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Middle Bit: Farm Bureau will award $145,000 in 2020 innovation challenge

The American Farm Bureau Innovation Challenge will give out $145,000 in prizes to 10 different startups. The challenge, which began in 2015, was the first national competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs. 

The 10 semifinalists will be announced on Nov. 22 and all of them will be invited for an all-expense-paid trip to the AFBF’s Annual Convention in Austin in January. Each semifinalist will also be awarded $10,000.

The 10 teams will compete to advance to the final round where four teams will receive an additional $5,000 and compete live on stage in front of Farm Bureau members, investors and industry representatives. The final four teams will compete to win an additional $15,000. 

The funds for the challenge are provided by Farm Credit, John Deere, Bayer Crop Science, Farm Bureau Bank and County Financial.

WorkHound named 2019 Chattanooga Startup of the Year

WorkHound, a real-time feedback platform for front-line workers, won the top prize at the StartupWeek awards celebration in Chattanooga last night.

The Des Moines-based company that expanded to Chattanooga in 2016 has grown to serve more than 20,000 workers was recognized as the 2019 Startup of the Year business in Chattanooga.

In June, the company announced that it had completed a fundraising seed round of $1.5 million to help grow the its technology team and support its expansion into the logistics space and additional industries.

Initially, the company focused on the trucking space since driver turnover is a large problem across the trucking industry. Now, as WorkHound grows, the company is planning rollout into additional sectors, such as non-hospital healthcare, that feature large distributed workforces.

Small Business Administration offering entrepreneurship training program for veterans

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is hosting an entrepreneurship training session next month for veterans, National Guard members.

The train sessions will cover the fundamentals of business ownership, key steps for evaluating business concepts, developing business plans, connecting with local resources and launching small business.

The training session, titled “Boots to Business: Reboot,” will be hosted by the SBA Iowa District Office and the Veterans Business Resource Center with the cooperation of the University of Dubuque. The session will feature presentations by SBA resource partners, including SCORE, America’s SBDC – Iowa (the Small Business Development Centers), and small business owners.

This session is scheduled for Nov. 7 from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the University of Dubuque in Cedar Rapids.

The first session will be followed up with an eight-week Foundations of Entrepreneurship online training course presented by a consortium of professors and skilled business advisors from the SBA network, Syracuse University and Mississippi State University.  

Click here to register for the “Boots to Business: Reboot” class, and for notification of future veterans training and events.

Middle Bit: Farm Bureau will award $145,000 in 2020 innovation challenge | 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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