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Launch It College Games helps student entrepreneurs develop their ideas

Launch It College Games, a weekend-long event which brings college students, from all areas of study, together to experience the entrepreneurial culture, took place this weekend at Makerspace in Sioux City

“It started because we had done startup weekend and startup games and wanted to continue to offer that to the students in our community, but neither of those were available to us this year and so we still wanted to fulfill that experience so we started Launch it College Games to fill that gap,” said John Engel, organizer of the event and Lecturer for John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa.

Friday night instructors worked with students to identify business needs that will have an impact. Students then pitched those ideas to their classmates and formed teams around the top four ideas.

The final four business ideas were:

  • a platform that allows workers to trained for safety in their native language by a native speaker
  • a smart garment that uses technology to address healthcare problems
  • an online platform for foreign exchange students to learn about U.S. culture
  • a youth program that uses auto mechanics and gaming to teach youth life skills

On Saturday, each team spent the bulk of the day researching and discovering information that pertained to their business idea, conducting customer discovery, refining their idea to create a minimal viable product and beginning to prepare for final pitches on Sunday evening.

“I had to kick everyone out of the building at 12:30 at night,” Engel said. “They wanted to continue to work all night long. They were driven through the whole weekend and really cool to see.”

On Sunday, each team tailored its final pitch before presenting to a panel of judges in the afternoon.

Local business owners and community members acted as mentors and coaches for the teams throughout the weekend.

Launch It College Games was a part of Sioux City Launch Week, a week-long initiative with a wide range of events aimed toward engaging northwest Iowa’s entrepreneurial community and building a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“There’s a lot of really cool things happening in Sioux City around entrepreneurship,” Engel said. “A lot that has to do with the support of Iowa’s West Coast Initiative and the Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce in Sioux City.”

Launch It College Games helps student entrepreneurs develop their ideas | 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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