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Cedar Valley launches new accelerator program for minority-owned businesses

Several organizations in the Cedar Valley have partnered to launch the Cedar Valley Minority Business & Entrepreneurship Accelerator (CVMBEA), an accelerator for minority-owned businesses.

The CVMBEA program provides financial aid, networking opportunities, mentorship and scale strategies for new and existing minority-owned businesses in the Waterloo and Cedar Falls area.

The idea for the program came shortly after COVID began when there was a noticeable difference in the amount of funding that minority-owned businesses were getting from PPP [paycheck protection program] funding, ReShonda Young, Manager of the program, told Clay & Milk.

“COVID was really the culmination of us saying, ‘we’ve got to do something,'” said Young. “Before that though, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area was in 2017 voted the number one worst place for black Americans to live in the whole United States so this has been an ongoing problem.”

The pilot program of the accelerator began in early September and will run until mid-December. Fourteen companies were accepted into the pilot program of the accelerator.

As part of the program, Young meets with the business owners every Monday as a group and then meets with them again individually throughout the week.

“They’ll have between 3 and 5 goals that they want to hit between now and the end of the program,” said Young. “Basically we are trying to pull them out of working out working in their business 100% of the time and taking a percentage of that time to start working on their businesses.”

Young says she hopes to begin marketing for the next class of businesses as we got close to the end of this one. “We’re tying it with UNI’s schedule so we can have some of the classes focus on helping a business as their project.”

“It’s been really great to see such a large amount of support for the program,” said Young. “We’ve had a lot of community support with the City of Waterloo, UNI, Red Cedar, Waterloo Community Schools, and Grow Cedar Valley all coming together and rallying behind this.”

Cedar Valley launches new accelerator program for minority-owned businesses | 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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