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Iowa Innovation Challenge awards $81,000 to UI startups

The first phase of the University of Iowa’s (UI) new Iowa Innovation Challenge took place earlier this week and awarded a total of $81,000 to 27 different startups.

The three-day competition was split into two different sections—one for undergraduate students and an other for UI graduate students, faculty and staff. In total, 65 different UI businesses pitched their ideas as a part of the elevator pitch competition.

CartilaGen was the biggest winner of the competition, taking home $20,000 for winning the faculty, staff and graduate student portion of the competition. CartilaGen is a medtech startup that is developing an intra-articular injection of a drug capable of preventing post-traumatic osteoarthritis. In September, the company came in second place at the Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition and received a $25,000 prize.

The Iowa Innovation Challenge will award over $225,000 over the course of the 2019-2020 school year. The second phase of the competition will be a Business Model Competition held in spring 2020 and will award $150,000 in additional prizes.

Below is a list of the startups that took home prize money from this week’s competition. You can find out more about each businesses and its team at the following link.

Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students, and Incubator Startup Awards

Best Technology:
  • 1st Place, $20,000 | CartilaGen
  • 2nd Place, $10,000 | Pani Clean
  • 3rd Place, $5,000 | Juggernaut Life Sciences/ArtuDetu

Best Non-Technology:

  • 1st Place, $5,000 | VerdiLife
  • 2nd Place, $3,000 | No Limbits
  • 3rd Place, $2,000 | Apollo

Additional Awards:

  • Best Pitch – $2,000 | Comigo
  • Best Social Impact – $2,000 | Iowa Mobile Clinic
  • Judges Choice – $1,000 | CartilaGen 

Undergraduate Student Awards

Best Technology:
  • 1st Place, $5,000 | Body Betty
  • 2nd Place, $2,500 | HeadsIn
  • 3rd Place, $1,000 | Assistance Tech

Best Non-Technology:

  • 1st Place, $5,000 | Funny Nuggets
  • 2nd Place, $2,500 | Franklin
  • 3rd Place, $1,000 | Wanderlust Wraps

Best Pitch:

  • 1st Place, $1,000 | Wanderlust Wraps
  • 2nd Place, $500 | FEM Power
  • 3rd Place, $250 | Level Up Sports

Best Social Impact:

  • 1st Place, $1,000 | Palate Pal
  • 2nd Place, $500 | Ethi-Gal
  • 3rd Place, $250 | Kimik Sustainable Solutions

Best Lifestyle Business:

  • 1st Place, $1,000 | Golden Gloss Auto
  • 2nd Place, $500 | Hawkeye Outdoor Maintenance Enterprise
  • 3rd Place, $250 | Schneider Custom Designs

Best Retail Business:

  • 1st Place, $1,000 | Wanderlust Wraps
  • 2nd Place, $500 | FEM Power
  • 3rd Place, $250 | Sugar Fiend Sweets

Judges Choice:

  • $1,000 | Asonus Tech
  • $1,000 | Amateur Caddie
Keith A Starman Entrepreneurship Awards:
  • $2,500 | Avarupt
  • $2,500 | FEM Power 

Previous coverage

New Iowa Innovation Challenge will award $225,000 in funding -Oct. 16, 2019

Iowa Innovation Challenge awards $81,000 to UI startups | 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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