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Clay & Milk is excited to announce the Startup Iowa Awards. The Startup Iowa Awards will celebrate the organizations and people keeping the Iowa startup ecosystem thriving. Among this year’s awards are Iowa Startup of the Year, Investor of the Year, Accelerator of the Year, Entrepreneurial Support Organization of the Year, and Student Entrepreneur of the Year.

Nominations will be accepted until Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 at 11:59 pm. Finalists from each category will be recognized on Jan. 15, and winners of the Startup Iowa Awards will be announced during the final week of January. There is a $15 fee per submission. All proceeds from the awards will go toward supporting Clay & Milk. Check out our FAQ page for more info about the awards.

Nominations are now open for our awards categories for the Startup Iowa Awards:

Startup of the Year

The Startup of the Year category recognizes startups with great potential that demonstrate the creative, strategic and innovative entrepreneurial spirit of Iowa’s startup communities. Nominees will be judged on a variety of factors including the quality of their business idea and plan, the strength of the founding team and their impact on Iowa’s entrepreneurial community. Eligible companies must be under 5 years old, under $2M in annual revenue, and be based in Iowa.

Investor of the Year

The Investor of the Year award will recognize an investment firm or angel investor who brings capital plus outstanding connections, advice and attention to Iowa startup companies. This award category recognizes all types of investors who bet on Iowa companies and serve as critical mentors and connectors. To be eligible, the investor must have made an investment in at least one Iowa-based company during calendar-year 2020.

Accelerator of the Year

Accelerators play a pivotal role in the tech and business ecosystem by supporting companies with innovation, funding, and connections into academic environments. The Accelerator of the Year Award will recognize the accelerator program that best supports early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing. Eligible accelerator programs must have had an active cohort during 2020.

Entrepreneur of the Year

The Entrepreneur of the Year Award will recognize the achievements of an individual founder, co-founder, President or CEO whose efforts deliver innovation, growth and prosperity as they build and sustain successful businesses that transform Iowa’s startup communities. Eligible individuals must be with a company under 10 years old, that is based in Iowa.

Non-founder Employee of the Year

Founders often get their fair share of recognition, but what about other employees? The Non-founder Employee of the Year Award will recognize an employee who is not the company’s founder or CEO but has been instrumental to their team’s success. Individuals should be in their role and/or with their company for a minimum of one year.

Entrepreneurial Support Organization of the Year

There are many organizations that support the ongoing growth of entrepreneurs and businesses throughout the state. The Entrepreneurial Support Organization of the Year Award will honor an organization that is connecting and supporting entrepreneurs and early-stage companies in Iowa.

Student Entrepreneur of the Year

The Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award will honor a student who has demonstrated innovativeness, originality, and entrepreneurial spirit in the development of processes, products, or technologies of benefit to Iowa’s startup ecosystem. Nominees must be full-time, undergraduate or graduate students enrolled in an Iowa-based college or university during the spring and/or fall semester of 2020 or a native Iowan attending school full-time outside the state in the same time period.

Announcing the Startup Iowa Awards | 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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