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Zach Kowalik wins Pitch Competition at YEC19

30 startups pitched during the Young Entrepreneur Convention 2019 (YEC19) last Thursday in hopes of taking home the top prize.

Here were the six finalists that made it to the final of the pitch competition:

  • Cherie Edilson pitched an online marketplace that specifically targets small businesses in local communities and makes them more competitive.
  • Dillon Hurd pitched Freedom Invest, a scalable investment company that is more accessible to the millennial generation.
  • Shelby Smith pitched a model that allows people to raise crickets and become educated on how to enter the growing market.
  • Zach Kowalik pitched Quick Covers, a business that treats car rust by using plastic covers at a fraction of the cost of traditional rust repair methods.
  • Isabel Reed pitched Comigo, a platform to connect students with each other for their projects.
  • Zachary Ware-Joncas pitched Leah Labs, a startup focused on cancer treatment methods for dogs rather than traditional chemotherapy regimens.

For the final portion of the pitch competition, each of the six finalists took the main stage and had 90 seconds to pitch their businesses, followed by a 2 minute Q&A.

Following the pitches, the three judges decided on the top three teams. First place was given to Zach Kowalik. Second Place was given to Shelby Smith. And third place was given to Zachary Ware-Joncas.

Other highlights from YEC19

Micheael Lawrence, BluJaket

Michael Lawrence was this year’s Alumni Keynote. Lawrence was a Pitch Competition Finalist at last year’s YEC. His company, BluJaket, is a mobile app that offers geo-targeted coupons.

Ryan Gerhardy, Pitchly

Ryan Gerhardy talked about his journey building Pitchly and shared his thoughts on what to do and what not to do when building a startup.

“Startups don’t fail, founders quit hustling. If you stop caring, then your business will die,” Gerhardy told the crowd.

Entrepreneurial Resources in Ames Panel

To kickoff, the afternoon was a panel discussing the entrepreneurial resources that exist in Ames and at Iowa State University for young entrepreneurs.

The four panelists — Kevin Kimle, Judi Eyles, Bill Adamowski and Diana Wright — shared information about several local resources within the Ames community including Iowa State Research Park, ISU Startup Factory, CYstarters and 1MC Ames.

Fireside Chat with Monika Black and Tomer Yogev

The final event of the night was a fireside with Monika Black and Tomer Togev, cofounders of TandemSpring. The two addressed the subject of mental health within the startup community.

“Knowing your failures, speaking your failures and speaking about your failures to your employees so they can see themselves in those failures, is hugely important,” said Yogev.

Zach Kowalik wins Pitch Competition at YEC19 | 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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