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Ames startup N-Sense receives $50k investment from Ag Startup Engine

N-Sense, an Ames-based startup that is developing a soil nitrate sensor system for on-the-go nitrogen management, has received a $50,000 investment from Ag Startup Engine.

Founded in 2017, N-Sense’s soil nitrate sensor system can be attached to farm implements and used to determine in-real-time on-the-go soil nitrate concentrations with enough accuracy to facilitate precision application of nitrogen fertilizers.

“We are delighted to partner with Ag Startup Engine to develop and commercialize this Iowa State University technology,” said N-Sense President David Laird in a release. “From the outset, the University recognized its value to row crop agriculture and sponsored the early investments needed to prove the concept and patent the technologies. Using NSF and private funds, we are advancing precision nitrogen fertilizer management to the next level, integrating direct sensing of soil nitrate and both terrain and soil analyses to optimize the application of nitrogen fertilizers across fields. Our technology will make precision sidedress fertilizer applications both practical and profitable for farmers. Our commercial units will reduce overfertilization thereby improving both farm economics and water quality in our lakes and streams.”

“Ag Startup Engine believes that N-Sense’s innovative technology will create value for crop producers and be a valuable addition to its portfolio. “We are pleased to have N-Sense join the Ag Startup Engine portfolio and community,” said Kevin Kimle, co-director of Ag Startup Engine. “Precision technology for nitrogen application will be an important step in better crop input management and soil health outcomes.

Ag Startup Engine was launched four years ago to help address two fundamental gaps that prevent agricultural startups and entrepreneurs from being more successful: early seed-stage investment and organized mentorship from successful entrepreneurs. With the program’s second fund, their goal is to accept and invest in 45 agriculture and animal health startups in the next five years. To date, the organization has invested in 22 companies.

Previous coverage

Ag Startup Engine raises second fund of $2.25 million to invest in startups over the next five years

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator announces four startups for 2020 cohort

Middle Bit: N-Sense receives $225,000 National Science Foundation grant

Ames startup N-Sense receives $50k investment from Ag Startup Engine | 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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