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Middle Bit: EntreFEST 2019 tickets now available

EntreFEST is set to return May 16-17, 2019 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Passes are now on sale now and are being offered at a discounted rate until October 31.

EntreFEST is a conference, festival and gathering for Iowa’s entrepreneurs, investors, business owners and anyone seeking to learn more about Iowa’s entrepreneurial community. The two-day conference will feature national keynote speakers, breakout sessions and workshops from experts focused on innovators, visionaries and entrepreneurs.

Venture School now taking applications

Applications are now open for Venture School in Des Moines and the Cedar Valley
Venture School.

Venture School is an innovative, seven-week training program through the University of Iowa’s that teaches startups how to focus on real-world experimentation, customer discovery, and Lean LaunchPad methodologies. The program uses the official National Science Foundation I-Corps curriculum to help high-potential startups turn their ideas into reality.

Venture School will be hosting a lunch and learn on Friday, September 7 at the Gravitate in Valley Junction for anyone interested in learning more about the program.

What else is happening?


Apple has acquired Akonia, a startup focused on making lenses for augmented reality glasses, the company confirmed on Wednesday, a signal Apple has ambitions to make a wearable device that would superimpose digital information on the real world. –Reuters


Chicago-based biotech company HappiLabs is the latest local startup to participate in Y Combinator, a selective accelerator program in Silicon Valley that has helped launch high-profile tech companies like Airbnb and Reddit. –American Inno


SocialLeads, an artificial intelligence and machine learning technology startup, has closed a round of seed funding for $750,000 to expand Socialeads’ resourcing needs to launch initial pilots for Northwestern Mutual’s financial advisors. The funding was led by The Winnebago Seed Fund with additional investment coming from Northwestern Mutual’s Cream City Venture Capital and the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation. –Tech Startups


Middle Bit: EntreFEST 2019 tickets now available | 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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