“The primary goal is to fill a gap between when an entrepreneur has an idea and is beginning to develop the business, and trying to provide both funding and a mentoring structure for helping them to get to the point of being investment ready,” said Kevin Kimle, co-director of the Ag Startup Engine and director of the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative.
Kimle described the Ag Startup Engine as a potential next step for existing students, or alumni to take for ideas they created in classes, or after graduation. There is also opportunity for entrepreneurs not affiliated with Iowa State, but who discovered Central Iowa to be the prime location to utilize its wide range of resources available for businesses.
Still in the fundraising phase, the Ag Startup Engine has publically acquired six investors including Summit Agricultural Group, Ag Venture Alliance, Renew Rural Iowa, Ag Leader Technology, Next Level Ventures and People’s Company, with a seventh investor yet to be announced.
Applicants of the Ag Startup Engine first meet with co-directors Kimle, Kevin Maher, founder of GlobalVetLink, VetMeasure and Maher Technologies and Joel Harris formerly of Harrisvaccines. After the co-directors approve the applicants, the entrepreneurs present their businesses to investors. According to Kimle, there are currently three active companies in the portfolio, with a handful of others under consideration.
Maher describes the effectiveness of the accelerator for new businesses. “The advancement of Ag Startup Engine cohort companies that have participated in formal sessions, have greatly benefited from a structured start up environment, paving their way toward success,” Maher said. “Preparation and sessions from focus on customer discovery, all the way to investor pitches and funding, have proven to be very effective toward their success.”
One of the biggest advocates of the new accelerator is the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative at Iowa State University. Its goal is to broaden the understanding of entrepreneurship in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with hands-on experience.
Kimle also stated that beyond just a partnership, the ISU Startup Factory in the ISU Research Park has been working hand-in-hand with the new accelerator. Many companies receiving funding from the Ag Startup Engine are typically part of the ISU Startup Factory as well.
If the timing matches, after an entrepreneur receives funding from the Ag Startup Engine, they may also enter the ISU Startup Factory’s 52-week program. During the first 26 weeks of the program, the cohort of companies research target audiences and conduct prototyping. The second phase is tailored to each company on an individual basis.
One of the most unique facets of this entrepreneurial tool is each company has the opportunity to work in a collaborative workspace on the second floor of the Vermeer Applied Technology Hub in the ISU Research Park. Kimlie said, “We are building a community of sorts for all the startup activity, which is fantasitic.”