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University of Iowa launching program to teach Saudi women entrepreneurial skills

The University of Iowa is partnering with Education For Employment and the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to launch a one-year project that will provide entrepreneurial education to women in Saudi Arabia.

Funding for the project comes from a $123,000 State Department grant awarded to the university’s Institute for International Business. The program will teach Saudi women from the western region entrepreneurship skills in emerging sectors like information technology, real estate, and e-commerce.

The project will provide 50 women with professional training and connections to local and international mentors that are necessary to start their businesses. The project is an initiative that provides demand-driven training linked to mentorship by successful Saudi and U.S. businesswomen as a key tool for reducing unemployment and expanding economic opportunities for Saudi women. 

The women will participate in Venture School International, an entrepreneurial education program that guides students through the startup process by teaching them how to identify a market need and build a business to meet it. The university is partnering with the nonprofit Education For Employment to teach the Venture School International training, which will be complemented by contacts at local financing organizations, government officials, and business support services.

The Western Saudi Arabia Venture School for Women project is designed to “put new entrepreneurial tools into the hands of Saudi women,” said Dimy Doresca, director of the Institute for International Business at the University of Iowa in a release. “With the guidance of Iowa professionals, we will train aspiring innovators of business and social enterprise, through the startup process using methods that reduce risk and encourage ongoing innovation. We will nurture and empower women in Saudi Arabia to become examples of social and economic success in their communities.”

Doresca says Iowa women entrepreneurs will work with the Saudi women as mentors, providing support and encouragement while serving as role models. He says they will be recruited from the institute’s existing networks of women entrepreneurs in Iowa. As part of the program, university faculty and Iowa entrepreneurs will travel to Saudi Arabia to provide training and help develop mentor relationships.

“The need to address youth employment challenges has never been greater, and I am pleased by the emphasis on supporting young women in Saudi Arabia,” said Amr Abdallah, director of Gulf Programs, EFE-Global. “Together with the support of the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, we will see the positive impact that preparing youth for success and starting their business can have on these youth and their families. With a focus on entrepreneurship, we hope to not only impact those gaining the training, but open the doors for other young women to follow in their footsteps.”

University of Iowa launching program to teach Saudi women entrepreneurial skills | 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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