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Kauffman’s Heartland Challenge awards funding to 17 organizations, 4 in Iowa

The Kauffman Foundation has selected 17 organizations to receive funding through The Heartland Challenge.

The 17 organizations will work to solve specific challenges that entrepreneurs face across four states — Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas.

“The Heartland region holds a great deal of entrepreneurial promise. However, entrepreneurs face significant challenges as they seek to start and grow businesses in these four states,” said Kaufmann in an announcement last week. “The Heartland Challenge is an opportunity to develop, catalyze, and expand inclusive programs, create communities of practice, and strengthen regional entrepreneurial ecosystems.”

Four of the organizations that received funding — The Director’s Council, Jane Boyd Community House, UNI’s Center for Business Growth and Innovation, and ISU’s Pappajohn Center — are based in Iowa.

Here are the 17 organizations that received funding:

Challenge 1: Co-creating objective, milestone-based entrepreneurship training programs to mitigate the impact of implicit bias faced by entrepreneurs from communities systemically left behind

  • BioSTL | Support for the expansion of their entrepreneur education program, Fundamentals, to better engage women, Black, Latinx, or foreign-born entrepreneurs in STEM business creation.
  • Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas | Support to develop an education and mentorship program designed to help agriculture-related, refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs participating in the New Roots for Refugee program scale and prepare their businesses for outside investment.
  • Center for Rural Affairs | Support to launch a statewide entrepreneurship academy, bias training, and mentorship program for rural entrepreneurs.
  • Credit and Homeownership Empowerment Services | Support for expanding the Porter House KC’s place-based model for providing retail entrepreneur support in the Troost Corridor neighborhood.
  • The Directors Council | Support to increase the operational and marketing capacity of the organization’s entrepreneurship bootcamps in order to strengthen their financial education offerings and serve more counties in Iowa.
  • Jane Boyd Community House | Support to enhance and expand the organization’s entrepreneur education program, Empower, to better serve entrepreneurs from communities systemically left behind in Eastern Iowa.
  • Lincoln University | Support for new and existing businesses in central Missouri through the Small Business Development Center’s entrepreneur education program, Launch U.
  • Seward County Community College | Support for the launch of the SW Kansas Entrepreneurship Center to provide customized entrepreneurship education to rural and immigrant entrepreneurs in the region.
  • The State of St. Louis Foundation | Support to expand the St. Louis Regional Chamber’s Diverse Business Accelerator to serve a greater number of small businesses owned by women and people of color.

Challenge 2: Addressing rural business transfer opportunities by providing education on models of shared business ownership, including business cooperatives

  • Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska | Support for the University of Nebraska Extension to launch a statewide program to assist rural entrepreneurs in considering cooperative business models and provide education on business transition to existing business owners.
  • Kansas State University | Support for the expansion of the KSU Center for Engagement and Community Development in order to offer educational services on cooperative business models and transition planning for independent grocery store owners.
  • Missouri Western State University | Support for the launch of the Regional Economic Vitality Consortium to expand their entrepreneurship education programming across a 23-county region in NE Kansas and NW Missouri.
  • University of Northern Iowa Foundation | Support to launch the Iowa Business Transition Center to educate rural entrepreneurs on cooperative business models and transition planning.

Challenge 3: Building cross-university programs that increase knowledge related to securing research and development funding, and commercializing available technology in order to start new businesses

  • Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska | Support for the creation of a program to provide technical assistance to improve federal research and development grant applications from universities in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa.
  • Curators of the University of Missouri | Support for the administration of an inter-university task force that will work to identify best-practices in engaging faculty, researchers and students in the commercialization process, and create a plan to implement those practices.
  • Iowa State University Foundation | Support for the creation of a coordinated educational event series across John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers in Iowa to better prepare university-affiliated entrepreneurs for launch and investment.
  • Wichita State University | Support for the convening and administration of a multi-university task force to improve the leveraging of federal research and development grants across Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa.

Funding amounts for the organizations were not announced. Individual grant awards vary and range up to $100,000. When first announced in February, Kauffman said it expected the average grant size to be around $75,000 and that the initiative would give out up to $1.5 million in total funding.

Previous coverage

Kauffman Foundation launches new funding opportunity for nonprofits -Feb. 24, 2020

Kauffman's Heartland Challenge awards funding to 17 organizations, 4 in Iowa | 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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