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ISU Startup Factory continues to grow, announces two new cohorts

The ISU Startup Factory, a 52-week program housed at the Iowa State University Research Park, recently announced two new cohorts.

The first of the two announcements will be the fifth cohort of the main program that takes place in Ames. The other will take place in Austin, Minnesota and will be the second cohort of ISU Startup Factory’s experimental regional “node” program.

Those accepted in the Startup Factory receive formal training, resources, and access to a network of business mentors, advisors, counselors and investors in two 26-week blocks. The first block will consist of a formal curriculum centered on business validation, with the second block more customized to their individual business needs.

The ISU Startup Factory is led by Bill Adamowski. He joined the EDIR team in 2015 to focus on growing the network of innovation throughout the Iowa State campus. He crafted the framework for the Startup Factory from traveling the country observing the best practices from the likes of MIT, Stanford and other successful accelerators.

Companies that have participated in the ISU Startup Factory over the last two years have raised over $14 million in venture financing and government funding. Most recently, Smart Ag received a $5 million dollar investment from Stine Seeds and Gross-Wen received a $2 million investment from Doerfer.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more of those investments we go forward,” Adamowski, President of the ISU Startup Factory said.

Expanding outside of Ames

After finding early success in Ames, the Startup Factory decided to expand their program to other locations. In addition to the main program in Ames, they have two other locations: one in Northwest Iowa and one in Austin, Minnesota.

It wasn’t originally intended to be this large,” Adamowski said. “We wanted to get to about 20 startups a year in the startup factory. That was our initial goal.”

Bringing in the right people

One of the things ISU Startup Factory looks for when accepting companies is businesses that

“We’re looking for people who are trying to take something to market that requires scale, that probably needs some investment capital,” Adamowski said. “I have a personal bend towards purpose-driven entrepreneurs which are someone who’s trying to make money but also make an impact on the world.” 

Another consideration the startup factory takes into account when looking at applicants is the team.

“You might have a good idea or a great product, but if it’s not the right team, or at least the beginnings of a team,” Adamowski said. “I look at it and say could we help this person build the right team,” 

The third component looked at is making sure every cohort has a diverse group of companies and people.

“To me, the composition of the different people in the cohort matters because they learn from each other. So, I want some people with science skills and some with engineering skills and some people who are outgoing and have very good presentation skills, Adamowski said. “They can learn from each other.”

ISU Startup Factory continues to grow, announces two new cohorts | 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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