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Innova Memphis invests in Iowa companies as it expands its focus to agtech

Innova Memphis, an early-stage investment firm based in Memphis, Tenessee, has recently widened its scope and has begun investing in agtech companies with its most recent fund.

Innova announced last year that it had closed on Innova Ag Innovation Fund IV, a new fund that focuses solely on agtech companies. The $31 million fund will focus on early-stage investments anchored in rural America and will work with various national farm organizations and other partners to identify, enable and accelerate companies with high growth potential in the rapidly expanding agtech sector.

Since announcing the Ag Innovation Fund, the firm has invested in four Iowa companies: Agrisync, Rantizo, SwineTech and Tractor Zoom.

“When I brought our ag partner on board, he traveled to a lot of major universities and cities to see where we see a deep concentration of agricultural technology companies,” said Ken Woody, Founder and President of Innova Memphis.” And with a doubt, Iowa rose to the forefront pretty quickly. So we’ve spent a lot of time out there and what we’ve found is that most of the companies out of Iowa are had and shoulders above other companies across the country.”

Innova Memphis invests anywhere from $100,000 to $3 million in a company and its funds run between 8 and 10 years, Woody told Clay & Milk.

“Typically, we’ll invest around half a million,” Woody said. “We don’t usually invest by ourselves. We like to find other angel investors or firms to invest along with us.”

Woody says that he expects to continue to work with and invest in Iowa companies going forward.

“We have just found it a real joy to deal with companies out of Iowa,” Woody said. “It helps a lot when you have people that grew up on a farm. When you can take a technology and drive 30 minutes from your office and have it in the hands of farmers who use it, it’s a whole lot more valuable than trying to work with someone in a large city. So for us, that whole Iowa connection has been a real blessing that we hope to keep going.”

Innova Memphis invests in Iowa companies as it expands its focus to agtech | 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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