Iowa Startup Accelerator

  • Location: North America, United States, Cedar Rapids
  • Timing of Applications: Fall, Spring, Summer
  • Focus: Aerospace, Agriculture, Biotechnology, Business Products, Cleantech, Consumer Products, Education, Financial, FinTech, Food/Beverage, Healthcare, Internet, Medical Devices and Equipment, Robotics, Software, Web-Based

The Iowa Startup Accelerator is an intensive program that matches tech-based startups, especially those in ag, health, education, manufacturing and transportation technology, with world-class mentors, Midwestern work ethic, seed funding and development expertise to take them from concept to successful launch in 90 days.

We invest in up to 10 startups per year, but our investment is far more than just seed capital.

  • It’s the experience of a dedicated team working deeply with you every step of the way.
  • It’s 165+ mentors sharing their expertise – and connections with you more quickly than you could ever assemble on your own.
  • It’s access to more than $250,000 in free or heavily discounted technology perks.
  • It’s a collaborative cohort of other startups working intensely together, supporting each other, and learning from each other.
  • It’s learning experiences like marketing workshops, founder firesides with the region’s best startups, and panels of experts to get you up to speed on term sheets, intellectual property, software architecture, or whatever it is that you need to know.
  • It’s the chance for you to relentlessly focus entirely on building your business, accomplishing more in 90 days than you likely would in a year on your own.

The ISA Story

Iowa Startup Accelerator came to be thanks to a founding group of individuals who thought Iowa could do more, and be better at, developing tech-based startup companies.

The idea got off the ground in the Fall of 2013. The founding team consisted of nine people, almost all of them successful entrepreneurs individually, but together, the team accomplished in less than 18 months:

  • The research, planning and development of ISA, traveling to Nashville, London, Seattle, Omaha and many other cities with similar programs
  • The growth and blending of the Vault Coworking & Collaboration space into the program
  • Design and construction of a beautiful new facility to house the program
  • Creating a world-class mentor network
  • Finding the sponsors who made the non-profit program possible
  • Setting up the ISA seed fund, and acquiring investors to make the investment arm possible

How ISA Works

Rigorous entrepreneurial support, flexibly delivered

Iowa Startup Accelerator is an intensive, structured program for Iowa’s entrepreneurs. Entering ISA is a 12 month commitment to work with ISA staff and mentors to build your business, but you have significant flexibility in how, when and where you work. There are also three times that you can join the program: Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Once you’re accepted into ISA, you’re required to:

  • Be in Cedar Rapids for the orientation program during the first week
  • Be in Cedar Rapids on Fridays for sprint demos, retrospectives, mentor meetings, and other programming
  • On every other day, you’re working on your business, from Cedar Rapids (which we strongly recommend), or anywhere else

Exceptional founders only

We’re looking for entrepreneurs with the traits we think make entrepreneurs most likely to be successful: grit, focus, and agility, with:

  • Companies ranging from pre-revenue up to $1 million in revenue;
  • Exceptional teams, usually 2-5 people (solo founders are unlikely to be admitted);
  • Scalable, technology-enabled business models;
  • Businesses in targeted sectors that match Iowa’s core strengths and ISA’s capabilities (most commonly education, finance, healthcare, aging, food, manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture);
  • A strong connection to Iowa and your business is (or will be) located, primarily, in the state of Iowa, or you have a sincere interest in having your business located in Iowa;
  • Businesses where our funding can help you bootstrap your business to success or our seed capital is sufficient to help you get to the point at which you can get money from other investors.

Pre-revenue to $1 million

ISA is designed for businesses that are pre-revenue to up to $1 million in revenue, and the program content and format is scaled to match the stage you’re in:Validated, pre-revenue, where a startup has already gotten strong marketplace feedback and decided to continue.

Validated, pre-revenue, where a startup has already gotten strong marketplace feedback and decided to continue. The purpose of our programming at this stage is to thoroughly prototype and develop a product, in order to get an actual, saleable product to market that meets the need that’s been validated, and generate your first customers early revenue, typically with less than $100k in revenue, where you’re figuring out the fundamentals of delivering your product;

Early revenue, typically with less than $100k in revenue, where you’re figuring out the fundamentals of delivering your product;

Product-market fit, usually up to $1 million in annual revenue, where you’re focused on scaling the business well beyond the founding team in response to market demand. In this stage, we’ll begin to transition you seamlessly to partners that can help grow and scale your business past $1 million in revenue.

Work from anywhere

You can work in our space in Cedar Rapids all day, every day, and we strongly recommend that you do so, as much as possible. When you’re here, you get daily support from our staff, access to all of the workshops and speakers, and you build stronger bonds with your peers from all three overlapping batches. Being physically present in one of the most dynamic places in Eastern Iowa creates opportunities for serendipitous, game-changing conversations – you never know who’s going to be in the building! In general, we prefer to invest our time and money in founders that are willing to commit to being in Cedar Rapids most or all of the time, but we recognize that doesn’t work for everyone.

A full-time commitment

The CEO – the primary founder – must be working full-time on the company. We only accept founders who’ve made this entrepreneurial journey their entire focus, and are not distracted by having any sort of side-gig or other employment. In addition, we require you to have one or more additional team members working on the business, full-time if possible, in order to be successful.

Everything you need to launch

ISA provides access to an incredible array of guidance, capital, technical resources, and more. Participants gain access to:

  • A dedicated staff of entrepreneurs, researchers, engineers, marketers and more to guide you on your entrepreneurial journey both during and after your accelerator experience.
  • An initial seed capital investment of up to $20,000 and up to an additional $50,000 for companies that reach product-market fit (ISA intends to deploy up to $500,000 in total in 2017).
  • Mentors-in-Residence that will work with you deeply on key parts of your business including customer discovery, financial modeling, sales, marketing, hiring and more.
  • Iowa’s largest and most diverse mentor network with executive leadership, technical, marketing, sales, and financial experience and in a wide array of key industries.
  • Founder Firesides – intimate, candid conversations with some of the Midwest’s best-known entrepreneurs about the challenges and triumphs they encountered as they built their companies. These chats expose the insider secrets that are never published in the glowing articles that are written about entrepreneurs, and they’re things you need to know as you build your business.
  • Leveled workshop and entrepreneurial education content, appropriate for the stage your company is at. There are mandatory workshops and programs each Friday afternoon for the first three months following admission.
  • These workshops are only available to ISA companies. On other days, we’ll also host optional workshops that will be open to the public (for a price) and free or heavily discounted for ISA teams. Programming is labeled according to level, so your time is focused only on the critical things you need to know, when you need to know it. And most of it repeats every 3-4 months, so you can repeat a workshop to get in deeper, or defer it until you know you need it.
  • Weekly sprint demos, with brutal, constructive feedback from staff and mentors. This is what happens on those Friday mornings in Cedar Rapids: you’re held accountable for your commitments to your peers and your mentors, and progress is expected weekly. If you aren’t making steady progress toward measurable objectives every week, our staff will intervene. If you’re consistently not making progress, you’ll be removed from the program so we can focus on founders worthy of our investment of time, money and resources.
  • Agile coaching to keep you entirely focused on the critical priorities of your business. We are one of the few accelerator programs in the world that makes agile practices a core part of our program. We teach those methods to you, and practice them every single day.
  • Building on those agile practices, you’ll develop an organizational culture that will guide you in creating the kind of high performance team that’s necessary in today’s world.
  • Legal information and business guidance from local attorney mentors and access to legal advice or representation at reduced rates.
  • Hardware and software development support, including heavily discounted technical services for prototype creation and marketplace testing, often worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Lab space for hardware, software and VR development, including mentorship from our Engineer-in-Residence and software development teams.
  • Global connections to leaders in key industry sectors – probably your early customers. While we’re based in Iowa, our network literally spans the globe. Our goal is to get you in the door and help you close the deal.
  • Access to over $250,000 in free or heavily discounted technology perks, including credits to MailChimp,
  • Amazon Web Services, and IBM hosting services, via the Global Accelerator Network.
  • CEO roundtables and MasterMind groups: a small, tightly connected network of peers building businesses that will likely be your friends for decades into the future, solving the tough challenges that are part of every entrepreneur’s journey.
  • The opportunity to pitch at Launch Day, the region’s largest demo day for startups.
  • Roadshows to regional angel investor networks in Minneapolis, Chicago and elsewhere.
  • Free office/coworking space for a year in Cedar Rapids at Vault Coworking & Collaboration Space and in selected other cities around Iowa.
  • C-suite Services – hourly, discounted access to vetted CIO/CTO/CMO experts – to support you as you grow and scale your business.
  • The ability to hire technical and marketing talent through DeltaV Code School and our other educational programs.