New ISU program aims to boost ag-tech startups

New ISU program aims to boost ag-tech startups

Iowa State's Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative is helping launch a new accelerator program to foster entrepreneurs.

A new initiative at the Iowa State University Research Park will identify and fund innovative agricultural startups, ISU officials announced last week. The accelerator program, called the Ag Startup Engine, is part of a broader Iowa State initiative that is working to foster business startup, innovation and technology transfer.

INNOVATIVE FARMING: Iowa State University and a group of investors have teamed up to boost the number of successful startups focused on innovation in farming. Combined, the university and investors have created Ag Startup Engine, a development program for ag technology companies.

 “Ag Startup Engine will deliver funding, mentorship and support to agricultural entrepreneurs with promising business concepts,” says Kevin Kimle, director of the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative in ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Because of our rich network of entrepreneurs and agribusiness leaders, the launch of this business startup program is a very natural and significant progression of our support of agricultural entrepreneurs." ISU’s Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative is helping launch the new accelerator program to foster entrepreneurs at ISU Research Park.

Teaming up to increase the number of successful innovative startups

The Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative assisted in the creation and development of Ag Startup Engine, which is a private-sector entity. Ag Startup Engine will be governed by a small number of investors, which currently include Ag Ventures Alliance, Summit Agricultural Group and Ag Leader Technology. Thus, ISU and a group of investors have teamed up and the goal is to boost the number of successful startups focused on innovative farming.

 “This program will help identify the next generation of innovators and leaders in agriculture and we are so pleased to be part of it,” says Al Myers, founder and president of Ames-based Ag Leader Technology, a technology innovator of precision agriculture hardware and software. “Entrepreneurs will shape the future of agriculture, and we look forward to supporting development of the technologies and businesses they create.”

Bridging the gap from when you have a great idea, to having a product

Ag Startup Engine will provide agricultural entrepreneurs — including ISU students, faculty and staff and non-university entrepreneurs — a means of moving from an early business concept to an investment-ready business. The program will implement infrastructure for mentoring, rapid prototyping, product development and customer development. It also will provide a critical element that often is in short supply for entrepreneurs in Iowa – a structured pathway for financing a business.

Kevin Maher, founder of GlobalVetLink, PetMeasure and Maher Technologies, has played a lead role in development of Ag Startup Engine. “More than 15 years ago, I founded my first business in the ISU Research Park,” Maher says.  “I’m excited to help continue to build a startup environment at the ISU Research Park that makes it a destination for high-impact agricultural entrepreneurs.”

 Accelerators help to develop ideas, and get the deals flowing

Jude Conway, executive director of Ag Ventures Alliance of Mason City says, “Ag Startup Engine is a great fit for our organization and our business development for value-added agricultural ventures.” Conway adds, “What we really see out of these accelerators is help to get the deal flowing. The deals aren’t ready for us right now, but if we can put some money into these things and see them grow, then perhaps in a few years they’ll be a deal we can invest in.”

 ISU’s Agriculture Entrepreneurship Initiative will provide mentoring support for the entrepreneurs, says Kimle. “The potential is substantial for both the agricultural entrepreneurs and for Iowa State University. We are pleased to be supportive of efforts at startup creation and technology commercialization,” he says. Ag Startup Engine will operate out of the ISU Research Park in Ames. It has connections to Iowa

State’s broader entrepreneurial initiatives, such as Startup Factory and the student startup accelerator.

Established in 2005, the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative broadens understanding of entrepreneurship among faculty and students of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at Iowa State University by providing educational experiences to develop students’ entrepreneurial skills and increase interaction among students, faculty and agricultural entrepreneurs. In 2016 and 2015, the American Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year has been a former student from the Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative.

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