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Meet Nicole Cook, GIA’s new Managing Director

The Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA) announced last week Nicole Cook as its new Managing Director.

Cook will take over full time after current Brian Hemesath, the current Managing Director, steps down from his role on May 1, after the conclusion of the 2019 cohort. Leading up to May 1, Cook will work along with Hemesath and Program Manager Megan Brandt.

“A lot of my energy right now is taking full advantage of getting to work with Brian to really understand how he’s run the program so far on a day-to-day basis,” Cook said. “One of the areas I’m excited about is my ability to work with and advise the cohort companies in the program. This week I’ve spent a lot of time with them one-on-one to understand what they’re goals and milestones are for the program and how I can contribute.”

GIA is currently in the middle of its fifth cohort of 10 startups, the most amount of companies the accelerator has had in a single cohort.

“How we think about the growth of the GIA is definitely something I want to continue to think about,” said Cook. “I’m not sure bringing in more and more companies every year is the solution to create the value that startups are getting out of being here. The first part of the program that just finished was this highly intensive mentor time. More mentors are good and we’ll focus on that but the right ones to really match the needs of the startups will be an important focus.”

GIA has a lot of areas where it can continue to expand and make progress, Cook told Clay & Milk.

“There’s a lot of strengths to build on. One of the areas that I think is an opportunity for us is to figure how we continue to support the companies through fundraising processes if that’s the path that they go down,” Cook said. “That has occurred, but it’s an additional area of both my experience as well as what’s continuing to evolve throughout the Midwest from a Venture Capital perspective. That’s one area where you might see some additional focus.”

Cook says a strong focus of hers will be continuing to support startups after they’ve completed the 100-day accelerator.

“I am really excited about our great group of cohort alumni,” Cook said. “After this current cohort, we’ll have five years of alumni companies and the opportunity to really create a community for them that they can continue to come back to.”

Prior to starting at GIA, Cook worked as the Chief Operating Officer of Speeko and the Vice President of Sales and Strategy at Dwolla. Cook also has experience as a seed stage investor, serving as a managing partner of Five Island Ventures Partnership.

“When I look at my ability and previous experience, it will allow me to really understand how to work with these founding teams through some of their early stages,” Cook said. “How do they think about product-market fit? How do they discover their customer base? Having lived inside of what’s happening inside of fintech at Dwolla, which is also happening in insurtech—it’s a new lens I bring, having that experience.”

Previous coverage

Global Insurance Accelerator announces ten teams for 2019 cohort -Jan. 9, 2019

Global Insurance Accelerator: Eight companies take the demo day stage -April 26, 2018

Meet Nicole Cook, GIA's new Managing Director | 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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