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Kauffman Foundation awards funding to 7 entrepreneurial organizations, 1 in Iowa

The Kauffman Foundation has selected 7 organizations to receive funding through its Central Standards RFP.

The 2021 Central Standards Request for Proposals provides matching funds to encourage and accelerate collaborations between two or more entrepreneurship support organizations working together to support Heartland entrepreneurs in the states of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. 

One Iowa-based organization, the University of Iowa’s MIT Venture Mentoring Services (VMS), received funding. VMS, an entrepreneurial mentorship program developed at MIT, is partnering with universities around the U.S. and abroad to support local entrepreneurs including the University of Iowa.

Here are the seven organizations whose projects will be funded in the first Central Standards round this summer:

  • Celebrate EDUESU-13 | Support for the establishment of entrepreneurship education programs, in partnership with local ESU-13, to support entrepreneurs with disabilities in Western Nebraska.
  • Employee Ownership Expansion NetworkMissouri Center for Employee Ownership | Support for the launch of the Missouri Center for Employee Ownership to provide education to current business owners and prospective entrepreneurs on employee ownership structures and concepts.
  • Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc.St. Louis Development Corp | Support developing and launching the UrbanMain entrepreneurship support program to provide education for entrepreneurs operating in low to moderate income neighborhoods in St. Louis, MO.
  • Nebraska Community FoundationValley County Community Foundation Fund | Support to establish a cohort of twenty rural Nebraska communities for the purpose of providing customized entrepreneurship education programs and facilitated peer-based entrepreneurship support best practices.
  • Prospect Urban Eatery (Community Capital Fund)Catalyst Kitchens | Support to launch the Prospect Urban Eatery, a kitchen incubator providing entrepreneurship education and prototyping support to low-income food industry entrepreneurs in Kansas City, MO.
  • University of IowaMIT Venture Mentoring Services | Support for the establishment of a statewide mentorship program for entrepreneurs operating in Iowa. The mentor program will license the Venture Mentoring Services model developed by MIT and previously tested in Kansas City.
  • WEPOWER STLKiva | Support for the establishment of a Kiva Hub in St. Louis, MO to provide micro-lending capital access options to entrepreneurs from communities in the region that have been systemically left behind.
Kauffman Foundation awards funding to 7 entrepreneurial organizations, 1 in Iowa | 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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