There’s a new accelerator in town and agribusiness giants John Deere and DuPont Pioneer have invested in it. The Greater Des Moines Partnership and the Cultivation Corridor have launched the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator to promote agriculture innovation in the state.
The initiative comes shortly after Deere & Co opened a technology office at Iowa State University’s Research Park to leverage the work of students and its research.
Also investing in the program are Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Company, Kent Corporation, Sukup Manufacturing, and Peoples Company. Each investor has committed $100k each for the first year.
With a total of $134 billion invested in ag infrastructure, Iowa companies and research institutions have the ability to push the limits of modern farming by developing and deploying a new generation of cutting-edge agtech products and services, said Tej Dhawan, interim director for the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator.
The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator has multiple goals, including to focus on bringing the strongest ag startups to central Iowa; to create meaningful and positive contributions to Iowa’s agtech startup environment; encourage students of all ages to consider investing in agtech as a future career, business and economic pathway to success; and to offer a meaningful pipeline of sales, marketing, acquisition, innovation and support through the ecosystem — from startups to Fortune 100.
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“Just like our partnership and participation in a Midwest-wide angel investor syndicate, we plan to leverage the diverse skills and portfolios across accelerators to advance the startups,” he said. “Ultimately, the accelerator is in business to accelerate startups and feed innovation.”
Mentorship is a big part of the program and the seven ag investors will not only serve as investors in the 100-day program but as mentors to the startups. “We are excited to work with talented individuals of varying backgrounds and approaches to foster new ideas and technologies that will benefit growers, and we will be in a preferred position to potentially invest further in the developments of the selected entrepreneurs,” Judd O’Connor, vice president of DuPont Pioneer told AgFunderNews.
There will be other mentor groups too including the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
“Mentorship is widely known to be the greatest catalyst for startups to grow, accelerate and succeed, and we intend to keep developing the mentor pool to be diverse, broad, connected and continuous,” said Dhawan.
The genesis of the accelerator came from continued discussions with startups seeking mentoring, financing, growth catalysts and industry partners and the accelerator will aim to address these needs first and foremost, according to Dhawan. Dhawan is a local entrepreneur and also ran the Global Insurance Accelerator on an interim basis.
“The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator is designed to build upon one of the state’s key industries of agriculture and the entrepreneurial activity that can advance technology in the industry,” he said. “We continually encounter innovations in agtech, and this is an evolutionary step toward fostering such entrepreneurship and continuing to establish Central Iowa as one of the top regions in the nation for startups.”
That philosophy was very appealing to DuPont Pioneer, which has been exploring new ways to invest in ag innovation.
“DuPont Pioneer strives to be on the cutting edge of farmer needs, anticipating challenges with innovative, sustainable solutions,” said O’Connor. “More recently we’ve also been executing new investment and technology agreements that consider new creative business models. The investment in the AgriTech Accelerator fits well in our strategy.”
Each investor holds an equal seat at the table with a $100k per year investment, which will be utilized to fund the startups and operate the accelerator.
The accelerator aims to bring on six startup teams to the 2017 cohort. Each will receive $40k in seed funding in return for a 6% equity stake.
The first cohort will begin on July 10 and conclude on October 20, graduating at the 2017 World Food Prize in Downtown Des Moines. Each team that completes the requirements of the program will have an opportunity to pitch at this event.
“As this is a mentorship-driven program focused on growth within each of the cohort companies, the concept of winning and losing is not an intent of the program,” said Dhawan.