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Fluent: A new approach to supporting startups

After working closely with startups and founders for two years as the Managing Director of NMotion, a startup accelerator in Lincoln, Beth McKeon came to the conclusion that the entire startup support industry needed to evolve.

So in 2018, she founded Fluent.

Fluent is self-described as an “entrepreneurial training R&D lab for community-based startup programs.”

“I started Fluent with the hypothesis that organizations like NMotion needed ways to help founders in more comprehensive ways,” McKeon said. “And I explored some of those ideas while in Nebraska but I really wanted to see what it looks like in other regions and running tests with more founders than just one cohort a year. I spent all of 2018 working with accelerators and communities all over the country. That experience really informed the evolution of the business to what it is today.”

Before working at NMotion, McKeon founded Kids Calendar, a local resource guide for parents that shows events and programs, classes and local services. Kids Calendar was one of ten companies to take part in the 2014 Iowa Startup Accelerator.

Fluent helps accelerators, incubators, coworking spaces and university programs by offering development, coaching and workshops for startup founders and entrepreneurs.

Fluent has also developed a new diagnostic tool that helps measure startup progress and risk called Fluency Score. The Fluency Score measures and evaluates startup progress by determining eligibility for investment, access to community sources and potential return on investment.

“When a community partners with Fluent what they get is the ability to keep their systems and their structures, but within that, they can work with Fluent to provide this much more comprehensive founder training and support,” McKeon said. “We make it possible for communities to support founders year-round in a really personalize, hyper-targeted way. That way founders aren’t sitting through workshops they don’t need, they’re getting exactly what they need when they need it.”

Keevin O’Rourke recently joined the Fluent team after spending the last 18 months working with accelerators around the world at the Global Accelerator Network in Denver. O’Rourke served as Program Manager of NMotion and is also a graduate of the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see how accelerators are thinking about the world and operating. I’ve also had the opportunity to hear some of the challenges they face, some of which can be pretty pervasive,” O’Rourke said.

“The reality is that founders need help year round and they need really specific help for the challenges of the stage of their business at a current moment in time,” McKeon added. “There’s plenty of accelerators that can pull applicants from all over the world. But what we’re interested in at Fluent is ‘what does it look like for a community to support their local founders and make it possible for them to be successful.'”

Starting this summer, the University of Northern Iowa’s student accelerator will be teaming up with Fluent.

“I’m actually a graduate of UNI which makes this parntership a little bit more special,” O’Rourke said. “I think UNI faces a similar problem that a lot of these communities face. They have limited resources and they know their capabilities and what they want founder to get out of the program.”

In addition to starting Fluent, McKeon also wrote a book where she covers major challenges that startup communities face around the country. The book, 10 out of 10, is set to release this spring. You can download the first chapter here.

Fluent: A new approach to supporting startups | 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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