Agricultural Entrepreneur Week Set to Celebrate and Inspire Iowa Innovation

Photo courtesy of the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Photo courtesy of the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative.

By Tia Snyder, tsnyder@cultivationcorridor.org

In America’s Cultivation Corridor, the next generation of Iowa State entrepreneurs are creating cutting-edge ideas that will impact the nation’s agriculture and food supply for years to come. The organization helping these future leaders garner success? The university’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative (AgEI).

Founded in 2005, the program expands on the ag entrepreneurial ecosystem in a collegiate environment. It supports student-entrepreneurs’ talent aspirations and assists in the transition from ideation to implementation through courses, internships and mentorships.

For decades, Iowa farmers have known how to innovate and find a solution when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate or equipment breaks down. Now, AgEI expands that innovation process from the field to the classroom. While the startup process can be as intimidating as it is exciting, AgEI is one way that students are able to connect to resources and opportunities within the Cultivation Corridor.

“We have the Iowa way of doing things. We’re practical, frugal and honest,” said Kevin Kimle, director of AgEI. “It’s what puts the culture in agriculture.”

In 2017, AgEI created the statewide Agricultural Entrepreneurship Week to celebrate, unite and inspire those within the ag entrepreneurship ecosystem.

For the second year, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a gubernatorial proclamation that designated November 5-9 as the week to recognize Iowa’s contribution to ag innovation.

Throughout this year’s celebration, AgEI will promote the startup ecosystem and offer a variety of events such as pitch competitions and an industry tour. On Monday, Nov. 5, students have the opportunity to build a Safe T Home® with Sukup Manufacturing Co.

Safe T Homes were created after the 2010 earthquake devastation in Haiti and are able to withstand hurricanes, termites and earthquakes. Kimle said it’s a unique activity that will show students how entrepreneurial companies make an impact from a social perspective.

To further cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset, AgEI created Change-Maker Academy this school year. Organizers planned on accepting 25 students in September, but due to high interest, there are 60 members in the first cohort.

Students at a Change-Maker Academy event. Photo courtesy of the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Students at a Change-Maker Academy event. Photo courtesy of the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative.

The program exposes students to off campus ideas and networks that assist in their development of an entrepreneurial mindset. Students are paired with mentors that assist them with their aspirations whether it falls under agtech, small business or farmer entrepreneurship.

The ag entrepreneurship ecosystem is growing. AgEI estimated that in 2009, their program reached 200 students. Fast forward nine years later, and their numbers are up to 1,200 students. Kimle said their goal is to reach every CALS student, every year with at least one entrepreneurship program.

To attain that goal, program organizers plan to offer additional speaking events, experiential activities, competitions and classes.

AgEI also wants to engage and recognize Iowa State alumni who have created successful business plans. Please submit your organization to AgEI’s Wall of Fame to help further promote Iowa State’s emergent entrepreneurial ecosystem and inspire students.

Whether an amateur aspirant or serial entrepreneur, there’s no doubt that America’s Cultivation Corridor has the resources to help ag entrepreneurs advance their dreams and innovations. Here, they’ll find a supportive and collaborative environment that offers proximity to farmland, test labs and leading agbioscience companies.