Having a great idea for a business is one thing; seeing it go from the blackboard to the boardroom is the goal of every entrepreneur. The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) has helped more than 3,000 Iowans realize their potential by attending one of RRIA’s 46 business mentoring and financial guidance seminars across the state. The end result: $125 million in economic impact for rural Iowa.
Launched nine years ago, RRIA is designed to encourage business growth statewide. “We are known as a general farm organization, but what Iowans may not realize is that we have long been a proponent of rural economic sustainability. Nearly 90% of Iowa’s farmers rely on off-farm income and without a growing job base, those smaller Iowa towns risk losing more of their people to urban areas; research shows 65% of Iowa’s population base lives in urban areas. RRIA’s aim is to turn the tide by stimulating job creation and economic activity in rural Iowa,” says IFBF Investment Manager Adam Koppes.
Keeping those ideas alive and growing existing businesses that make an impact on rural Iowa brings measurable dividends to all Iowans. “Our new Rural Vitality Fund II, done in partnership with Wellmark, has an additional $10 million available for direct investments, and through our seminars and collaborations, we bring a vast network of statewide resource providers and expertise to Iowans. As we look to this, National Small Business week (May 1-7) is a time to celebrate. These accomplishments are best represented by current and previous portfolio companies which collectively represent hundreds of jobs across this state,” says Koppes. One of these companies in particular, Harrisvaccines (recently acquired by Merck Animal Health), has made state and national headlines repeatedly over the years. “We set out to commercialize a fundamentally new and entirely innovative way of making vaccines for production livestock. Iowa Farm Bureau’s Rural Vitality Fund helped us do that. We couldn’t have accomplished what we did without them and we look forward to continued collaboration in the future,” said Joel Harris, now Associate Director, Marketing at Merck Animal Health.
“Renew Rural Iowa’s outreach and support of entrepreneurs across the state is a critical piece in our collective wealth and job creation strategy,” said Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “It is essential that we have innovation and growth in all corners of our state – Renew Rural Iowa helps to make that happen.”
RRIA business mentoring has also helped several Iowa businesses find incredible success. Two companies claimed the top prize in the national Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge (REC) Business Plan Competition: ScoutPro, an Iowa agricultural technology company founded in Lone Tree, and AccuGrain, a Rose Hill, Iowa-based company that utilizes X-Ray technology to provide real-time grain inventory management. “The origins of their successes are similar to many we see across the state,” says RRIA Economic Development Administrator Sandy Ehrig. “The ScoutPro system founders, who are Iowa State University graduates, knew they had a great idea, but they didn’t know where to find the right partner for their business. Then one day, an RRIA guest speaker came to their ISU Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative class, and the path was paved for success,” says Ehrig. “The support and encouragement from the Iowa Farm Bureau has been tremendous, and we can’t thank them enough for their role in helping take ScoutPro to the next level,” said ScoutPro co-founder, Stuart McCulloh.
AccuGrain founder Ryan Augustine said the REC challenge and RRIA’s mentoring also helped launch their success; “Winning the award means that others validate our ideas and their need in a rural space, and that means a lot. We’ve had quite a few people come up and tell us how they could use our product on their farms.”
RRIA’s next “Journey To Your Vision” entrepreneur mentoring seminar is coming up May 16 in Forest City at the Titonka Savings Bank. Additional seminars are scheduled throughout 2016, all around the state.