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BioConnect Iowa: Empowering Iowa’s Next Wave of Entrepreneurs

March 22, 2023

Iowa’s well-earned reputation as a bioscience powerhouse stems from the state’s unwavering commitment to innovation and collaboration. Organizations such as BioConnect Iowa, in partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA), fuel this legacy by helping aspiring entrepreneurs transform bold ideas into successful endeavors through mentorship opportunities and access to helpful resources.

With deep Iowan roots and a love for agriculture, Steve Brody, president and CEO of BioConnect Iowa, is at the forefront of the organization’s mission to advance innovation across all pillars of Iowa’s bioindustry. We connected with Steve to uncover more about BioConnect Iowa’s work in the state, the new InnoVenture Iowa fund and why Iowa’s bioindustry is poised for continued growth. 

Q: Tell us about BioConnect Iowa. What is the organization tasked with doing? 

Steve Brody, president and CEO, BioConnect Iowa
Steve Brody (SB): Our mission is to drive innovation and research across Iowa’s bioscience industry, as well as other tech-based sectors at work in the state. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial energy here in Iowa, and our aim is to provide the access and resources necessary to help these entrepreneurs make strides toward commercialization. 

We’ve employed a four-pronged flywheel model to help focus our efforts: 
  • First, we’re the contractor for America’s Seed Fund. Our team works with early-stage research applicants to apply for funding from various sources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Department of Energy. We’ve gone from getting about 1 in 10 applications accepted to getting about 35% accepted. 
  • The second platform is High Tech Connect Iowa, an online resource for entrepreneurs that walks them through the process of launching a company with tasks and resources identified to help them accomplish each milestone.
  • The Iowa Go-To-Market (G2M) Accelerator is a partnership between the Iowa State University Startup Factory and VentureNet Iowa. This is a post-incubator accelerator for businesses that are in the later stages. After going through the process of identifying what the company could benefit from most, we bring resources to them and provide several months of training and one-on-one coaching.
  • The most recent addition to the flywheel is the InnoVenture Iowa Capital Co-Investment Fund. The state of Iowa cannot take equity in a company, so we complement IEDA’s contribution to this fund by taking an equity position and co-investing alongside other partners. 

Q: How did the InnoVenture Iowa fund come to be?

SB: Thanks to the state’s leadership and understanding of what could infuse new energy into the economy amid the pandemic, Iowa allocated part of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to support entrepreneurs with the InnoVenture Iowa fund. 

In the beginning, we asked ourselves what the driver behind our investments would be. We wanted to stay in the innovation space and work with Iowa-based companies in the early to mid-tech stages. 

Q: From your perspective, what makes Iowa a premier place for bioscience innovation?

SB: We have a strong foundation. We’re home to leading universities – one with an emphasis on precision agriculture, biobased products and plant and animal genetics, health and welfare (Iowa State University) and another with an emphasis on healthcare and medical innovations research (University of Iowa). Beyond that, major private sector companies such as Corteva or John Deere call Iowa home and are big contributors to our ecosystem. Most important from my point of view is the abundance of great progressive farmers. They’re inviting people to their farms to see the newest and coolest pieces of technology. 

Innovation thrives in Iowa because of our ideas and ingenuity. We know what we’re doing, and we have the resources and the knowledge to do it. Innovation can happen anywhere, but not everywhere has the resources that we do.

Q: In your work with BioConnect Iowa, you encounter a wide variety of researchers, business leaders, entrepreneurs and others in Iowa’s bioindustry. What are some of the most innovative and exciting companies operating in the state that come to mind?

SB: Far too many to name! The universities' Chief Technical Officers and Chief Innovation Office teams provide the great insight here. I meet with them once a month and get the opportunity to hear about some really amazing work happening around the state. A few that immediately come to mind are SoyLei, Gross-Wen Technologies, Mazen Animal Health, CartilaGen and FBB Biomed.

Q: Looking ahead, what are you most excited about regarding the future of Iowa’s bioeconomy?

SB: I’m most excited about the commitment – at all levels – to do something. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but you make the money on execution. We have the commitment from leaders and organizations throughout the state to make these big ideas happen. It’s truly an exciting time to be here. 

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