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Ag Startup Engine invests in ClearFlame Engines

Ag Startup Engine has made an initial seed investment in Chicago-based ClearFlame Engines.

This is the ninth startup Ag Startup Engine has invested in since its formation in 2016 and is the first company to receive funding located outside of Iowa.

ClearFlame has developed a combustion system that can achieve a higher power output with lower emissions of soot, smog and carbon dioxide.

“The ClearFlame technology can replace traditional Diesel engines across a range of applications, but there is particularly strong synergy between ethanol and the agriculture sector that has us very excited to work with Ag Startup Engine,” said BJ Johnson, CEO of ClearFlame in the announcement.

Using Ag Startup Engine funding and government grants, ClearFlame plans to bring their technology to market, and currently hiring VPs of Engineering and Business Development to grow the company.

“BJ and Julie have made considerable progress in developing ClearFlame’s technology and their move to the Midwest from California is fortuitous,” said Joel Harris, Co-director of Ag Startup Engine. “There are significant synergies with Iowa State University and Iowa’s renewable fuels businesses. ClearFlame has demonstrated skill at attracting research funding to continue pre-revenue work. BJ and Julie also demonstrate skill as both technologists and entrepreneurs and have surrounded themselves with impressive advisers.”

Over the next year, Ag Startup Engine plans to add two to six more agriculture technology startups to their portfolio.

Previous coverage

Leah Laboratories receives seed investment from Ag Startup Engine -Jan. 16, 2019

Tractor Zoom receives $25,000 investment from Ag Startup Engine -July 31, 2018

Ag Startup Engine makes second $25,000 investment in FarmlandFinder –July 11, 2018

Ag Startup Engine invests in Automed –July 10, 2018

Ag Startup Engine invests in ClearFlame Engines | 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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