Corn, soybeans, pigs, and ethanol; if you live in Iowa, you probably know that our state leads the nation in producing these (and other) farm commodities.

But you might not realize that Iowa is quickly becoming a nationally-recognized leader in churning out another important product: rural entrepreneurs.

Renew Rural Iowa leads the country in providing rural entrepreneurs with education and investment,” said American Farm Bureau’s Director of Rural Development Dr. Lisa Benson. “Their work has been an inspiration and model for American Farm Bureau’s Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative.”

An Iowa Farm Bureau creation, Renew Rural Iowa recently turned 10-years-old. The program – which provides education, mentoring, recognition, connections, and financing for rural entrepreneurs – has mentored 3000-plus Iowans over a decade and has had more than a $125 million economic impact on rural Iowa, a reflection of Iowa Farm Bureau’s commitment to helping rural communities prosper.

Iowa’s pro-entrepreneur environment and the agencies, organizations and programs that help create it are an advantage that isn’t lost on Iowa’s hungry startups, including the five Iowa companies selected to attend American Farm Bureau’s inaugural Agricultural Investment Summit last weekend. The summit provided education and investor pitching opportunities for 20-plus top ag startups from around the country.

“I think what we have is unique,” said Casey Niemann, president of Dallas County-based AgriSync. “I think there’s a lot more coordination of effort in Iowa across organizational lines to say ‘how can we band these resources together for the benefit of entrepreneurs.’ That takes collaboration, and that takes a lot of organizations being willing to work together. I noticed today at the summit that there were a number of other state Farm Bureau organizations that were there listening to kind of try to figure out how to model what’s been done in Iowa. I tell people all the time, if you’re going to do an ag startup, and you’re trying to find a place to do that where you’re going to have support, where you’re going to have resources in an ongoing way, Iowa’s a great place to build that business.”

“The culture and ecosystem in Iowa over the last five to seven years has just exploded,” said Michael Koenig, president of ScoutPro, founded in Lone Tree, Iowa and recipient of the 2015 American Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year Award. “The resources that are available today, versus what was there five years ago is just a testament to how important entrepreneurship, especially in agriculture, is to the state of Iowa and in the Midwest, so that’s been a great opportunity for us. Iowa Farm Bureau has been a key part in helping some of the relationships that we’ve had with our customers and opportunities.”

Iowa’s progress is inspiring, but it’s only the first chapter in a story that’s being written every day by Iowa’s aspiring and growing entrepreneurs, rural communities looking to revitalize their economies, and those who support them.

“I believe that Renew Rural Iowa will continue to exist as a central player in the Iowa entrepreneurial ecosystem for a long time to come,” said Iowa Farm Bureau’s Investment Manager Adam Koppes. “The strength of our program is directly attributable to collaboration with exceptional partners around the state, including Wellmark of Iowa, Iowa State University’s Ag Entrepreneurial Initiative, the Ag Startup Engine, and entrepreneurs themselves. Iowa has some challenges, for sure. For example, the seed stage financing gap in Iowa is very real, and we’re actively exploring ways for Renew Rural Iowa to help address it. But as long as we continue to gather feedback from companies and leaders actively engaged in building our communities and stay focused on our guiding principles of educating, mentoring, recognizing, connecting, and investing in entrepreneurs, Iowa will be in good position to remain a national leader in rural renewal.”  

National Accolades 

  • In 2015 and 2016, two Iowa companies that have received support from the Renew Rural Iowa – ScoutPro and AccuGrain – were the first two winners of the annual American Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, a three-year-old competition that has attracted more than 1,000 applicants nationwide. Also, in 2016, Iowa company AgriSync was one of four finalists in the challenge. Iowa companies Performance Livestock Analytics and Inland Sea were semi-finalists in the 2017 competition.
  • Five of the 20-plus ag startups selected to attend this year’s inaugural American Farm Bureau Agricultural Investment Summit hail from Iowa. Iowa Farm Bureau Investment Manager Adam Koppes delivered opening remarks and a presentation on financing growth during the summit, while two Iowa companies (ScoutPro and Performance Livestock Analytics) participated in a three-company panel discussion to provide other summit participants tips for dealing with investors. 

By Zach Bader. Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.