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Middle Bit: Statewide John Pappajohn Competition to Once Again Award $100,000 in Cash Prizes

Applications for the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Venture Competition are now being accepted. The sixteenth annual statewide competition will be awarding  $100,000 in cash prizes.  

The $100,000 in seed funding consists of a $50,000 contribution from John and Mary Pappajohn and a $50,000 match from the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA). The goal of the competition is to support Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.  

Iowa businesses that have been in operation for four years or less, or are not yet cash flow positive are  eligible to apply. This competition is open to businesses including, but not limited to, technology, biotechnology, green technologies, medical, advanced manufacturing, agriculture, engineering, and  education industries.  

Participants will be judged on written submissions, and, those who advance to the final round of the  competition, will present to a panel of judges. First place will be awarded $40,000, second place  $25,000, and third place $15,000. Awards for other categories will total $20,000.  

Applications for the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Venture Competition are due Monday, May 17,  2021.  

NewBoCo adds 3 new board members

Cedar Rapids nonprofit NewBoCo recently named three new members to its Board of Directors.

Joy Briscoe is a consummate diversity, equity and inclusion professional who currently serves as the Talent Acquisition and Outreach Specialist for Waterloo Schools. Prior to working at the district, Joy led the YWCA of Black Hawk County in its mission to eliminate racism and empower women as the Marketing and Development Director. She is the co-founder of Inclusion Cedar Valley, the Cedar Valley Fashion Art and Culture Expo, SHIPHT Youth Opportunity Accelerator, the Minority Business and Entrepreneurship Accelerator and the 24/7 Black Leadership Advancement Consortium.

Erica Cole is the founder of No Limbits, an adaptive clothing line with the mission of increasing comfort, confidence, and independence for those with disabilities. She has been a part of several incubators, including the Hawkeye Summer Accelerator, Target Incubator, Future Founders Fellowship, and is currently in residence at the Halcyon Incubator in Washington DC. No Limbits received the University of Iowa Student Startup of the Year Award in 2019, and Erica received the Female Founder of the Year Award in 2020.

Wendy Nielsen serves as First Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust. A graduate of Coe College, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration and public relations. Since joining CRBT in 2001, Wendy has drawn from her diverse background with the bank to help people connect and engage with the CRBT brand through various initiatives ranging from traditional and digital marketing to events. Wendy is a 2011 Leadership for Five Season graduate, 2014 CBJ Forty Under 40 honoree, 2017 Waypoint Tribute to Women of Achievement honoree and most recently named 2019 Chief Marketing Officer of the Year (For Profit) by the CBJ.

“We are incredibly excited that Joy, Erica, and Wendy all accepted our invitation to join the NewBoCo Board,” said NewBoCo Executive Director Aaron Horn. “Each new member brings with them critical experiences and skill sets to support our organization. Our nonprofit really values the contributions of our Board as we grow and continue to deliver strategic solutions to the always-evolving ecosystem needs in entrepreneurship, innovation, and tech education.”

Iowa Tech Policy Podcast discusses Iowa’s Tech Funding Ecosystem

TAI’s most recent episode of Iowa Tech Policy Podcast, Iowa’s Tech Funding Ecosystem, highlights Iowa’s public innovation funds, the current state of Iowa’s startup ecosystem, and the importance of funding innovators and early-stage companies. 

Adrienne Greenwald, Managing Principal at VentureNet Iowa, discusses her work in managing Iowa’s public innovation funds and evaluating startup companies seeking state funding. She also walks through the evaluation process and why Iowa needs to invest in innovators and early-stage companies.

Eric Engelmann, General Partner at ISA Ventures, shares his experience building and providing resources for entrepreneurs through Iowa Startup Accelerator and ISA Ventures. He also discusses the current state of the Iowa startup ecosystem and his efforts to better connect investors with founders in rural areas to ensure opportunities are available for everybody to participate in Iowa’s tech ecosystem.

Middle Bit: Statewide John Pappajohn Competition to Once Again Award $100,000 in Cash Prizes | 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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