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Iowa offers a fertile landing pad for Australian agritech entrepreneurs

A combination of rich natural resources, forward-thinking farmers and a fast-growing entrepreneurial community makes Iowa the perfect fit for Australian agritech entrepreneurs looking to develop technologies in the US market.

5 min read
Iowa corn

The state of Iowa is well-known around the world for its fertile soils for growing crops and its strong agricultural heritage. Over the past decade, the state has also built a strong reputation as the most fertile place to grow the next generation of agricultural and bioscience innovations and companies.

With a fast-growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, a leading educational system, and a strong, diverse base of agricultural businesses, Iowa has become a vibrant destination for agritech founders to develop and test technologies – and introduce innovation to the US market.

“Iowa is unique because of all the resources that are all within close proximity of each other,” said Executive Director of America’s Cultivation Corridor, Billi Hunt.

“It is an ecosystem that fosters success for startups, technology developers and farmers alike.”

Iowa farmers lead the United States in production of corn, pigs, eggs, ethanol and biodiesel; and are in the top ten states for soybeans, cattle, cheese and turkey production. With total agricultural exports of more than $10.6 billion in 2018, and more than 85% of the state’s land used for agriculture, there’s no question the role agriculture plays in Iowa’s economy and communities.

Beyond the numbers, Iowa farmers have led the way in adopting new technologies to boost productivity, quality and sustainability. From adopting hybrid seed corn nearly a century ago to pioneering the renewable fuels industry, and taking the lead on sustainable practices to protect soil health and water quality, new ideas take root in the state.

An Iowa presence provides entrepreneurs easy access to a base of farmers and livestock producers willing to test new product ideas, and a strong network of producer and commodity organisations to make important connections across the country. And, the state looks forward to again hosting world leaders when events like World Food Prize, World Pork Expo and Farm Progress Show, can be held safely. 

Entrepreneurial infrastructure key to innovation

The creation of new incubators, engines and accelerators over the past five years in Ames, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and across the state have provided resources for agritech innovators and startups to find mentors, early-stage funding and support. More than 50 incubators, co-working spaces, and research parks provide rooms for startups to grow.

“Each business has a unique origin story and takes its own path through research, discovery, testing and commercial launch,” said Billi. “In Iowa, we’ve seen tremendous growth in a diverse set of resources that are available to provide support and mentorship at each step of their individual journey.”

This momentum has attracted attention from investors. In fact, investments in Iowa startups in 2020 set a funding record of $145 million, even amid a global pandemic.

Companies like Smart Ag, Precision Livestock Analytics, Rantizo, Growers Edge, FarmlandFinder and PowerPollen secured funding or acquisition agreements during the year.

RELATED: SWAN Systems’ gains global partnerships and investment despite pandemic

The biggest names in global agriculture call Iowa home, providing unparalleled opportunities for collaboration. John Deere, Corteva Agriscience, Sukup Manufacturing, Kemin Industries and Kent Corporation, are just a few of the companies with a significant presence in Iowa. 

“From plant genetics to food production and processing, advanced manufacturing to animal health, renewable fuels to predictive analytics, the leaders in nearly every key segment of US agriculture are in Iowa,” explained Billi.

“If you want to be a game-changer in any field related to food, agriculture and ag bioscience, those opportunities are here now and will continue to grow.”

Connecting and growing the next generation of ag innovation

Iowa’s skilled and educated workforce also provides an advantage, Billi added. More than 24,500 people are currently employed in the bioscience industry, with a strong pipeline of science and engineering graduates providing the foundation for continued growth.

Agriculture, science and entrepreneur programs at Iowa’s colleges, universities and high schools inspire and equip students who will have the next generation of big ideas, and the Future Ready Iowa workforce initiative is building Iowa’s talent pipeline by aligning education, workforce and economic development resources. Strong leadership programs, like 4-H and FFA inspire students and challenge them to look for opportunities in agriculture.

Iowa State University has built some of the world’s best programs in agriculture education and research, including ranking in the top 6% of agriculture and forestry programs worldwide by QS World University Rankings and the nation’s top-ranked agricultural and biosystems engineering program for graduate students, according to US News & World Report.

“We are proud to be at the forefront of agricultural research, science-based innovation and education. However, world-class research and providing top-notch educational experiences for students is just the start,” said Iowa State University’s President, Dr Wendy Wintersteen.

“Our land grant legacy is to ensure that those advancements and innovations are shared across Iowa, and increasingly around the world,” said Wendy.

New facilities, entrepreneurship programs, collaboration with leading companies and startup entrepreneurs are making the Ames-based university the place to be for companies developing ag and bioscience innovations, including more than 100 companies located at the 400-acre ISU Research Park.

Ready to connect?

America’s Cultivation Corridor launched an exciting new program — Cultivo Virtual Academy — to connect international startups and entrepreneurs with Iowa resources, and introduce them to the U.S. startup community, regulatory system and investment environment.

The six-week program will be hosted via an online professionally-managed platform for learning and engagement, beginning in April. Three hours of facilitated programming each week will focus on the US financial and regulatory systems, pathways to introduce technologies, and opportunities to connect with farmers and industry leaders. Upon successful completion of the program, cohort participants will be eligible to attend an in-person week-long Cultivo event based out of Des Moines, currently slated for 2022.

Applications have closed for the first Cultivo Virtual Academy cohort, however, if you’re interested in getting involved or being a part of an international cohort in the future, get in touch via this contact form.

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