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Our top stories from 2021

As 2021 comes to an end, take a look back at what happened in Iowa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem this year.

Here are some of our top stories from 2021.

Pappajohns donate $10 million to Iowa entrepreneurial centers

John and Mary Pappajohn announced a $10 million gift commitment to continue entrepreneurship education and programming through the state’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers.

John Pappajohn made the announcement on Thursday, Sept. 23, at a 25th anniversary celebration for the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers, held at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown.

The $10 million commitment will support all five of John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers across the state at the University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, Drake University, and North Iowa Area Community College.

NewBoCo partners with California startup ‘Kiva’ to launch statewide microlending platform

Cedar Rapids nonprofit NewBoCo teamed up with Kiva US to launch a statewide hub called Kiva Iowa. The new program aims to help underserved entrepreneurs and small business owners in the state gain access to much-needed capital. 

San Francisco nonprofit Kiva US offers access to a platform for small loans—with zero-percent interest, extended-grace periods and zero fees—to businesses and individuals that can have difficulty obtaining loans from traditional lenders.

Roboflow raises $20 million Series A to continue democratizing computer vision

Des Moines computer vision company Roboflow raised a $20 million Series A led by Craft Ventures. Additional investors named include Lachy Groom, Jack Altman, DJ Patil, Max and Sam Altman, Cassidy Williams, Harry Hurst, Greg Brockman and Mike Maples.

“Computer vision is one of those foundational technologies that – like the personal computer and smartphone – will transform every industry,” wrote Roboflow CEO Joseph Nelson in a blog post announcing the raise. “Software is limited by its ability to receive structured information from the world as input, and that structure is traditionally interpreted from the environment via a human brain. Computer vision enables software to directly interface with every part of the world around us, unleashing a Cambrian explosion of new possibilities. It’s helping us merge the physical and digital worlds. That’s why computer vision needs to be a part of every developer’s toolkit, not reserved for a few teams of machine learning experts.”

The Series A round comes less than a year after Roboflow raised a $2.1 million seed round in January.

Sevelyn wants to be the mental well-being platform for non-English speakers

Carlos Argüello started Sevelyn with the goal of bringing on-demand healthcare to patients regardless of insurance coverage or a language barrier. Initially, Argüello focused on providing primary care, but with too many logistics to navigate as a startup, he quickly pivoted to focusing on mental health.

“We started diving more into our customer discovery, went back through the 400 customer discovery interviews that we had done at that time, and started sifting through all the interviews,” said Argüello. “And we found that about 80% of our interviewees, when they were talking about their health care issues, or the pain points they have with health care, mentioned mental health.”

Parametric Studio is changing STEM education with project-based software and games

Parametric Studio, an Ames-based edtech company, is developing project-based STEM games, software, kits and curricula for K-12 students that can be integrated into classrooms and other group activities. 

Founded by Chris Whitmer in 2016, the company hopes to improve student STEM outcomes, and interest more students in STEM careers in their formative years.

This Des Moines venture fund is investing in early-stage healthcare companies

For the past two years, UnityPoint Health Ventures—the venture capital arm of UnityPoint Health—has been investing in early-stage health care companies.

Founded in May 2019 with an initial $100 million fund, the Des Moines-based venture firm makes direct investments in healthcare companies and helps them scale and deploy their technologies across UnityPoint Health hospitals and clinics.

This Des Moines startup is making home staging easy and affordable

Nora Crosthwaite is on a quest to disrupt the staging industry.

After spending 17 years in IT, Crosthwaite made a sudden shift in career paths and decided to start her own real estate business in 2015. It did not take her long to discover that having to constantly schedule in-person staging consultations for her listings was not an efficient or effective process for sellers and stagers.

After being unable to find the service she was looking for, Crosthwaite started Stagerie, an online home staging consultation solution, connecting realtors who list homes for sale with expert stagers who stage homes for sale.

Our top stories from 2021 | 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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