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Substrate Games develops game-based learning app for chemistry students

Substrate Games, a spinout company from Iowa State University that builds educational software, has developed a game-based learning app for students learning organic chemistry.

The app, Mol Chemistry, seeks to make understanding fundamental concepts of organic chemistry engaging by offering learning exercises within the app. Throughout each exercise, users gain points for each correct selection, allowing them to move on to the next exercise.

“Our whole goal is to leverage our game-based learning expertise and our scientific visualization skills and really try to create something that is much more intuitive and engaging,” said Will Schneller, CEO and co-founder of Substrate Games

In 2017, Substrate Games received a $225,000 SBIR grant from the National Institute of Health giving them the funds to develop the app.

“Within the app itself, there are no videos and very little text,” Schneller said. “It’s all game-based exercises. Basically, what we did is we’re going through all of organic chemistry, taking each individual concept, and building game-based exercises from that. The goal is for these to be smaller, microlearning environments where a student can pick it up and play it for 5-15 minutes and really get a different perspective on the subject matter.”

The app launched in March of 2018 and is currently available on IOS and Android products for $4.99.

Going forward, Substrate Games plans on expanding its game-based learning platform into other subjects.

“We’ve tried to build the framework in a flexible and scalable way,” Schneller said. “Really our intent is to provide a comprehensive toolset for any student who’s going to be a pre-med or pre-health student.”

Substrate Games develops game-based learning app for chemistry students | 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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