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Ten Iowa City entrepreneurs accepted into national accelerator program

After a successful first cohort this winter, ten Iowa City entrepreneurs will enter a national idea accelerator program aimed at taking their ideas from concept and putting them into action, becoming builders.

The selected ideas include a platform to improve travel aggregation for individuals and enterprise; a learning platform to help athletic training students; a technological solution to harness ocean waves for energy; a digital platform for local underrepresented artists to be found by consumers; and a program utilizing sports as a way to create opportunities for young people.

The participants from Iowa City will join builders from nine other cities throughout the heartland including Helena, Pine Bluff, and the Northwest Arkansas region, Arkansas; Duluth, Minnesota; Joplin, Missouri; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma; Clarksdale, Mississippi; and Fort Worth, Texas. The three-month program kicks off on June 16.

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

“Thriving small businesses and an entrepreneurial spirit are key to developing local economics and spurring economic revitalization in cities and towns across the heartland,” said Ross DeVol, president and CEO of Heartland Forward in a news release. “After a successful first cohort, we are excited to welcome this new cohort of Iowa City builders to the program, and look forward to seeing what incredible ideas they bring to the community. Heartland Forward is excited to work with entrepreneurs across the region and to expand this impactful program across the heartland as part of our commitment to support 1,000 builders by 2023.”

“There were great ideas in the last Iowa City cohort and those new ventures are launched and already growing,” said Donna Harris, CEO of Builders + Backers. “We saw a record number of applications for this next cohort, and our team can’t wait to dig in with our new builders both here and across the Heartland. 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.”

The program was piloted in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Oxford, Mississippi, with 15 Builders solving problems in their communities related to workforce development, volunteerism, increasing food awareness and more. CGPT secured 100% retention from Builders and the majority were women and people of color.

The first cohort of 10 Builders in Iowa City completed the program last month. To learn more about the Builders, see here

Ten Iowa City entrepreneurs accepted into national 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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