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10 entrepreneurs will tackle community issues through Iowa City’s new accelerator program

Ten Iowa City entrepreneurs have been selected into a national idea accelerator program aimed at taking their ideas from concept to action.

The selected ideas include a personalized music teacher app, an effort to tackle the shortage of childcare, a social sports app to help like-minded people find each other, an effort to introduce more kids to STEM opportunities, and a program to encourage more Hispanic students from rural communities to go to college.

The three-month-long program will start with a 45-day Builder Bootcamp to teach participants how to put ideas into action, followed by 45 days of actively executing their ideas through a single experiment. All ten of the entrepreneurs accepted into the program will receive a $5,000 Pebble Grant to test their ideas.

“We are thrilled with our community’s response to bringing this first-of-its kind accelerator program to the Iowa City area,” said Liz Hubing, director of marketing, community development, and entrepreneurship for the Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD). “Just as we had hoped, we had an abundance of innovative thinkers who decided they were ready to take the first step in making their ideas a reality. Our 10-person cohort is full of diverse ideas and people who hope to make an impact in our community and beyond. We’re looking forward to seeing their ideas come to life over the next three months.”

The program is a partnership between Heartland Forward, Builders + Backers, and ICAD. The cohort of 10 builders in Iowa City is part of Heartland Forward’s commitment to funding and supporting 1,000 builders across the heartland by 2023.

The ten entrepreneurs selected for the program are:

  • Nicole Williams
  • Jelena Beideman
  • Pablo Salazar
  • Thom Johnson
  • Monique Washington
  • Lara Marsh 
  • Jasper Washington
  • Chuy Renteria
  • Dady Mansaray
  • Michael Quinn

“Every community has potential game-changing ideas that are lying dormant,” said Donna Harris, CEO of Builders + Backers. “We received some exciting submissions in Iowa City, and we can’t wait to get to work helping these new builders put their ideas into action. This is where the premise behind our Idea Accelerator program gets so interesting. For less than a single venture investment, we’re going to unleash and fuel thousands of ideas across the country and see new ventures, initiatives and companies emerge. And it all starts here in Iowa City!”

The participants from Iowa City will join builders from Oklahoma in the cities of Tulsa and Oklahoma City as well as Oxford, Mississippi. The three-month program kicks off on January 20. 

Previous coverage

A new accelerator program is coming to Iowa City

10 entrepreneurs will tackle community issues through Iowa City's new accelerator program | 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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