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Entrepreneurs around the state step up to fill need for medical equipment

Sul Huq, along with three other Des Moines-based entrepreneurs — Julien Duhautois, Tim Vastine and Camille Renee — are racing to get medical equipment ordered from overseas to medical workers as the coronavirus pandemic drains supplies around the country.

So far the group has rounded up a large amount of washable surgical gowns and KN95 masks that we can get delivered over the next few weeks.

“My family owns a government factory in Bangladesh that makes washable surgical gowns and we got started there,” said Huq. “They have a whole bunch of other factories they can work with right now because no one has business.”

Since starting the project, the group has began working with a factory in China to get masks ordered as well.

“It’s all been through word of mouth at this point. We just told a few people in hospitals and it took off from there,” said Huq. “Every single person in the medical space needs this stuff.”

Huq says he does not have an exact estimate date as for when supplies will arrive as it will largely depend on the number of medical supplies ordered.

Eastern Iowa group is 3D printing face shields for hospitals

Photo by Eric Engelmann.

Meanwhile, another group in Eastern Iowa—organized by Eric Engelmann of NewBoCo and others—has begun prototyping basic face shield designs that can be produced on 3D printers. 

The informal group began printing prototypes on 40 3D printers across the state on Sunday afternoon on Sunday afternoon, according to a Facebook post by Engelmann. Many of the printers being used were provided by the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

Yesterday, the group delivered six shields of three variants to a healthcare organization for feedback.

The work has been assisted through volunteer efforts by many in the community, and early donations of roughly $3,000, Engelmann told the Corridor Business Journal in an interview.

The group’s efforts come after late last week when the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, along with other hospitals around the state, put out a plea for donations of new or used protective face shields for its employees.

At Clay & Milk, we want to tell stories about the many ways entrepreneurs and startups are stepping up to combat coronavirus. Fill out this form to tell us your story and we will be in touch.

Entrepreneurs around the state step up to fill need for medical equipment | 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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