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Rick Sanders has big plans for the future of ISU Research Park

Three months into his position, and Iowa State University Research Park president Rick Sanders is embracing big ideas as the Research Park enters its next phase of development.

Sanders was named president of ISU Research Park in early May and took over the position June 1. Following a nationwide search, Sanders succeeded long-time president Steve Carter, who retired in December.

As president, Sanders inherited the 400+ acre Research Park that has more than 703,000 square feet of current building space and a legacy of innovation and growth from Carter. Carter, who served as the Research Park president for 18 of its 31 years, grew employment at the park from 930 jobs to nearly 3,000 and hosted 179 companies throughout his tenure.

“If you compare us to any other research park, we’ve got some strengths that others don’t have. and for many research parks, we’re kind of the model they’d like to follow, and that’s all a credit and attributable to Steve Carter,” said Sanders. “He left this place with a great foundation and our opportunities based on that foundation I think are almost limitless.”

Going forward, Sanders says he plans for the park to hone in on two key areas: agtech and biorenewables.

“Right now, there is a not a recognized worldwide center of gravity for all things agtech innovation and then, separately, for all things biorenewable,” said Sanders. “I think when we get a decade down the road, we’re going to be able to look back and some place is going to have solidified their position in those two spaces. And as lofty as it sounds, I want us to be that spot. I want all of Iowa to be that hub for all ag-related innovation worldwide and for the next generation of biorenewables.”

Unlike most research parks, ISU’s is centered around three different building model possibilities: research park-developed-and-owned buildings, company-developed-and-owned properties and a hybrid option where an outside developer works with the research park to develop the building to be leased.

“We are the only research park that I’m aware of that has the multiple models we have for growth,” said Sanders. “I think that gives us a flexibility that most don’t have.”

Sanders says the ISU Research Park isn’t limited to providing positive economic development benefits to just Ames and Story County.

“The reality is, already today, we have a huge impact all over the state but we don’t ever talk about it,” said Sanders. “We’re ‘Iowa nice’ and don’t talk about some of those successes we have. And while our geographic reality is right here in Ames we need to talk more about the true impact that we have beyond just the 2100 jobs that we have right here because he have a lot more impact.”

Recent growth

Since Sanders began the position just three months ago, the Research Park has already seen several changes, opening up multiple new facilities within the park:

Ames City Council approves ISU Research Park Phase IV

The Ames City Council recently approved Phase IV for the Iowa State University Research Park expansion.

Phase IV of the Research Park expansion will be comprised of approximately 32 acres of land for development, with the first additions of Phase IV creating six lots and one outlot for future development on 3898 University Blvd. and 3499 South Riverside Drive.

John Deere Technology Innovation Center

John Deere recently opened a new lab at the Research Park. It is the company’s second lab connected to a major university in the United States.

The new test center will allow increased collaboration with ISU faculty and students. In 2017, Deere opened a strategic technology innovation center in the ISU Research Park to collaborate with the company’s business units and complement John Deere’s global network of technology and innovation centers. Some employees from that center will be located in the new building when it is completed.

The new 33,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility will mainly be used to test and work on Deere’s sprayer technology.

Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor

Opened on June 28, the Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor (TELC), a 37-acre park that lies in the heart of the ISU Research Park, is Story County’s effort to intertwine conservation and commerce.

TELC is named after former Ames mayor and businessman Ted Tedesco. Development of the park was done in three phases and cost $4.5 million.

The park’s features include stream access and wetland boardwalk, water quality improvement demonstrations and trails to Ames and solar-powered stations.

Rick Sanders has big plans for the future of ISU Research Park | 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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