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Entrepreneurs showcase their businesses at Innovation EXPO

Last week’s Innovation EXPO drew a crowd of nearly 600 entrepreneurs, inventors, investors, students, business and community leaders from across the state. The EXPO comprised of multiple events that provided educational and networking opportunities for Iowa-based, high-growth-potential businesses of all stages.

This year’s EXPO coincided with EDC’s 15-year anniversary. The milestone was marked by a brief keynote speech given by EDC’s CEO, Curt Nelson, and Cedar Rapids City Manager, Jeff Pomeranz, who spoke about how entrepreneurs have inspired him to take calculated risks throughout his career.


Four Iowa entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to a panel of area business experts for feedback in the PitchLab. At the end of PitchLab, the audience and panel selected a winner.  Iowa City-based VerdiLife, won and received a cash prize sponsored by EDC. VerdiLife is the inventor of the Nano-Intelligent Smokeless Bio-Char System, a process that takes an input of wood or biomass and produces wood vinegar and bio-char.

Seed & Venture Forum

Five Iowa entrepreneurs presented their businesses to a panel of seed and venture capital experts from across the state at the Seed & Venture Forum. It was a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to tap into the minds of investors and learn what is required for a successful pitch.  Coralville-based Viewpoint Molecular Targeting won and received a cash prize sponsored by Iowa Innovation Corporation. Viewpoint Molecular Targeting develops pharmaceutical drugs for diagnostic imaging and therapy for cancer, with a focus on metastatic melanoma.

Entrepreneur Showcase

EDC’s Entrepreneur Showcase capped off the day with 88 Iowa-based exhibitors in the energy-filled exhibit hall that featured entrepreneurs at various stages of the business cycle.

At the end of the Showcase, STRATAFOLIO was presented with the People’s Choice Award. STRATAFOLIO is an online software solution that provides real-time data analytics for commercial real estate companies in an intuitively designed dashboard.

Entrepreneurs showcase their businesses at Innovation EXPO | 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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