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University of Northern Iowa hosts Cedar Valley sustainability business workshops and competition

University of Northern Iowa (UNI) students, faculty, staff and community members are invited to submit their ideas on reducing waste that goes into landfills.

The Cedar Valley Green Business Competition: Solving Sustainability Problems will take place on Earth Day, April 22.  There will be $500 for the best business pitch, and the chance for an investment of $5,000 for the best, implementable new business.

The Iowa Waste Reduction Center (IWRC), UNI John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC), and UNI Office of Community Engagement have partnered up to make the competition possible.

“We know there is a real problem with landfill waste and its effect on our environment. For example, 20% of Iowa landfill waste is made up of food waste and 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties don’t have commercial food waste composting available to them,” said Joe Bolick, Director of the IWRC. “That’s a major area of concern, and it’s just one part of a larger issue. The more people we can involve with their innovative ideas, the better.”

A series of workshops and feedback opportunities will provide more information and support to participants prior to the final pitch:

  • March 8, 5-7:30 p.m.: First meeting (location TBD)
  • March 31, 5-7:30 p.m.: Workshop in Waterloo (location TBD)
  • April 7, 5-7:30 p.m.: Optional pitch feedback at UNI Business & Community Services
  • April 22, 5 p.m.: Final pitches at the UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE) Auditorium and Atrium

“We know there are great ideas out there, and that people sometimes need a little push to get them off the ground. We want to amplify the voices of anyone who is sustainability-minded and has an idea on how to reduce waste in the Cedar Valley,” said Laurie Watje, Director of the UNI JPEC.

Those interested can register for the first session, where more information and resources will be provided. Visit to sign up today.

University of Northern Iowa hosts Cedar Valley sustainability business workshops and competition | 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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