America’s Cultivation Corridor: Inspiring Ingenuity Among International Innovators

March 29, 2021 |

Iowa-based organization connects food and agtech startups with resources and relationships that fuel innovation and growth.

By Mark Laurenzo, Business Development Manager, Iowa Economic Development Authority

Special to The Digest

Iowa’s nutrient-rich land has yielded much more than ample harvests of corn and soybeans used to feed the nation and produce biofuels. Hundreds of years’ worth of experience has borne a plethora of methods, practices and agricultural expertise that are uniquely Iowan with global impact. Coupled with homegrown advancements in precision agriculture that continue to revolutionize the industry, Iowa stands as not only a premier destination for agribusiness but a center of agrarian knowledge that informs the development of new innovations.

These agricultural innovations once helped the state’s economy weather the Great Recession whereas many other states experienced massive economic downturns. With that sustaining effect in mind, Iowa’s business leaders recognized an opportunity for even more investment and exploration in the future of agriculture. With an intimate understanding of the intrinsic benefits that this combination of natural resources, ingenuity and innovation can provide, America’s Cultivation Corridor was founded in 2014 to elevate Iowa’s leadership role in the agriculture industry and connect the state with new partners —foreign and domestic — to explore mutually beneficial opportunities that would advance agricultural innovations.

Originally concepted as a Research Triangle Park-esque initiative that would operate primarily in Des Moines and Ames, executive director Billi Hunt expanded the operational reach of America’s Cultivation Corridor across the entire state in 2018. This shift allowed the organization to incorporate the full spectrum of experiences and cultures that comprise Iowa’s agricultural community, creating a more holistic offering for food and agribusiness partners.

A Commitment to Growth

America’s Cultivation Corridor has a proven track record of elevating innovations from Iowa-based industry stalwarts such as Kent Corporation, Corteva Agriscience, Sukup Manufacturing, REG and Kemin Industries and leveraging their well-earned credibility to position Iowa as a sound investment opportunity for out-of-state partners.

But another key function of the organization is connecting early-stage startups with agricultural leaders and experts within the state to facilitate an open exchange of ideas that gives startups a foundation for sustained success (and investor interest). These efforts are paying dividends, as seed round investments in Iowa-based start-ups increased from $44 million in 2019 to $144 million in 2020 — 49% of which were committed to food and agriculture startups.

Filling the Pipeline

Despite exponential growth in seed round investments, Hunt and team realized the need to continually replenish the pipeline with new early-stage companies — a need that challenged the team to look outside of Iowa, and even outside of our domestic borders. This led to the creation of the Cultivo Global Ag Innovation Program, an accelerator connecting international startups and entrepreneurs with Iowa’s world-renowned research, academic and business communities. Launched in 2019, participating companies gain valuable expertise, insights and real-world data from Iowa’s leaders in animal science, plant science, biomass processing, food processing, advanced manufacturing and more. To date, entrepreneurs and startups representing Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom have taken part in the program.

“Cultivo facilitates a mutually-beneficial value exchange. Our cohorts have access to real trials, real data and the kind of expertise found here that strengthens their offerings and positions them well for additional investment from venture capital firms,” said Billi Hunt, executive director, America’s Cultivation Corridor. “For Iowa, this program demonstrates our commitment to elevating our international profile and sheds light on the expertise and resources available here.”

Going Virtual

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (and subsequent cancellations of most international travel) forced America’s Cultivation Corridor to explore alternate avenues to sustain Cultivo’s momentum. In response to these unprecedented circumstances, America’s Cultivation Corridor announced the inaugural Cultivo Virtual Academy — the first cohort of which will convene in April 2021. Even in a virtual setting, the Academy still provides international participants with the following:

  • Introduction to the U.S. startup community and entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • U.S. investment in startups
  • How to connect for partnerships and acquisitions in the U.S. to build your business
  • Training and mentor support for pitch development
  • Education on the U.S. financial system and regulatory programs
  • Opportunities to connect with industry-leading farmers and livestock producers
  • Pathways to introduce your technology in the U.S.

Beyond these takeaways, the hope is that some participating startups will consider Iowa as a new base of operations or form long-term partnerships with Iowa-based companies to continue the work and relationships initiated during the six-week course.

As useful as virtual meetings have been for business continuity, there’s no true substitute for on the ground, in-person collaboration and experimentation. As such, in 2022, all Virtual Academy participants who successfully completed a cohort session will be invited to attend a weeklong in-person experience Des Moines, Iowa, providing the opportunity to meet their networks in person. America’s Cultivation Corridor will also provide on-farm engagement, a day at Iowa State University and interactions with Iowa-based global industry leadership.

For more information about the Cultivo Virtual Academy, visit


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