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Middle Bit: LunchSox and HomePainter win the 90 Seconds for $900 Business Pitch Competition

On Tuesday, LunchSox and HomePainter were the winners of the 90 Seconds for $900 Elevator Pitch Competition.

16 students participated in the competition, sharing their entrepreneurial ideas in hopes to win one of two $900 start-up prizes. This was the second annual 90 Seconds for $900 Elevator Pitch Competition and was a part of Agricultural Entrepreneurship Week at Iowa State University

Other events for the week included an agriculture startup showcase, a keynote event on future opportunities in agriculture and a conference on building a more vibrant ecosystem for agricultural entrepreneurs.

Both LunchSox and HomePainters took part in the 2018 cohort of Cystarters, a 10-week program that provides students with financial support, professional resources and educational workshops for startups.

What else is happening?


Travel Labs Inc., a startup that aims to make it easier for corporate travelers to arrange flights and hotel stays, has closed on $500,000 in funding to ramp up product- and business-development efforts. –Minneapolis Business Journal


SimpleRose Inc., a St. Louis-based company closed a $13 million deal on October 15 with undisclosed investors.  The company, founded in 2018 by Xiaolin Gong, Marti Martindale and Carl Ledbetter provides an optimization platform for decision-making. – Silicon Prairie News


Divvy Homes, a real estate startup that allows would-be homeowners to pay a portion of rent while investing equity, has raised $30 million in Series A funding for its rent-to-own platform. The funding round, which will help expand Divvy Homes’ platform in Cleveland, Memphis and Atlanta, was led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.  –Inman

Middle Bit: LunchSox and HomePainter win the 90 Seconds for $900 Business Pitch Competition | 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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