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Middle Bit: ISU’s Innovation Pitch awards $17,000 to student entrepreneurs

Last night, Iowa State University’s John Pappajohn Center capped off a month full of business pitch competitions with its annual Innovation Pitch.

This year, 26 student-finalists competed at last night’s Innovation Pitch competition at Memorial Union in Ames. Student entrepreneurs from all seven colleges at Iowa State competed head-to-head for $17,000 in cash prizes.

Here are the winners from last night’s competition:

Existing Business Idea

  • First Place – Alexander Dill ($5,000)
  • Second Place – John Hatfield ($2,500)
  • Third Place – Benjamin Grote and Anthony Ward ($1,000)

New Business Idea

  • First Place – Charles Cremault ($5,000)
  • Second Place – Shawana Tabassum ($2,500)
  • Third Place – Emily Braun ($1,000)

Click here for more photo highlights of the competition

SPEAKER Lineup announced for YEC 2020

The speaker lineup for this year’s Young Entrepreneur Convention has been announced.

Set to take place on Saturday, April 4, the 5th anniversary of the Young Entrepreneur Convention will offer insight and tools presented by established, successful founders to aid new entrepreneurs and aspiring founders in the wild world of startups.

Here are the speakers that will be speaking at the convention:

  • Nico Aguilar, co-founder of Speeko
  • Kerty Levy, Managing Director of Techstars Iowa
  • Eric Engelmann, Founder of NewBoCO
  • Michael Guerin, Program Manager of Smart Docklands Dublin
  • Nivi Achanta, Founder and CEO of Soapbox Project
  • Alyx-Coble Frakes, CEO and Founder of The Agenda. Period
  • Dr. Erik Reis, Founder and CEO of Shift
  • Chipper Bro Bell, Founder of Surfclass

Terraoak launches Kickstarter campaign for Genesys Cooker

Cedar Valley-based Terraoak has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund “Genesys,” its patented and portable cookstove that significantly reduces smoke and also converts waste-heat energy into electricity output through a USB outlet. 

To date, the Kickstarter campaign has raised $8,983 of its $10,000. The campaign will end on Saturday, March 7.

Click here to learn more about the product or to contribute to the campaign.

Middle Bit: ISU's Innovation Pitch awards $17,000 to student entrepreneurs | 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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