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Taylor: COVID Turned Lemons into Lemonade for Iowa Startup Accelerator

Guest post by Alex Taylor.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then COVID is the mother of creative solutions and improvement. Pre-COVID, the Iowa Startup Accelerator (ISA) had a very strong residential component that required founders to meet face-to-face for the instructional and networking programs. Of course, all face-to-face activities were summarily redirected when we were hit by the pandemic.  

So ISA did what most organizations did, we improvised using Zoom and other online tools such as Google Shared Drive, Jamboard, AirTable, UTube, and One Hub. It was not always perfect, and we learned a few things along the way, but at the end of the program, ISA successfully coached, mentored, instructed, motivated, and celebrated six startup organizations

As a result of our successful remote experience, beginning with the fall cohort, ISA will embrace a few exciting changes.  First we will move to a hybrid program. This model will include three face-to-face sessions and the rest of the instruction, education, coaching, mentoring and networking activities will primarily use the Zoom platform. The upside of this approach allows startups from all over the state to participate without having the time and expense of traveling to Cedar Rapids and/or Des Moines.

In addition to integrating remote programming into the Accelerator, we’ve expanded the schedule to be six months long. This adjustment offers two distinct benefits to the startups: first they will benefit from more robust and progressive instruction (keep reading); and second startups will more quickly and deliberately qualify for an additional $75k investment from the  ISA Venture Fund.

During the initial three months qualified startups receive a $25K investment and participate in weekly meetings and activities to de-risk the business and more firmly establish their value proposition, market channels, repeatable revenue streams, and growth strategies. During the second three months the schedule relaxes to monthly programming that will focus on sales and scaling the businesses against established measurable benchmarks. And as each participating startup achieves their goals, they may qualify for more investment funding. 

Make no mistake, COVID was disruptive to be sure, but for ISA it wasn’t as much of a game-changer as it was a game-improver.

I am pleased to announce that  We are now accepting applications for the fall cohort to begin September 13. ISA is excited to offer a more accessible experience to qualified Iowa-based startups, with access to as much as $100K in initial investment funding (up to $1MM from ISAV as startups successfully scale and expand), and more progressively robust and deliberate programming for successful growth and business acceleration.  

Click here to learn more about the Iowa Startup Accelerator and how to apply.

Alex Taylor is the managing director for the Iowa Startup Accelerator powered by NewBo Co. Additionally, he is an adjunct instructor with the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and (with his wife) is a founder and co-owner of Woofables Gourmet Dog Biscuits

Taylor: COVID Turned Lemons into Lemonade for Iowa Startup Accelerator | 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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