Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

University of Iowa launches new incubator program for graduate students

The University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) has opened its first business incubator designed specifically for University of Iowa graduate students interested in commercializing their research.

While JPEC has maintained an undergraduate business incubator for some time, this is the first designed with the needs of the university’s graduate students in mind, said Kurt Heiar, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship who directs the initiative.

Heiar says that the new incubator is also being used by faculty members.

The first cohort started this spring with 19 students and faculty from academic programs across campus, though most are researchers, doctors, and lab workers from the colleges of engineering, pharmacy, medicine, and dentistry. Among the product ideas they’re pursuing are a soluble ophthalmology solution for eyecare, a new biopsy process for neurological disease, an innovative LED examination light for dentists, and an engineering education initiative to provide resources to under-resourced minority K-12 students. 

He said the expectation is to have the first ventures advance to growth-stage funding out of the incubator with an idea that will attract investors’ attention soon.  

Like most incubators, the graduate student incubator teaches the basics of building a business to students who have little experience in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The businesses are typically in the idea or start-up stage at this point, Heiar said, so instructors first help students figure out if there’s a market for their proposed product or service. After that, they learn about writing a business model, resource availability, understanding investors, the importance of competitive analysis, and technology competencies that are needed to make it a sustainable, scalable venture.  JPEC also has professionals on retainer who can help students with marketing, accounting, legal, and other issues involved in turning an often-technical idea into a business.

He said participation also gives qualifying students access to startup and development money from I-Corps, the National Science Foundation’s funding initiative for startup STEM ventures. The plan is for the incubator to continue this summer with new individuals joining current participants.

“We connect them with whatever services are needed to move their ideas forward, and resources from people who know what they’re doing,” Heiar said.

Students are also assigned a mentor experienced in business management and entrepreneurial startups, while experts from the Small Business Development Center and Heiar himself also provide one-on-one assistance.

Heiar said the new incubator is designed to have more flexibility for participants than the undergraduate incubator since graduate students and faculty often have more rigid schedules.

University of Iowa launches new incubator program for graduate students | 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
This Pop-up Is Included in the Theme
Best Choice for Creatives
Purchase Now