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Des Moines natives launch app to help track COVID-19

Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann has partnered with Feng Zhang of MIT’s McGovern Institute, along with many other leading doctors and scientists to launch a new app called “How We Feel”, which allows Americans to self-report how they’re feeling, healthy or not.

The app prompts people to self-report their age, gender, zip code and any health symptoms. Health check-ins take less than a minute, but they could help researchers reveal outbreak hotspots and save lives. This data then goes to a group of scientists from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Penn and other schools studying the disease.

“Aggregate data is securely shared with researchers, scientists and public health professionals. The data can help predict new outbreaks, identify at-risk populations, and better understand the efficacy of public health measures,” wrote Silbermann in a Facebook post announcing the app. “Self-reported data is especially valuable right now because of the lack of widespread testing.”

The first time someone downloads the app and completes a health check-in, How We Feel will donate a meal to people in need through Feeding America — for up to 10 million meals.

Silbermann and Zhang are both Des Moines natives and longtime friends. The two are former high school classmates, both having graduated from Des Moines’ Roosevelt High School.

The How We Feel app is available for download today in the U.S. on iOS and Android, and through the web at

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.

Des Moines natives launch app to help track COVID-19 | 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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