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Empower Cedar Rapids is removing barriers for underserved entrepreneurs

Since 2017, Empower Cedar Rapids has been equipping entrepreneurs in underserved areas with the training, tools and resources that they need to be successful.

A program through the Jane Boyd Center, Empower Cedar Rapids is a 12-week commitment that allows participants access to customized workshops, trained coaching staff, industry experts and a wide range of resources.

“The twelve weeks is just the initial phase of the program,” said Maurice Davis, who oversees the Empower program. “After that, they’ll go through direct mentorship.”

The first chunk of the 12 weeks is dedicated toward helping entrepreneurs go through the Business Canvas Model to flush out their ideas and validate that their business makes sense.

“After that, we go into a second phase where we address their online presence,” said Davis. “That’s a portion where GoDaddy helps by applying them with a free website for two years and also some interaction with GoDaddy to help them build their website.”

The last section of the 12-week program is dedicated to getting the participants ready to communicate their business. “We do some pitch prep and get them used to the idea of getting them pitching their business out to the community,” said Davis.

Currently, the 12-hour program runs twice a year — once in the spring and once the fall.

The entry level programming shown on the website doesn’t cost anything. The program is currently working on creating higher level programs that will cost $100.

“Everything that we do is purely for the sake of helping the entrepreneur. And anything that we’re doing where we’re charging, it’s strictly out of necessity,” said Davis. “Our people get 100% of whatever they put into us back in some sort of value to them.”

Empower Cedar Rapids is removing barriers for underserved 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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