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How One Iowa AgriTech Accelerator Alum Found a Valuable Mentor from Unexpected Field

April 3, 2018

Amos Peterson is founder and CEO of FarrPro. After realizing that keeping piglets warm is an essential and challenging issue in hog rearing, Peterson, who grew up inventing ways to get out of chores on his family farm in Iowa, invented technology to better manage the heating of farrowing crates for the hog industry.

“Heating was upstream from most preventable causes of death,” discovered Peterson, who then designed an “enclosed microclimate” that heats piglets evenly, mitigates heat lamp fires and uses less energy than traditional methods. 

The company participated in the Iowa Agritech Accelerator’s inaugural cohort. The accelerator puts an emphasis on mentorship based on a deep bench of strategic ag partners, with backing from John Deere, DuPont PioneerFarmers Mutual Hail Insurance CompanyGrinnell MutualKent CorporationPeoples Company and Sukup Manufacturing.

Other mentor groups include the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

The initiative came about shortly after Deere opened a technology office at Iowa State University’s Research Park to leverage the work of students and its research. The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator is currently selecting its second cohort and the program will begin May 29. Each startup will receive $40k in seed funding in return for a 6% equity stake.

We caught up with Peterson to learn about his experience in the accelerator and how his most valubale mentor came from an unexpected field.

What were you looking to get out of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator?

I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I knew that they were going to make a small investment, but what I really wanted to get out of it was what they were offering: mentors — being around people who had been successful in the space and who could help me avoid crashing and burning — who might be able to come on as an investor, on the board, or as a long-term mentor. We met something like 80 different mentors in two weeks and some of them are still very important to our company.

How did the matching work?

It’s called mentor speed dating. Every half hour you meet another mentor. You give them a pitch and they tell you about themselves and based on your personality and your interests you rank each other and then the ranking system determines who you’re matched with.

Were you surprised with the result?

A bit yea. There were a lot of mentors that I was interested in and honestly I didn’t have enough bandwidth for as many as I ended up having. I interviewed with Kurt Eaves from Grinnell Mutual [property casualty insurance] and I didn’t think that there would be anything that we could come together around because he runs an insurance company, but he ended up being a really good fit. It was sort of a culture match. I really wanted to learn from him how to be a good manager of people and he ended up being our best contact and he’s been a huge evangelist for us.

What did he do that was exceptional?

He looked at our company and he didn’t see a good idea or a bad idea. He didn’t make a list of things I should think about — it was more personal than that. It was more about a good understanding between him and I and also something the was maybe a little more oblique but they insure the same people that we make products for. Our product is a lot safer so its risk mitigation on their part and if we can make it a best practice, then Grinnell might be able to lower premiums for those who use our product since it mitigates the risk of fire. That’s you don’t really think about when looking at a list of potential mentors.

Do you think that successful mentor relationships are about professional relevance or do you think its more personal?

I think its more personal. There are a lot of people relevant to any problem that you’re trying to solve. But you have to trust a mentor. The more you trust that someone is genuinely available to you as a mentor, the more useful they can be and vice versa. I also think you have to be willing to hear things that might be unpleasant – you have to be hungry for that.

How am I going to fail? It’s the mentor’s job to alert you to those things. The best mentors I’ve had have been people who are genuinely concerned about me and my company.

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