access to local experts—serving as mentors—as well as other types of programming to benefit startups.

“We will be bringing experts together to hand hold those businesses and help them get off the ground,” Benson said. “There are tech incubators in town that are successful and do wonderful things, we feel the incubator model can work in the food industry as well.”

And if nothing else, Benson said hopefully the Kitchen Council can simply serve as a reminder to buy and support local.

“We don’t expect everybody out there to be a food entrepreneur at heart but at the most basic community level I’m hoping this brings awareness to support local food business,” Benson says. “We put an emphasis on those local products, stories and the humans behind them.

“And if they are wanting to get a food business off the ground we can help them.”

Kitchen Council: Food startup incubator opens in Council Bluffs | 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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