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Mooney: Maybe there’s a better option for Iowa than a scout program?

Guest post by Clayton Mooney.

Since boomerang’ing back to Iowa in 2014, I’ve developed Topophilia for Ames’ startup ecosystem.

I believe the most beneficial loop that can happen here for wealth and resource creation is…

  1. Someone starts a company.
  2. Someone has a positive $ exit from said company.
  3. That someone (and hopefully others from the company) turns around and writes checks into other companies.
  4. Repeat.

Ames, like other college towns, has many people with diverse backgrounds and excitement for solving problems on and off campus. At the foundation of science and technology, we also have entrepreneurial support. 

That support is really good at cheer-leading and making introductions. That support lacks investors. 

Is there a way to create more investors here before there are more exits?

I didn’t have an answer until I discovered Spearhead. I was excited and remember applying to their first batch in January 2018. 

When asked which peers’ companies I’d try to invest in if I were accepted, I gave Colin Hurd of Smart Ag, and Steven Brockshus of FarmlandFinder as examples (Spearhead missed out). 

I was excited about Spearhead because it could equip me as an investor before having liquidity while learning from some of the best investors in the world—which in turn would help me fundraise more efficiently for Nebullam. We also can’t forget that, as founders, we’re all in the trenches together with our peers. We hear about and have deal flow opportunities before anyone else.

Then I was rejected from Spearhead. Now what?

Not a big deal. I went back to thinking there wasn’t a solution for creating that beneficial loop and bringing more access to capital here (as founders), unless steps 1-4 were completed. 

A couple of years later, just as AngelList had brought Spearhead to the world, they introduced another option; rolling funds

I didn’t hear about rolling funds until May, when I came across someone who was putting one together. While still learning how they work, here are a few of my initial thoughts on rolling funds:

  • They save time in raising and back-end work. More time to write checks 
  • I’d expect most of them to operate at the pre-seed through seed stage, which is what we need here, in order to continue optimizing for the upside for the many programs helping to launch startups
  • If rolling funds operate at the pre-seed through seed stages, they’ll compete with other funds here. That’s a good thing, because more ideas and a broader group of founders will be funded
  • Commitments from LPs can be much smaller, opening up a whole new class of LPs
  • You may never need to raise another fund

Is anyone else excited about/working on/starting a rolling fund?

It may work here.

Clayton Mooney is the co-founder of the Ames-based companies Kinosol and Nebullam and is a familiar face in the Iowa startup ecosystem. Learn more about him here.

Mooney: Maybe there's a better option for Iowa than a scout program? | 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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