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IowaMADE: Bringing university-made products to market

A new company is aiming to bring products developed at the University of Iowa from concept to commercialization.

IowaMADE is a manufacturing and e-commerce initiative by the University of Iowa that encourages the University of Iowa community to bring innovative, need-based products to market with the goal of enhancing economic development at the university.

“The way that we bring products in is that the faculty researchers generally have developed it for their own use that they see need clinically and decided they needed to be addressed,” said Jordan Kaufmann, director of start-ups for UI Ventures. “They’ve worked through a lot of the early development work. And then our student team onboards it. We bring it on, look at the design, we scale it for manufacturing purposes.”

“Our target with this is to help get some of these pieces out there. A lot of them are a more niche product that are very useful,” Kaufmann said. “We see this as an opportunity to bring it from the research realm to the people that actually need it and would benefit from it.”

IowaMade’s first product on the market, the Abrons Oral Airway, is an articulating oral airway that can provide improved airway access for difficult to intubate patients.

AOA Open and Closed
The Oral Abrons Airway. Photo courtesy of IowaMade.

“I was sitting in a room as an anesthesia resident, thinking about ways to make it easier to mass ventilate people and the idea just came to me,” said Dr. Ron Abrons, associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Iowa and creator of the Abrons Oral Airway. “I wrote it down on piece of paper I still have.”

The Abrons Oral Airway is approved for use, is currently available for purchase and is about halfway through clinical trials.

“I think it’s really cool that this is truly a joint venture with the university that a lot of people are part of, not only the professionals, but students as well,” Abrons said. “Last summer I had three biomedical engineering students working on the project. And now we’ve got more Iowa students working on the marketing side and the production side of things. So I think one of the cool things about is, not only is it an economic commercial adventure, but it’s also an educational one.”

The program’s second product, the Sindt Opthalmic Spatula, is an improved spatula device for ophthalmic use, was introduced just a few weeks ago.

The Sindt Opthalmic Spatula. Photo courtesy of IowaMade.

Future plans?

Kaufmann says they hope to release a new product about every six months depending on the type of technology coming though.

“We would like to expand beyond medical devices and include more of campus research that’s going on,” Kaufmann said. “So we have plans to expand out and include other areas such as nursing, and engineering and art as well.”

IowaMADE: Bringing university-made products to market | 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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