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NewBoCo provides multiple avenues to success

Iowa’s startup ecosystem has had its share of changes over the last five years, and the state’s first startup accelerator has been changing along with it.

Since its inception in the fall of 2014, the Iowa Startup Accelerator (ISA) has taken on 35 startups have entered the Iowa Startup Accelerator program. 21 of those companies are still active and, collectively, have raised more than $9 million in funding.

Looking at the big picture

After realizing that the accelerator alone was not providing startups with all the support they needed, ISA expanded into NewBoCo, an umbrella non-profit organization that contains several different programs all designed to support innovation and growth.

Adding to ISA, NewBoCo has developed multiple coding education programs for children and adults, created Corridor Angel Investors, a group of accredited investors interested in early-stage, Iowa-connected companies and is home of Vault Coworking, Cedar Rapids’ largest coworking space.

“What we do falls into three categories: entrepreneurship support, tech education, and innovation.” said Aaron Horn, Chief Operating Officer of NewBoCo. “Any program we do is going to fall under one of those three and the really good programs are the ones that touch all three.”

Social good accelerator

This spring, NewBoCo started the Social Good Accelerator, Iowa’s first and only accelerator program for nonprofits.

“We ran the pilot program with GSI Works, trying to dig into how much of the work that we’re doing for high growth tech-based businesses is applicable to somebody that’s building a non-profit,” said David Tominsky, Managing Director of ISA.

NewBoCo plans on accepting two companies into the Social Good Accelerator for their upcoming cohort this fall.

Future plans?

Our initial funds will most likely carry us through next year,” Tominsky said of the accelerator. We’ll probably open up that second fund later on this year and then really start exploring what we want to do.”

At launch day last year, NewBoCo announced their goal of scaling ISA up to working with 100 companies a year, ten times their original number of 10 companies per year.

“I absolutely think that in a market like Cedar Rapids and really just the state of Iowa, scaling a program like this to 100 companies a year is what is going to be transformative for the economy in the state of Iowa,” Tominsky said.

NewBoCo plans to continue to develop strong relationships with organizations all throughout Iowa rather than just the Cedar Rapids area.

“We need to be doing a better job of communicating with other communities,” Horn said. “We’re too small of a state to try to cling on to our own little footprint. So doing more to collaborate with all these groups that are doing amazing things is really important.”

“I think we’ve got all the resources we need to have a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem for this state,” Tominsky said. “The benefits we get from working together are too many to mention.”


NewBoCo provides multiple avenues to success | 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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