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Iowa Innovation Challenge announces winners, awards $100K+ in prizes

More than $100,000 in prize money was awarded to 19 companies this week through the second phase of the University of Iowa’s Iowa Innovation Challenge.

S5G Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical eye drop compound that provides ocular protection, took home $25,000 for first place in the Innovation Challenge graduate/faculty/staff/incubator startup division.

Winning a $15,000 second-place award in the graduate/faculty/staff/incubator startup division was PheeMed Industries (an at-home Pap test). The surgical simulation platform FX Systems, won $10,000 for third place.

In the undergraduate competition, a $7,500 first-place award in the innovative online business category went to Cedar Sales, a sales company through Amazon that utilizes wholesale techniques and pricing technologies. Winning $7,500 for first place in the best retail business category was ChordaWorms, a company that makes durable fishing lures. Two other first-place winners received $5,000 apiece: Simple Studios in the high growth potential category and Pitcher’s Plate in the best active lifestyle business category.

Simple Studios is a blockchain gaming studio, and Pitcher’s Plate is a product that records, displays, and stores data for baseball pitching practices.

Other $5,000 winners were the travel-planning digital platform Common Ground (fourth place, graduate/faculty/staff/incubator startup), Robinhood (second place, undergraduate innovative online business), Urban Waves Embroidery (second place, undergraduate best retail business), and StuTote (undergraduate best social impact).

Since the Fall of 2019, the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center has awarded more than $750,000 in seed money in Innovation Challenge competitions.

Following is a list of all the Spring 2022 award-winners:

Graduate/Faculty/Staff/Incubator Startup Division

First$25,000S5G Therapeutics, Inc
Second$15,000PheeMed Industries
Third $10,000FX Systems, LLC
Fourth$5,000Common Ground
Honorable Mention $2,500X-Ray Vision
Honorable Mention$2,500Helios Loupes

Undergraduate Division

High Growth Potential
First                                         $5,000Simple Studios
Second                             $3,000Callisto Vision
Innovative Online Business
First                                                  $7,500Cedar Sales
Second                                            $5,000  Robinhood
Best Retail Business
First                                                  $7,500ChordaWorms
Second                                              $5,000Urban Waves Embroidery
Third                                                  $1,500Skunk Aid
Best Social Impact
First                                                  $5,000 StuTote
Best Active Lifestyle Business
First                                                   $5,000Pitcher’s Plate
Second                                              $3,500Actively
Third                                                  $2,500PTXtension
Fourth                                               $1,000Casmium, LLC
Best Pitch
First                                                   $2,500Kristoff Poole, Renovaré

Iowa Innovation Challenge announces winners, awards $100K+ in prizes | 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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