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Des Moines Partnership announces details for Small Business Success Summit, pitch competition

The Greater Des Moines Partnership’s sixth annual Small Business Success Summit will take place on Wednesday, March 22 from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the FFA Center on the DMACC Ankeny campus. Summit participants will have a chance to hear presentations by keynote speakers and participate in workshops with fellow business owners.

New this year, The Partnership will offer a Pitch Competition for local entrepreneurs to take place during The Summit. The competition is geared toward business owners or entrepreneurs who seek to establish a new business or grow or expand an existing business in Des Moines.

Applications for the competition close on Sunday, March 5 at 11:59 p.m. Applications are open here. Entrepreneurs chosen for the competition will be notified on Wednesday, March 15. If chosen to compete, a participant would be asked to prepare a three-minute pitch to present to a panel of judges at The Summit.   

Confirmed speakers during The Summit are: 

  • Dawnelle Conley, U.S. Small Business Administration and Jodi Essex, CIRAS Apex Accelerator, will provide an overview on supplier diversity and contracting.  
  • Mollie Frideres Smith, MFS Consulting, will discuss small businesses HR strategies. 
  • Christy Jones, Certified Business Coach, Accelerate Action Coach, will discuss how a strong culture leads to a strong team in addition to sales and profit strategies.  
  • Siobhan Spain, Mainframe Studios, will moderate a panel of Iowa creative entrepreneurs who share their experiences as creative business owners. 

The event’s keynote speaker is Adam Davidson, award-winning New Yorker writer and co-creator of NPR’s “Planet Money.” 

“Anyone who is looking to further grow their established small business or jumpstart their startup business is encouraged to attend the Small Business Success Summit,” said Meg Schneider, Senior Vice President of Business Resources and Community Development at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. “Successful small business owners and entrepreneurs often talk about the importance of working ‘on your business,’ not just ‘in your business.’ This is an opportunity to do work on your business.” 

Costs for The Summit range from $79 for Partnership Investors and Members to $99 for nonmembers.

Des Moines Partnership announces details for Small Business Success Summit, 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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