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Speeko awarded $25,000 at Startup Pitch Day in Jefferson

Four startups gathered at the Forge in Jefferson on Tuesday evening for the chance to win $25,000.

30 people applied for the Startup Pitch Day and four finalists pitched their ideas and products to a panel of three judges: Sands, along with Ben Milne, the founder and CEO of Dwolla; and Ryan Broshar, founder and managing partner of Matchstick Ventures. 

The winner of the pitch competition was Nico Augilar for his company Speeko.

Speeko is a smartphone app that uses artificial intelligence and automated speech recognition to listen to how you speak, measuring a variety of metrics including words used and pacing to see if you sound professional. The app then gives you coaching specifically tailored to how you can best improve your speaking skills.

Speeko’s app launched last October at TechStars Demo Day and already has tens of thousands of users in over 160 countries. The app offers a free tier for users and a paid subscription tier that provides more advanced analytics.

Aguilar is a 2014 University of Iowa graduate with a master’s degree in healthcare administration and policy. He said he will use the $25,000 toward further development of the app and make it available for Android phones.

The three other finalists included: Sean McKay with Handrail, a supportive platform for research data collection; Brad Dwyer with Roboflow, a computer platform that makes everyday objects interactive; and Mahdi Eghbali with VerdiLife, a bio-mass converter to turn feed stock items into organic fertilizers and pesticides.   

Previous coverage

Speeko is using technology to create better public speakers -Jan. 22, 2019

Jefferson takes big leap forward with opening of Forge -Sept. 9, 2019

Speeko awarded $25,000 at Startup Pitch Day in Jefferson | 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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