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Iowa AgriTech Accelerator announces four startups for 2020 cohort

The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator has announced the five agtech startups selected for the program’s class of 2020.

Based in Des Moines, the accelerator is a mentor-led program that focuses on ag-based technology innovations. This year’s class is the fourth to go through the 100-day program.

Two Ames-based companies — N-Sense and Curiosity Labs — made this year’s cohort.

The program will start on July 8 and conclude on Oct. 16. The four startups participating in the program will $40,000 in seed funding, mentoring, field trips to investor and mentor companies, outreach, networking and multiple presentation opportunities.

“We are very excited to help position Iowa, the Midwest and the world to work towards the improvements farms will find most beneficial,” said Nadilia Gomez, Executive Director of the Accelerator.

Here is a quick look at the four startups participating in this year’s Iowa AgriTech Accelerator:

N-Sense (Ames, IA)

N-Sense’s vision is to develop and test real-time, on-the-go soil nitrate sensor technology for crop producers who want to determine the exact rates of nitrogen fertilization for sustainable, cost-effective, and environmentally-sound nitrogen management

Digital Spring (San Diego, CA)

Digital Spring brings advanced remote sensing technology capable of increasing farm profit 10-40%. Its system is designed to be installed on aircraft currently used for crop fertilization (increasing utilization, reducing the cost of deployment & allowing global system deployment).

SenseGrass (Paris, France)

SenseGrass offers 360 farming solutions based on cutting edge technology like Nano-Satellite Mapping, Rover Bots and AI-based mobile & web application that makes farming super-efficient & easy

Curiosity Labs (Ames, IA)

Curiosity Labs specializes in developing completely automated microscopes that rely heavily on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Our focus is on decreasing the cost of parasite detection in farmable soil and collecting data for Ag biotech or seed development companies.

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator announces four startups for 2020 cohort | 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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