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Middle Bit: HNI Corporation gives $1 million to ISU for Student Innovation Center

HNI Corporation of Muscatine, Iowa, has announced a $1 million commitment to Iowa State University that will help finance the university’s Student Innovation Center.

Funded through the Iowa Legislature and private gifts, the new innovation center will be a flagship facility of Iowa State’s commitment to innovation, entrepreneurship and experiential education. Construction began in March 2017, with completion anticipated for Spring 2020.

The 140,000-square-foot building will become a hub for projects, where students can collaborate across a wide range of disciplines. Students from all of Iowa State’s undergraduate colleges will be able to use the Student Innovation Center, which will accommodate individual and group activities, capstone projects, classes and co-curricular activities. 

The facility will offer resources for planning, designing and making, including fabrication spaces for electronics, metals, wood, textiles and other media; collaboration space, meeting rooms, breakout spaces and open study areas; and offices for student organizations and onsite Student Innovation Center administration. With the university’s strong programs in entrepreneurship, students will have the potential to take an idea from starting concept to start-up business at Iowa State. 

What else is happening?


Chicago based Trala, founded in 2016, raised $1.26 million in seed funding from Origin Ventures, Techstars, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Luis Von Ahn (CEO at language-learning app Duolingo), Bob Meese (VP of Business at Duolingo) and Severin Hacker (CTO at Duolingo), on December 12. -Silicon Prairie News


Understory, a Madison startup whose ultra-local weather sensors can tell if a hailstorm that pelted your roof or a downpour that flooded your street left damage in its wake, is heading into a year of explosive growth. Understory generates real-time weather data for use by insurance companies, agriculture and emergency government. -Wisconsin State Journal

Previous Coverage

$6 million gift to ISU from Boeing will help fund Innovation Center -Nov. 16, 2018

Middle Bit: HNI Corporation gives $1 million to ISU for Student Innovation Center | 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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