Ag Startup Engine at Iowa State University Research Park Receives Commitment from Venture Capital Firm

AMES, Iowa – The Ag Startup Engine, an initiative at the Iowa State University Research Park, has attracted an investment from Next Level Ventures, a Des Moines venture capital firm.

The Ag Startup Engine was created to help address two fundamental gaps that prevent agricultural startups and entrepreneurs from being more successful in Iowa:  early seed stage investment and organized mentorship from successful Iowans.

“The Ag Startup Engine provides valuable assistance to agricultural entrepreneurs through access to networks and resources helpful to their growth,” said Kevin Kimle, director of ISU’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative, which helped launch the Ag Startup Engine.

While ISU’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative assisted in the creation and development of the Ag Startup Engine, it is a private sector entity governed by its investors.

“We are excited to work with the leaders of the agricultural industry and Iowa State University to help provide advice and capital to Iowa’s early stage ag opportunities,” said Craig Ibsen, the managing principal of Next Level Ventures. “We hope there are many great outcomes from this effort, as this is another step in building a thriving startup ecosystem in Iowa.”

“It’s a wonderful sign of momentum in the ISU Research Park and the broader startup community when the principals of Iowa’s only up-and-running innovation fund have decided to invest their dollars, time and expertise in the Ag Startup Engine,” said Joel Harris, its co-director. “The business sophistication and expertise that Next Level Ventures brings to the table will greatly support our current and future portfolio companies.”

The Ag Startup Engine will provide ISU agricultural entrepreneurs a structured means of moving from an early business concept to an investment-ready business. Working in tandem with ISU’s Startup Factory, the program will implement an infrastructure for mentoring, rapid prototyping, product development and customer acquisition. Most important, it will provide a critical element that is often lacking for entrepreneurs in Iowa – a structured pathway for financing the business, Harris said. 

The Ag Startup Engine aims to find eight to 10 investors. The current investors include Ag Ventures Alliance, Summit Agricultural Group, Ag Leader Technologies and People’s Company. Completion of the investor group and its organizational structure will take place over the following months.

About Next Level Ventures - Next Level Ventures is a $40 million venture capital firm based in Des Moines that invests $1 to $4 million in fast-growing companies that are based in Iowa. For more information:

About the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative - The Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative was created in 2005 to broaden understanding of entrepreneurship among faculty and students of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State by providing educational experiences to develop students’ entrepreneurial skills and increase interaction among students, faculty and agricultural entrepreneurs.