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Pi515 receives $35,000 donation from StartupCity

Des Moines nonprofit Pi515 has received a $35,000 donation from now-closed StartupCity Des Moines to help fund the SMART Cities Summer Challenge.

StartupCity Des Moines formed in 2011 as an incubator and coworking space and closed in Sept. 2014. It was a public-private joint effort focused on growing the Des Moines startup community and is viewed by many as the inflection point that led to the modern startup ecosystem. This donation is the final disbursement of funds invested in StartupCity Des Moines.

The Pi515 SMART Cities Summer Challenge encourages students entering grades 9-12 to leverage technology based on the Internet of Things (IoT) and integrate an online population into new systems that make a city evolve into a SMART city.

“Our community partners recognized the value of investing in innovators and entrepreneurs when helping launch StartupCity Des Moines nearly a decade ago,” said co-founders Tej Dhawan and Christian Renaud in a joint statement. “Today, that original investment continues to pay dividends where proceeds continue to help sustain investments in innovators. We are proud to support Pi515 and its sustained efforts in building Greater Des Moines’ technology, innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Pi515 programs are designed for underserved middle and high school students. Pi515 serves over 100 low-income youth, most of whom are immigrants, refugees, or identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color. Pi515 programming creates a pathway to success in STEM-related careers for diverse youth by partnering with industry professionals who teach coding and other emerging technology skills. Another key emphasis for Pi515 is introducing middle school and high school girls to tech and entrepreneurship-related careers.

“We are thankful for this donation that will help high school students in our region and state learn skills that will help prepare them for the future workforce and make our community a better place to live and work,” said Nancy Mwirotsi, founder and Executive Director of Pi515. “The spirit of innovation that StartupCity helped foster in Greater Des Moines will carry over to these students who could be the next generation of startup business founders and entrepreneurs.”

Previous coverage

Pi515 hosting 2021 SMART Cities Summer Challenge for Iowa high school students -June 15, 2021

Pi515 receives $100,000 donation from John Pappajohn, partners with entrepreneurial centers throughout Iowa -Nov. 10, 2020

Pi515 receives $35,000 donation from StartupCity | 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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