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ISA Ventures raises $15 million to invest in Iowa-based companies

ISA Ventures (ISAV), a new venture capital fund connected to Iowa Startup Accelerator, has reached its first close of $15 million and will begin investing in Iowa-based companies emerging in the aftermath of COVID-19.

The fund ultimately aims to raise between $20 and $30 million to invest in about 100 companies over the next five years. Led by entrepreneur and investor Eric Engelmann, the fund is the largest venture fund of its type in Eastern Iowa.

The new fund will invest equally into early-stage pre-revenue startups, fast-growing young companies, and expansion-stage businesses, in a variety of technology-based industries including agriculture, education, food, healthcare, insurance, transportation, and more.

“Some of the best venture investments of the past 20 years emerged from the economic downturn of 2008-2009, so we see tremendous opportunity to invest and build the next generation of high-growth companies right here in Iowa. But this fund is about more than just return on investment, it’s also about investing for our region’s growth,” said Engelmann. “New companies will be key to economic recovery as we emerge from COVID-19.”

Engelmann’s prior fund, the $1.7 million ISA Fund I, invested in 41 companies from 2014 through 2019. ISA Ventures builds on this experience with a more capable fund, able to make larger investments over time as companies grow.

The fund has recruited an experienced investment committee consisting of local business leaders Steve Gray, Cammie Greif, Bruce Lehrman, Pankaj Monga, and Nate Kaeding.

ISA Ventures’ affiliation with NewBoCo will allow entrepreneurs to take advantage of Iowa Startup Accelerator’s educational programs, coaching, and mentoring; hire technical and digital marketing talent from DeltaV Code School; receive office space in Vault Coworking; and leverage NewBoCo’s prototyping labs.

“Many of our region’s fastest-growing companies struggle as they emerge from ‘startup mode’ and aim for profitability,” said Greif. “The combination of capital from ISA Ventures and NewBoCo’s programs allow us to help companies grow at all stages of their lifecycle.”

Investors so far include more than 70 local individuals, as well as institutional investors such as Alliant Energy, GreenState Credit Union, and UFG Insurance.

As one of only two Iowa Innovation Funds in the state, ISAV will invest solely in Iowa-based companies, qualifying the fund’s investors for significant tax advantages.

Previous coverage

NewBoCo announces big plans at inaugural Annual Meeting -Sept. 20, 2019

ISA Ventures raises $15 million to invest in Iowa-based companies | 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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