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Winners of REV pitch competition announced

TS Bank and Advance Southwest Iowa have announced the winners of the REV pitch competition.

The competition was held Tuesday, October 19 at Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center in Council Bluffs where five small business owners pitched for the chance to win $15,000 to grow their business.

Viva Fit Kitchen of Council Bluffs took first place and was awarded $12,000. Founder and Lead Chef Alejandra Valdez recently started her business to help build a healthy community by making healthy food convenient and affordable. It is the only meal prep service of its kind in the region that provides nutritious, healthy and authentic Mexican meals.

“Thank you for believing in my dream and making the investment in my vision,” said Alejandra Valdez, founder and owner of Viva Fit Kitchen. “Impacting our community is so huge for us, this investment will help us in becoming more accessible to our community. Viva Fit Kitchen is ready to take it to the next level.”

Viva Fit Kitchen plans to use the funds to help pay two new fridges, licensing and inventory costs. As they grow their vending machine locations, the plan is to open their own production kitchen and teach master classes on starting and growing other meal prep businesses.

The Occasional Collective, a business planning to open a unique storefront in Treynor, Iowa, won second place and was awarded $3,000. The store will sell thoughtfully curated, sustainably focused and locally sources goods including unique, small-batch, handcrafted items.

Having locally sources goods helps with environmental impact and creates important economic opportunities for rural communities. The funds will be used to build out the storefront’s exterior and interior as well as to secure equipment and merchandise. The Occasional Collective currently sells its goods online and has plans for a grand opening of the storefront in 2022.

From the pool of 25 applicants, five applicants were selected to pitch to a panel of judges where contestants were evaluated on various aspects of their business.

The three other top-five applicants included Chef Around the Block, who brings culinary endeavors to the masses through delicious food and education; Hellcat Technologies, a new mobile app and web portal platform company for telecom and public utilities; and Tossibles, a new fem tech brand bringing sanity and style to feminine hygiene disposal.

TS Bank originally started REV in 2015 in an effort to spur economic growth and encourage business owners to continue pursuing their dreams. The competition has now given out a total of more than $100,000 to small businesses.

Winners of REV pitch competition announced | 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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