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Jefferson takes big leap forward with opening of Forge

It was a big day in Jefferson on Saturday as the community celebrated the launch of the first rural Forge, a tech training center designed to help grown and retain tech talent in rural Iowa.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, executives from Accenture and other state and national business leaders spoke at the Jefferson Community Center to celebrate the grand opening and some of the major partnerships for the Jefferson project.

“The forge that we’re celebrating today provides more than just a home for innovation,” said Reynolds. “It is truly is a launchpad for careers. It’s a hub for lifelong learning and it’s a model for small towns all across this state and across our country.”

The opening of Jefferson’s Forge is just part of a larger coalition focused on bringing tech jobs to Greene County.

In addition to opening a new Forge in Jefferson, Pillar Technology will be launching a software development training program in collaboration with Greene County Community School District and local community colleges.

Students that go through the program will enroll in fourth months of tuition-free software development training provided by Accenture and designed to prepare rural area students for high-demand, software development jobs in Iowa.

“If we can do this in Jefferson, Iowa, why can’t we replicate this around the country, around the state and other rural communities,” said Khanna. “This is how we’re going to lead the 21st century. This is how we’re going to make sure America stays ahead in technology.”

U.S. Representative Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, speaks to a crowd of nearly 400 at the Jefferson Community Center, Saturday, Sept. 7.

In June, Corteva Agriscience announced plans to fund 25 scholarships for students in DMACC’s Computer Languages program. Safura Kahn, a student from Glidden, is the program’s first scholarship recipient. Kahn is hoping to learn new software and technology skills that will propel her into a career in engineering.

In addition to a partnership with DMACC and Corteva, Jefferson has partnered with The Tech Interactive, a science and technology center in San Jose, California. The Tech Interactive conducted the first of several professional development seminars with 52 teachers in Greene County’s K-12 schools back in June. The Tech specializes in “design challenge learning,” a combination of project-based learning and engineering design that helps students develop the problem-solving skills necessary for 21st century jobs.

The list of Jefferson’s tech partners within the initiative continued to grow Saturday night, when Facebook announced plans to provide student digital marketing scholarships for DMACC students.

Previous coverage

Pillar Technology connects with Silicon Valley leaders to bring tech jobs to Jefferson -Dec. 10, 2018

Corteva partners with Accenture to provide scholarships in rural Iowa -June 6, 2019

Startup Pitch Day at Jefferson Forge will award $25k to a local startup -Aug. 27, 2019

Jefferson takes big leap forward with opening of Forge | 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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