Innovation Profile:
BioConnect Iowa

Jim Register

BioConnect Iowa Supports Translation of Innovation to Commercial Success

BioConnect Iowa started the new year in 2021 with a new name, a new accelerator program and a strengthened commitment to supporting and advancing the biosciences sector in Iowa. Originally named the Iowa Innovation Corporation and founded as the public-private partnership arm of Iowa Economic Development Authority, BioConnect Iowa changed its name in late 2020 to better reflect its mission and programs.

“Our focus has pivoted over the past couple years to filling and advancing the pipeline of commercially directed innovations in Iowa’s biosciences sector, and to take on the role of coordinating and connecting dots across universities, startups, and resources in the public and private sector,” said Jim Register, president and CEO of BioConnect Iowa.

BioConnect Iowa focuses efforts in four key areas: biobased products/chemicals, precision and digital agriculture, vaccines and immunotherapeutics, and medical devices. These were identified following the recommendations in the TEConomy Partners LLC report issued in 2017 that highlighted Iowa’s bioscience advantages and the need for a focused, cohesive effort to encourage research and advance innovations in the sector.

Partnerships with Iowa’s research universities, Iowa Economic Development Authority, and other programs across the state help BioConnect Iowa identify researchers and founders with new ideas, then provide key support as they work through the entrepreneurial process. In fact, when state-level funding stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic, BioConnect Iowa directed $1 million of its funding from IEDA to Iowa State University and University of Iowa bioscience commercialization programs.

The organization also plays a critical role by coordinating Iowa’s program that supports applicants and recipients of grants from the federal Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs, which award funds to qualifying businesses to stimulate high-tech development in the U.S.

“The SBIR/STTR programs are often the first financial support that innovators receive as they pivot ideas from research to exploring proof of concept and commercial opportunities,” said Register.

In 2020, BioConnect Iowa received a $1.29M grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in partnership with Iowa State University Startup Factory and VentureNet Iowa. to launch the G2M Accelerator. The new accelerator program is designed to support Iowa companies developing technology-driven innovative products or services that have participated in another incubator, accelerator, or business assistance program, but could benefit from additional focused, customized guidance getting to market.

“As they move closer to commercialization, many founders find value in structured entrepreneurial support beyond existing early-stage accelerators, and the G2M Accelerator is designed to fill that gap,” said Register. “Another key aspect is connecting founders with the support services they will need as their business grows, such as legal, human resources and recruiting, financial services, branding and marketing.”

The inaugural G2M cohort launched in February and includes five Iowa-based startups, including CartilaGen, Classroom Clinic, FBB Biomed, Mazen Animal Health, and Sushi3D.

Register joined BioConnect Iowa in 2018 as president and CEO after a 20-year career at DuPont in research, then in roles at the intersection of research and business development. He sees Iowa as the perfect location for new ideas to start and build commercial success.

“Innovation will not thrive in a vacuum. Research happening at Iowa’s universities has been and will continue to be an undertapped source of innovation,” said Register. “As those ideas develop, combination of strong livestock and crop farmers, researchers, professionals and innovators across the state can provide feedback and support to help them achieve commercial success.”

As the state’s startup ecosystem continues to grow, Register said there is strong support across all segments of agriculture and biosciences for helping startups succeed.

“Iowa’s advantage in its people,” he said. There is a growing group of ag leaders throughout Iowa who are committed to giving back and putting the state’s success before their own egos. There are a lot of people who want to make a difference and support growth across the state.”