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Episode 4: The Young Innovator Behind the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator

Startup Stories with Iowa AgriTech Accelerator

April 27, 2018

Megan Vollstedt became the Executive Director of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator in 2017 after rising up through the ranks at rapidly growing Workiva — a $1 billion Ames-based startup.

From Intern to Executive Director

Speaking to the Startups Stories DSM Podcast, Vollstedt shared how an interest in entrepreneurship as a child and exposure to startup culture early in her career helped her to embrace adaptability. These traits came in handy when she took the reigns of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator just 30 days before its inaugural class.

Vollstedt was one of the first 100 employees at Workiva, a cloud data management company, beginning as a communications intern from Iowa State University. Vollstedt said it was that experience working in an innovative startup that helped her to embrace change. Vollstedt went on to have four roles in three different teams during six years of incredible growth for the company that culminated in its initial public offering.

“I embrace adaptability. Having started as an intern and going through to my first full-time job, my training has been in adaptability, flexibility and the startup mode, so that comes as second nature,” Vollstedt told host Mike Colwell. “I think that continues with the Accelerator and what we’re working on now. It’s continually evolving and we’re continually trying new things.” 

Growing up in Manilla, Iowa — a town of 900, Vollstedt had an early interest in entrepreneurship. With a knack for problem solving from a young age, Vollstedt once built a table top stand for an oscillating hairdryer (with help from her dad) for a school project. The prototype involved drilling a hole in a Frisbee and using PVC pipe and an elbow piece to hold the hairdryer.

Iowa AgriTech Accelerator

Problem solving and adaptability were especially helpful when Vollstedt took charge of The Accelerator. Her first official day was just 30 days before it was due to start.

Like its older sibling, the Global Insurance Accelerator, the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator is a mentor-led accelerator focusing on the agtech space. Led by innovators and leaders in several areas of agriculture, The Accelerator hosted its first class of startups in 2017 attracting companies from around the world with the goal to challenge the status quo. It provides $40,000 in seed funding, a 100-day program that includes networking with industry mentors and office space in Downtown Des Moines (DSM). Cohort members celebrate graduation during the World Food Prize with hundreds of global industry and academic thought leaders in attendance. 

The Accelerator’s 2018 program has support from some agriculture powerhouses, including Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont; Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Company of Iowa; Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company; Kent Corporation; John Deere; Peoples Company and Sukup Manufacturing, in addition to more than 120 mentors. 

In the podcast, Vollstedt shared several takeaway as she prepares to welcome her second class. From managing founders and leaders with passion to having to ask a startup to leave the Accelerator, Vollstedt said she has learned to “embrace the high and lows.”

With the 2018 class soon to begin, Vollstedt described in the podcast how this year’s program is set to reach new heights with even more resources for participating startups.

Hear the stories of other small business and startup business owners in the community in The Partnership’s Small Business Resources Hub or sign up for the Small Business Resources newsletter to stay connected for information about upcoming events, other resources and the latest announcements in the small business community in Greater Des Moines (DSM).