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Iowa-based website is connecting people with needed face masks

An Iowa tech company has created and launched a website designed to help connect the nation with face masks they need during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The website — called “Mask Helpers” — was created by several team members of Des Moines-based company Rocket Referrals and is connecting people in need of non-medical grade, reusable masks with those who are making them. Anyone around the country can visit the website to request a mask, volunteer to make masks, or offer to distribute them.

“Instead of making masks, which is not necessarily our expertise, we made software that can connect people that are making masks with those with those who need them,” said Torey Maerz, CEO of Rocket Referrals.” “Because what we do is make software that connects people together. We have a relationship-building software, so we thought let’s take what we know and apply it.”

Since launching last week, the site has already received more than 1,500 requests come in but they need more mask makers in order for it to work, Maerz told Clay & Milk.

The website also has a section that allows people to donate the materials need for mask making.

“Together we have all the resources needed to make this happen. It’s just pulling everybody together and coordinating it that is the trick,” said Maerz. “If everybody made just five masks, it’d be enough to protect everybody. Its large numbers of people making a few masks rather than relying on a large organization to pump out millions.”

If you think you can help in any way, reach out by visiting

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Iowa-based website is connecting people with needed face masks | 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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