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Strengthening Iowa’s homegrown bioscience industry

Strengthening Iowa’s homegrown bioscience industry

While Iowa is known around the world for growing crops and livestock, BioConnect Iowa is working to ensure that the state is also a global leader in growing new bioscience ideas into commercial reality. The organization works with entrepreneurs and innovators across the state to help them access the resources, expertise and funding to bring a research breakthrough to the marketplace.

Steve Brody joined BioConnect Iowa as president and CEO in December 2021, bringing experience in both plant and livestock genetics industries. He worked in various roles at DuPont Pioneer for 20 years leading global biotechnology and regulatory efforts, industry relations, sales and marketing planning and federal government relations. He joined Genus plc, a world-leading animal genetics company, in 2017 where he focused on setting up regulatory processes for the company’s innovative gene editing technologies, and stewarded Genus’ R&D global advocacy and research and development technology acceptance efforts.

“Joining BioConnect Iowa is a great opportunity to work to promote and support businesses in my home state and work with top notch partners like Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA), Iowa State University and University of Iowa to encourage and promote biosciences in our state,” said Brody. “I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, and now am excited to focus on my home state.”

Following a comprehensive strategy review in 2017 by IEDA and the Iowa Innovation Council, which recommended a public/private bioscience economic development initiative focused on coordinating existing assets, strategy and actions to advance Iowa bioscience sector growth, BioConnect Iowa was established. The strategy identified four platforms holding the most promise for Iowa economic development: biobased products and chemicals, precision and digital agriculture, vaccines and immunotherapeutics, and medical devices.

“We work with universities, community colleges and organizations across the state to identify great new ideas and connect the founders and innovators to the support they need,” said Brody. “This statewide focus is important because the benefits of new products and technologies in areas like biobased products, animal health and welfare and more will be most significant for farmers, livestock producers and rural communities.”

One of the most valuable services that BioConnect Iowa provides is helping Iowa entrepreneurs prepare applications for federal Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs. The SBIR and STTR programs are an essential part of Iowa’s innovation high-tech ecosystem.

“In the last three years, we’ve been successful in helping bring $22 million to Iowa’s small businesses through 44 grants awarded to help entrepreneurs move their work forward,” said Brody. “More than thirty percent of the applications that are filed from Iowa receive funding, which is double the national average.”

He noted for every dollar of state funds invested in these programs, federal grants provide $30 in funding for Iowa innovators and entrepreneurs statewide
In 2021, BioConnect Iowa launched Iowa G2M, which is Iowa’s only follow-on accelerator for research-driven, high-tech companies.

“Iowa G2M brings together cohort members with mentors as well as a team of marketing, legal, financial and other service providers that companies need as they bring research breakthroughs to commercial reality,” he said.

The G2M Accelerator is enabled by a grant to BioConnect Iowa and its partners, VentureNet Iowa and ISU Startup Factory, from the US Economic Development Administration.

Brody sees the next critical step in success is to increase funding available for bioscience startups in the state, and the BioConnect Iowa team is working to create a venture capital co-investment fund to launch later in 2022.

“We know that access to capital has been a significant issue for small bioscience startups in the state, and this will provide a new opportunity to connect investors with Iowa-based opportunities,” he said.

Support for this new venture capital fund is being provided to the State of Iowa by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) as a response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The State Small Business Credit Initiative program is intended to support state efforts to provide private financing to small businesses. The fund is expected to be up and running later in 2022, pending approval from the U.S. Treasury Department.

“There is really something exciting here in Iowa and people are seeing it and looking to be part of the excitement,” said Brody.