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ISU’s new I+E Academy will bring together entrepreneurship and liberal arts

A new academy is launching at Iowa State University this fall for the university’s Liberal Arts & Sciences (LAS) students. The new Innovation + Entrepreneurship (I+E) Academy is a two-year program for LAS majors and minors who seek to experience and develop an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset.

Rebecca Runyon will serve as the academy’s director. Runyon says her initial focus will be on getting the word out about the program and recruitment.

“This first year will consist of a lot of relationship building and finding those people willing to invest in the students that participate in the academy in a mentorship capacity,” said Runyon. “Some of the other colleges at the university already have existing entrepreneurship programs. You hear the name ‘AG EI’ [Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative] and people know what the College of Ag is doing for entrepreneurship. But with LAS it’s a brand new program so even faculty members within LAS haven’t heard yet what this academy is and what it’s all about.”

Year one of the program will largely consist of entrepreneurial and innovative lessons for students, preparing them with a broadly applicable skillset, Runyon told Clay & Milk. In the second year, students will be paired up with a mentor and will be working with the other students in the program to really launch their ideas.

The program is designed for first and second-year LAS majors ready to explore innovation and entrepreneurship Students must be enrolled in an LAS major and maintain a minimum 2.25 GPA to apply for the program. Runyon says she expects to have 20-30 students in the inaugural cohort.

“I+E Academy is a perfect stepping stone to CYstarters,” said Runyon. “My personal goal is that any of the students that come out of the academy who are still interested in doing entrepreneurship will be able and ready to participate in CYStarters that following summer.”

Prior to becoming the academy’s director, Runyon was an ISU student where she received a BS in’18 agricultural studies and an MS in agricultural education. She has also founded two businesses—Lunchsox and Bessie’s Parlor—and participated in the 2018 cohort of ISU’s CYstarters accelerator.

The I+E Academy was originally set to launch in March 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed its rollout for a year. The new rollout date is planned for early March and the first cohort of students will enroll in fall 2021.

“Students don’t necessarily have to have a business idea or know what it means to be an innovator within an existing organization, but if that sounds interesting to them, I encourage them to apply,” said Runyon.

Previous coverage

ISU Student Innovation Center will bring together students across campus -July 22, 2019

Entrepreneurship among top priorities for ISU President Wendy Wintersteen -Nov. 21, 2018

ISU's new I+E Academy will bring together entrepreneurship and liberal arts | 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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