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Iowa to launch $30 million venture fund, announces statewide pitch competition

Iowa’s first publicly funded venture capital fund—the InnoVenture Iowa Fund —is set to launch soon with the goal of supporting early-stage startup companies in Iowa.

The $30 million fund will invest in early-stage, Iowa-based startups in the industries of bioscience, advanced manufacturing and information technology. biosciences, advanced manufacturing, and information technology.

Eligible companies must be headquartered (or have “significant operations”) in Iowa, be fundraising between $250,000 – $2 million, and be in possession of a term sheet from a lead investor.

The new venture capital fund is one part of $96 million in federal funding to Iowa from the Treasury State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI).

Kaylee Williams was hired in August as Investment Director for the fund. The fund will be ready to begin making deals in January 2023 and already has about 30 startups in its sights, said Williams in an interview with the Business Record.

InnoVenture Iowa Challenge

The InnoVenture Iowa Fund also announced this week that it is partnering with BioConnect Iowa to launch the InnoVenture Iowa Challenge, an annual statewide pitch competition that will bring together startup companies to compete for a $100,000 cash prize.

Any early-stage bioscience, advanced manufacturing, or information technology startup based in
Iowa or with significant operations in Iowa are invited to apply.

“We are calling on Iowa’s innovators to participate in the first annual InnoVenture Challenge,” said Williams in a press release. “Our outstanding organizing team is ready to shine a light on promising technology startups all across the state.”

Applications opened this week and will close on November 15. Applicants will be notified on November 28 if their startup has been selected to participate as a semi-finalist. The competition will take place on Dec. 7 at the Temple Theater in Des Moines.

Iowa to launch $30 million venture fund, announces statewide pitch 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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