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New accelerator will spur growth in Iowa’s edtech sector

Last month, NewBoCo announced a new accelerator program in Iowa City, establishing the Midwest’s first-ever edtech-specific accelerator program.

The new accelerator program—called Iowa EdTech Accelerator—is modeled after NewBoCo’s current Iowa Startup Accelerator (ISA), but will focus only on educational technology.

“Not every sector in Iowa has enough density to have its own programming, dedicated resources, but we think edtech does,” said Engelmann, director of the accelerator. “So part of the idea was to take the general framework of ISA, which we’re really happy with, and apply it through a filter of edtech companies and resources.”

Each cohort will bring together five high-potential entrepreneurs, giving them seed capital, mentoring, coaching, prototyping support, and early corporate customer feedback.

The goal of the accelerator is to grow 25 or more new, high-potential edtech startups in Eastern Iowa over the next five years as part of a larger effort to make Eastern Iowa globally-known for innovation in the education technology sector.

“Iowa has a legacy and history of building companies in the edtech sector for decades,” said Engelmann. “The timing is right for building things there and it’s also a pretty natural extension for the resources that NewBoCo provides 20 miles away. So it’s sort of the perfect opportunity.”

The program will be operated by NewBoCo with mentors and assistance from edtech partners. The accelerator program will run in Iowa City at MERGE Coworking, ACT’s campus and other locations. The program will begin accepting applications this fall and will run in early 2020 in Iowa City.

Partnering with local edtech organizations

The Edtech Accelerator will collaborate with regional business resources and education industry leaders in the state including ACT, Higher Learning Technologies, Iowa City Area Development Group, the University of Iowa, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

“It’s pretty much everyone taking the assets they already have and saying ‘what if we kind of pull the value of all these pieces together,'” said Engelmann. “And then, if there are gaps, we can figure out how best to fill them.”

ACT, one of the accelerator’s partner organizations, has good reasons to collaborate with the Iowa EdTech Accelerator.

Since changing leadership in 2015, the Iowa City-based company has made 11 deals in which it has invested in, acquired or formed strategic partnerships with educational companies. These investments are part of the company’s plan to transform from primarily an assessment-based company to a more multifaceted education solutions company. 

New analysis of Iowa’s edtech sector

Earlier this month, the Iowa Economic Development Authority conducted the first-ever evaluation of Iowa’s EdTech sector. The report found the state’s assets in the EdTech space include a diverse mix of larger mature companies, such as ACT and Higher Learning Technologies as well as several recent startups.

The report looked at the clustering of 28 edtech companies like ACT and McGraw-Hill that employed approximately 3,126 people in the corridor during 2018. The vast majority of the sector is involved in educational assessment and educational content generation. A small part is involved in content visualization and virtual reality systems.

The report concluded that edtech presents a strategic industry cluster for Iowa to pursue for future growth.

“Iowa has the potential to add upward of 1,000 jobs in the EdTech sector over the next five years—but, realizing this opportunity will require a strategic focus on connecting ecosystem organizations and companies, enhancing the piloting and demonstration environment for EdTech in the state, improving the entrepreneurial ecosystem and creating and encouraging workforce development activities,” read the report.

Previous coverage

NewBoCo announces big plans at inaugural Annual Meeting -Sept. 20, 2019

Startup Roundtable examines industry clusters, explores edtech in Iowa –June 12, 2019

ACT makes strategic investments as it continues to expand its scope -Oct. 1, 2018

New accelerator will spur growth in Iowa's edtech sector | 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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