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Middle Bit: N-Sense receives $225,000 National Science Foundation grant

Ames-based agtech startup N-Sense has been awarded a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant will allow N-Sense to conduct research and development work on developing a field mobile soil nitrate sensor for precision fertilizer management.

“N-Sense offers a unique solution that would enable farmers to measure nitrates in real-time, on-the-go and apply nitrogen only where it is needed,” said Dr. David Laird, President and co-founder of N-Sense in an announcement. “It is estimated that our system would result in a $10-$50 per acre savings for farmers, and a cleaner environment for all.”

The technology behind N-Sense is based on mid-infrared sensor technology and was developed by a team of scientists at Iowa State University. N-Sense’s soil sensor system can be attached to nitrogen fertilizer applicators and used to regulate nitrogen fertilizer application rates as the applicator moves through a field.

The SBIR Phase I project will allow N-Sense to demonstrate the feasibility of building a field-mobile soil nitrate sensor.

Having been awarded a Phase I SBIR grant, N-Sense is now eligible to apply for a Phase II grant of up to $750,000.

Technology and Innovation Showcase

The Emerge Foundation and Launchpad65 are hosting an Innovation & Technology Showcase on Tuesday, February 26 from 2:00-4:00 in Hubbell Hall at the Simpson College Kent Center. 

The free event will spotlight several technologies and faculty-led STEM projects both at Simpson College and in the greater Indianola business community.

The event will consist of networking with researchers, a series of 10-15 minute presentations and individual project Q&A time.

Following Indianola Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting and social event highlighting how LaunchPad65 and The Emerge Foundation are supporting local entrepreneurship will follow from 4:30-6:00.

 Following this event will be a ribbon cutting and reception for LaunchPad65 from 4:30-6:00.

What else is happening?


LandscapeHub, founded in 2017 and based in Prairie View, Illinois, closed a $5.16 million venture deal with undisclosed investors on February 1. The company provides a B2Bmarketplace for the nursery and landscape industry aimed at solving procurement inefficiencies. The platform offers computer and mobile access to a large network of wholesale suppliers across the country including nurseries, distributors, manufacturers, and brokers. -Silicon Prairie News


Green Dot Bioplastics, an Emporia, Kansas-based material science company, closed a $6.5m Series A funding round. The round was led by Fulcrum Global Capital with participation from Open Prairie through its Open Prairie Rural Opportunities Fund and iiM (Innovations in Motion). The company intends to use the funds to accelerate organic growth, develop and commercialize new bioplastic products and uses, and invest in new IP and capabilities. -FinSMEs

Middle Bit: N-Sense receives $225,000 National Science Foundation grant | 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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