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EntreFEST 2020: Day One Recap

Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons share their unique startup journey

To kick off the conference, the founders of Mixtroz, Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons, shared their unconventional founding journey step-by-step.

Schrader and Ammons are unconventional founders in more ways than one. On top of being a mom-daughter duo, the two are what they call “quad outsiders” — black, female, non-technical, tech entrepreneurs.

“There are less than 50 black females who have ever raised more than $1 million in the United States,” said Ammons.

In 2018, Schrader and Ammons became the thirty-seventh and thirty-eighth black females to do so, raising over $1 million in pre-seed funding for Mixtroz.

Prior to raising capital, Schrader and Ammons had to find a way to build their company with limited capital in resources. At the end of 2017, Mixtroz was accepted into an accelerator based in Birmingham, Alabama.

“This was the accelerator that changed things for us,” said Ammons. “There was a capital infusion on the front end. We got $50,000 into the business so that we could work on the business as opposed to working in the business.”

Then, in April of 2018, the Rise of the Rest Bus Tour announced that it would be coming through Birmingham.

“We threw our hat in the ringer, got selected into the top eight, and then we won that thing,” said Ammons. “And the reason we won that pitch was we knew our audience.”

Mixtroz won $100,000 of what would be a $1 million pre-seed round. It took another six months to raise the other $900,000 for the round.

“Outside of the $100,00 that came from Steve Case, all of the other money came from institutions and investors in Birmingham,” said Ammons.

Q&A with serial entrepreneur Scott Case

Scott Case, founding CTO of, current CEO and co-founder of, and CEO for half a dozen startups over the past 25 years, held a virtual “Ask Me Anything” open to all entrepreneurs navigating the crisis chaos of today.

“I think a lot of entrepreneurs in times of crisis tend to want to shrink down and find a defensive position,” said Case. “That’s not a bad instinct but you can’t stay that way for long.”

“Where is the entrepreneurial ecosystem headed?” Case was asked toward the end of the session.

“I’m unreasonably excited about the opportunities ahead,” said Case. “This is going to be a reset for a lot of businesses. We’re going to start from a new base and I think we can be more diverse and can support more female entrepreneurs and people of color. I think the diversity of working remotely is going to open up places so places like Cedar Rapids can draw talent from anywhere.”

Venture School Launch Day

Venture School Launch Day will capture the innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that Venture School carries throughout the state of Iowa.

Five of the strongest teams from the 2019/2020 Venture School cohort pitched for a chance to win from a pool of $30,000 in cash prizes.

The five teams that presented were:

  • Planted. — offers plants, potting services, and consultations for homes and offices, with plans to soon expand into a brick and mortar retail space
  • Fisherman’s Edge — a personal watercraft that makes fishing from a personal watercraft more effective and enjoyable for a wider group of anglers.
  • Duck Duck Boom! — creator of the Dynamic Dabbler, a modern duck decoy device you can control from your phone.
  • ReEnvision Ag —  developing a unique solution for farmers growing row crops to allow them to maximize yield and profit potential by planting seeds more precisely.
  • Dhakai —  a B2B marketplace connecting apparel manufacturers to boutique firms, private labels, wholesalers, and retailers.

Each of the five companies walked away with prize money. Duck Duck Boom and Planted each won $1,500. The third-place award of $2,500 went to Fisherman’s Edge. A $7,500 second-place prize went to Dhakai. ReEnvision Ag won first place and took home $10,000. In addition, ReEnvision Ag won a $1,000 Technology Award from Michelle Bates, Chief Innovation Officer at Involta.

EdTech Accelerator Launch Day

To wrap up the day, theEd Tech Accelerator held its Launch Day as teams from its first-ever cohort pitched their businesses.

The Iowa EdTech Accelerator launched its first cohort earlier this year, accepting four startups into the program. The four teams began the 90-day intensive program in March building their companies in the field of education.

The four companies from the inaugural cohort are:

  • Apprenticeship America makes it easier for employers to create custom on the job training programs to fulfill their hiring needs.
  • IEP Equity provides secure software and neutral mediation, bringing families together in creating an individualized education plan.
  • TuitionFit brings transparency to the college search by showing the actual prices students pay at every college in America. 
  • The Agenda. Period helps women and girls understand and harness their unique cyclical patterns, and use that understanding to increase productivity and impact in their lives and businesses.
EntreFEST 2020: Day One Recap | 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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