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Project BBQ is changing the way schools track student outcomes

This story is the first of a series that will look at and profile each of the six startups in NewBoCo’s Fall 2018 accelerator programs.

Project BBQ is a Cedar Rapids-based startup that has developed a learning management system for high school and college students.

The web-based management system primarily works with initiative-based schools where students have a choice of projects to choose from. These projects are then tracked through Project BBQ’s agile project management that also tracks the standards required by the state of Iowa.

Their system also tracks other metrics and standards established by Iowa core, that typically are not tracked by schools at this point. Some of these include critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration.

“This is one of the main functions of what we’re doing,” Troy Miller of Project BBQ said. “When teachers are working closely with students on real projects, they’re able to assess those students in these soft-skilled areas that are super important to employers.”

Project BBQ currently has three networks of innovative schools they are working with that fit the mold of the type of schools Project BBQ wants to work with.

“We don’t pretend that Project BBQ is the perfect answer for all these schools,” Miller said.” “But we do think it can be the core of understanding people’s pain points and providing solutions.”

Miller says one of the challenges so far has been figuring out how to implement their management system into already existing management systems that schools have in place.

“Most schools use a learning management system that runs the entire school,” Miller said.” The question then is how can our learning management system work within that ecosystem.”

Project BBQ is one of four companies participating in the most recent cohort of the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

“The main focus right now is identifying our number one hypothesis and making sure that what we believe to be true is actually true before spinning the wheels on half-truths or partial truths,” Miller said. “Another part of the process I’m going through right now even though we have a fully functional beta product is continuing to understand what pain points are out there that we can solve.

Project BBQ is changing the way schools track student outcomes | 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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