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EnGeniousAg awarded $225,000 Grant from National Science Foundation

Ames-based EnGeniousAg has been awarded a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct research and development on a sensor for monitoring nitrate concentrations in actively growing crop plants.

The grant will support research headed by Principal Investigator and EnGeniousAg Operations Manager Xinran Wang.

“EnGeniousAg is developing microneedle sensors that can be inserted directly into crop plants to measure the amount of nitrate flowing through the plant sap,” Wang said. “The real-time information allows farmers to incorporate the data into decision making, resulting in more precise, and timely, nitrogen fertilizer applications.”

Wang said by monitoring nitrate accumulation within crop plants, farmers will know which fields and which portions of fields are nutrient constrained and could benefit from the application of additional nitrate fertilizer.

Additionally, EnGeniousAg’s nitrate sensors will identify those fields that already have sufficient nitrate. By avoiding the application of unneeded fertilizer farmers can increase their profits and sustainability, she said. 

Wang said traditional methods used to measure stalk nitrate do not provide farmers the rapid feedback realized with EnGeniousAg’s technology.

“Our technology takes a procedure that typically requires from days to more than a week, and delivers results in about a minute. Hence, adoption of EnGeniousAg’s nitrate sensors promise to not only improve farmer profitability, but also water quality and sustainability as farmers reduce agricultural losses of excess nitrogen.”

EnGeniousAg is a member of the Iowa State University Startup Factory’s fifth cohort, a 52-week intensive program at the Iowa State University Research Park that provides an avenue for students, faculty, staff, and community members to create technology-based, platform businesses.

“The ISU Startup Factory program was so helpful in guiding us through the customer discovery process and defining our business opportunities,” Wang said. “In addition, they connected us to other helpful resources, such as Iowa Innovation Corporation, which administers the state’s SBIR/STTR Outreach Program. The people there were extremely helpful during the process of writing the grant proposal. Both programs helped me see things through a business perspective versus an academic or scientific perspective, which are entirely different approaches. Much of the credit for this successful grant application is owed to them.”

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

Previous coverage

Middle Bit: Biotech Innovation Showcase announces 12 showcase companies -March 21, 2019

ISU Startup Factory continues to grow, announces two new cohorts -July 2, 2018

EnGeniousAg awarded $225,000 Grant from National Science Foundation | 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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