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Startup Stories: Megan Vollstedt of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator


As a student at Iowa State University, Megan Vollstedt needed to meet an internship requirement. As she looked for opportunities, an Ames-based company Web Filings had a simple application process, only asking for a resume.

“So I thought that’s simple, I will throw my resume at that one,” Vollstedt says. “I got the interview the next week and walked out with an offer, so that started my internship.”

Vollstedt would spend over six years at Workiva before being named the Executive Director of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator last June. On Wednesday, she was a guest on the Startup Stories podcast with Mike Colwell of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. There are two new Startup Stories podcasts released each month; one is recorded live on the third Wednesday of every month.

Vollstedt and Colwell spoke for nearly 25 minutes on the start of her career, being part of the growth at Workiva, leadership and transitioning to the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator. Then they took questions from the audience for another 15 minutes.

The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator will launch its second cohort on May 29.

Their conversation is below, and has been edited for conciseness:

You were one of the first 100 people at Web Filings, now Workiva has 1,300 employees. How did you originally find Workiva?

MV: I was a junior at Iowa State starting to look for internships and I was searching for something that was communications, writing, editing, advertising, marketing, applying to a lot that required cover letters and samples of your writing and references.

I happened to stumble upon one that only wanted a resume so I thought that’s simple I will throw my resume at that one. It was Web Filings for an internal communications intern. I got the interview the next week and walked out with an offer, so that started my internship.

I was looking for an opportunity to develop my practical skills and my talents in writing and communications. That fit the bill and happened to be good timing for them.

What did you find out about Workiva when you got there?

MV: A lot of it was the responsibility I was given, that was thrilling. And I think that in a startup you experience that, where you wear many hats and have a lot of responsibility. For the role I was hired for, I was the only person working on that area. I was developing the content for the intranet and building the internal communications processes.

I had internal teams to rely on but it was just me and I really loved that responsibility.

Workiva grew rapidly in your six years, what was the culture like and how did it change?

MV: The culture is still the number one priority for Workiva, that is a huge piece of working there and a benefit. When I joined we had nerf wars, there were rubber duckies everywhere and you would do all employee company lunches and meetings.

Did you manage others?

MV: I did, I had interns, full-timers, small-scale but I did manage and also went through the employee lifecycle to hiring, managing and firing.

It is such a very self-aware experience, you learn a lot about yourself managing anybody of course, I think it’s a great experience for people to have because you learn so much about yourself and how you can help others.

How did you go from corporate communications to director of an accelerator?

MV: I spent a good amount of time being introspective my last year at Workiva and as in most cases, I had good timing and good luck to find my next step.

I was looking for a challenge, I’m a lifelong learner and I was not done being challenged professionally. I wanted to continue to grow so I decided to spend some time to look for very meaningful work and what I could use my abilities to help others.

My original connection was through Megan Brandt at the Global Insurance Accelerator. She’s a good friend of mine and I worked with her at Workiva. I got to know a lot about how an accelerator works and working with startups at an early stage. I also got to know Brian Hemesath that way too.

Once the AgriTech Accelerator advertised for an executive director I began to look at what that would take. Having some extra knowledge about what it was going to look like, I could consider it a lot more and it really fit the bill for what I was looking for.

You and Megan worked together at Workiva, let’s here the story about,“The Megan’s”

MV: We were on the communications team and were dubbed “The Megan’s” at Workiva. We also had our own email address, it was a joint email address and often it was a lot more convenient that way so nobody had to figure out which Megan did this and which one did that.

You are currently selecting the 2018 class, how’s it going?

MV: We’ve had a very good range. In AgTech it’s interesting because it can be livestock, new tractors, software, aquaculture, something in oil refinement process, it’s so broad. So it’s fascinating to see what the applicants are and what they are working on and then learn about that. The interview process is great too because we have the outside perspective of our board of directors and seven investor companies. Understanding what they think is valuable and what they think we can do for these teams in 100 days.

What will you take from 2017 that you will apply to 2018 and what will you leave behind?

MV: 2017 was definitely a building year for us, we needed to have that baseline then grow.

2018 we will just grow. I’m adding more content, we will have a better curriculum, I have more farmers as customer discovery contacts. I saw different gaps last year in our mentor pool and resources that we needed to provide, so I worked this offseason to make sure we have that.

2018 is going to be more, efficient and exciting still.

Previous Startup Stories Coverage

Startup Stories: FarrPro CEO Amos Peterson on saving baby pigs – March 22, 2018

Powerpollen: An AgTech startup turning a problem into a solution – Jan. 22, 2018

Startup Stories: Buying and selling land through Terva.Ag – Nov. 21, 2017 

Startup Stories: Megan Vollstedt of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator | 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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