ISU Startup Factory Demo Day Showcases Remarkable Growth in Innovative Ventures 

ISU Startup Factory Demo Day Showcases Remarkable Growth in Innovative Ventures 

ISU Startup Factory Cohort 15 members and mentors from L to R: Donna Ramaeker-Zahn (Entrepreneur-In-Residence), Nick Miller (Signup Casa), Hannah Kirkendall (ISU Startup Factory Program Coordinator), Jeremy Rurup (Conformal Electronic Solutions), Andrea Boord (PEAK Engineering), Jake Bruggeman (Work Truck), Andrew Kirpilani (Entrepreneur-In-Residence), and Peter Hong (ISU Startup Factory Program Director).

May 29, 2024 – Ames, Iowa – The ISU Research Park Core Facility was buzzing with excitement on Wednesday, May 22, as the ISU Startup Factory celebrated its Demo Day. This event concluded the 18-week-long incubator program and featured business pitches from eight promising startup companies, along with two companies from the Iowa Go-To-Market Accelerator program. Each venture presented a five-minute pitch highlighting their progress and future plans, followed by a networking session that led to connections and potential collaborations for each of the members of cohort 15. 

ISU Startup Factory: A Launchpad for Innovation 

The ISU Startup Factory, under the direction of Peter Hong and program coordinator Hannah Kirkendall, is a dynamic incubator that aims to prepare participants with emerging technology to turn their ideas into viable business ventures. Entrepreneurs receive extensive training, resources, and mentorship over a 18-week period, developing essential business acumen, communication skills, and deep customer insights. This curriculum prepares them to secure non-dilutive funding and develop commercialization strategies. 

“Our program focuses on ensuring entrepreneurs understand their customers and the market fit,” said Peter Hong. “Without customers, you don’t have a business. We push our participants to discover their customers and validate their business models.” 

Startup Spotlights 

The companies showcased on Demo Day demonstrated significant progress over the past 18 weeks and came prepared with commercialization plans to present to an audience full of mentors, community and university supporters, and potential investors. To highlight a few: 

CornGro Limited: Led by Kimani Wilson from Kenyatta University, CornGro is revolutionizing agriculture in Africa by commercializing biotech seeds that empower farmers with resilient, high-yielding sorghum varieties. The company has already registered, formed a competent team, and achieved early field results for a new sorghum breed ideal for brewing beer. They are in conversation with East African breweries and aim to launch their product by 2027.  

ImPETus: Founded by Iowa State University PhD candidate Dhananjay Dileep and Aadhi Subbiah, ImPETus is tackling the PET plastic recycling challenge. Their innovative process rapidly converts waste plastic bottles back into starting materials, significantly reducing energy consumption. The company is ready to develop a prototype and is currently looking to build an advisory board consisting of experts in the plastics industry, and chemical manufacturing. 

Alethia: Denis Bjelica’s mobile app, Alethia, enables users to scan barcodes and access a company’s legal and environmental history to help them make ethical and sustainable shopping decision. With secured funding, Alethia plans to launch officially next year, aiming for sustainability with a minimum of 50,000 subscribers. 

PEAK Engineering: PhD candidate Andrea Boord, alongside Professors Ossama Abdelkhalik, PhDand Paul Koola, PhD, is developing cost-effective wave energy converters. PEAK Engineering aims to sell controls to existing wave energy companies and eventually create utility-level wave energy converters. They are currently seeking connections with investors interested in wave energy and advisors to help them scale their business. 

Other notable startups included: 

  • Work Truck: Jake Bruggeman’s venture focused on innovative solutions for the pick-up truck accessory market. Jake is developing a modular truck bed rack and cover system that is customizable for every user’s unique needs.  
  • SmartGridAI: Founded by Ravikumar Gelli and Sai Chandana V, SmartGridAI offers a cloud-based SaaS product for power utilities, enhancing energy efficiency and reliability. 
  • Conformal Electronic Solutions: Jeremy Rurup and Ethan Secor’s company specializes in manufacturing services and expertise for engineers designing circuits on 3D objects, giving them a new way to reduce the weight and size of electronics. 
  • Signup Casa: Nick Miller’s app for volunteer organizers to simplify onboarding, improve scheduling, and increase engagement when communicating with the vast market of over 60 million volunteers in the U.S. 

A Promising Future  

These entrepreneurs have built a solid foundation of business through the ISU Startup Factory, and many are prepared (and encouraged) to continue their journey with the Go-To-Market Accelerator for further development. The support from Peter Hong, Hannah Kirkendall, and the Entrepreneurs-In-Residence—Donna Ramaeker-Zahn, John LaMarche, and Andrew Kirpilani—has been instrumental in their growth. 

Peter Hong introducing Cohort 15 participants at Demo Day.

“We’ve reconfigured the program to make it more accessible to aspiring entrepreneurs,” said Peter Hong. “The most valuable part is the one-on-one mentoring, ensuring participants can identify the problems they are solving and the value of their solutions.” 

The ISU Startup Factory Demo Day not only showcased the innovative spirit at Iowa State University but also highlighted the crucial role of incubation programs in transforming new technologies into successful businesses. With a strong support system and a focus on customer discovery, these startups are well-equipped to navigate the complexities of bringing their solutions to market.