Adversity Leads to New Opportunities for Agtech Entrepreneurs
Every year since 2017, the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator has brought a select group of agtech entrepreneurs from all over the world to Iowa. In addition to financial capital, the program has provided training, mentoring and the possibility of strategic partnerships through in-person interactions. For three months, the startups would have transformed the co-working space in the Historic East Village into an agtech entrepreneurial laboratory. The space would have only been quiet on the days we would have been touring state-of-the-art ag facilities in Iowa or the evenings when we would have moved our discussions on the future of agtech to a local eatery. We pride ourselves in this fully immersive format because we know it delivers results. Thus, I never imagined that one of my first activities as executive director of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator would be to explore alternative formats.
Moving to a Virtual Format
The COVID-19 pandemic posed significant challenges for startups. It also affected all sectors of agribusiness. When exploring whether a virtual format was a viable option, we had to consider the impact on all the key stakeholders who contribute to and benefit from the program, not just the startups. Would we be able to deliver value to the companies investing in the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator? Would the mentors even be available to participate? With shared goals and an action plan, the support for a virtual program was overwhelmingly positive, and we embraced the opportunity to learn and test new ideas.
First, we moved the starting date of the program. This provided us time to test the technology necessary for the virtual platform and brought the program’s closing event, Demo Day, closer to the date of the 2020 Borlaug Dialogue. The connection between Demo Day and the World Food Prize has served as a powerful motivator throughout the program, especially given the theme on resilience. I am looking forward to learning whether the program’s new start and end dates, and the new virtual format, increase the number and impact of connections the startups make at Demo Day.
The virtual format gave us the opportunity to explore a variety of technologies to deliver content to our startups and new ways to connect with diverse audiences. We incorporated pre-meeting assignments, well-structured agendas, pre-recorded videos and a stronger engagement with mentors and alumni through various digital communication platforms. I’m eager to learn whether these virtual technologies and communication practices open up possibilities to reach out to a greater diversity of entrepreneurs and connect us more effectively to the agtech startup global ecosystem.
Overcoming adversity is one thing. Learning, growing and emerging stronger from it, is another. That’s what the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator intends to do with the 2020 experience. Adversity didn’t stop us from delivering results. Four startups participated in the program. They met with mentors who provided valuable guidance, and they’ll pitch their business ideas at the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator’s first-ever virtual Demo Day on Thursday, October 15. More importantly, the lessons learned this year may enable the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator to deliver a wider variety of resources for agtech entrepreneurs in the future and strengthen Iowa’s leadership in the agtech startup ecosystem.
Adversity has been and will continue to be part of the reality of agriculture. The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator embraces the spirit of innovation that endures because we continually face seemingly insurmountable challenges. The shared struggles and triumphs, as big or small as they may be, will better position us to assist agtech startups, farmers and the agribusiness industry in the future.
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