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Rose Francis Elevator Competition set for November 13-14

The Rose Francis Elevator Pitch Competition is set to take place on November 13 and 14.

The annually held competition is open to all University of Iowa students serious about starting and growing a business. Student presenters will have the opportunity to pitch their idea to a group of business professionals and receive feedback.

There are two days of competition, with the early stage companies pitching the first day and the companies with more traction pitching the second day.

“In addition to the competition, the university is having a workshop this Friday for students go over the rule and best practices on how to pitch,” said Lynn Allendorf, Director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. “And then we’re also, the week after that, having practice sessions so students can come in and sit down with an SBDC counselor or someone on the JPEC staff and practice their pitches.”

A total of $50,000 in cash prizes will be awarded throughout the two-day competition, $10,000 on the first day and $40,000 on the second day.

Prize money is intended to be used to support the business, not the individual. Winners on Day 2 may be required to complete a high-level plan for how the money will be used. Leaders of Iowa JPEC  will be following up with winners to ensure and enable the effective use of the seed capital. For some of the larger awards, half of the money may be awarded soon after the competition and the other half awarded after initial milestones are met.

Allendorf told Clay & Milk she expects somewhere between 30 and 50 people to participate in the competition.

Unlike previous years, the competition will now have a broader range of categories in which companies can win prizes.

“In year’s past, we’ve had 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. We feel like we’ve been too focused on high-growth, high-opportunity businesses,” Allendorf said. “This year, we’re adding other categories like best social impact business and best lifestyle business so we can be more inclusive of all types of businesses.”

The deadline to register for the competition is Monday, November 5.

Rose Francis Elevator Competition set for November 13-14 | 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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