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Iowa’s The Emerge Foundation expands startup incubator and adds seed funding

Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa formed The Emerge Foundation in early 2017. Originally created as an entrepreneurial development program at the Gerald R. Edwards Entrepreneurial Center on Simpson’s campus, the growing EMERGE@Simpson program recently expanded to provide business incubation services to external enterprises.

Enterprises eligible for services include those with high commercialization potential affiliated with private colleges and community colleges. The Emerge Foundation contracted with Executive Director Todd Kielkopf in August of 2017 to guide ventures on business modeling, organizational development, and financing.

Todd Kielkopf

“There were some patent rights that were coming out of the program and it was decided by the college level that we really needed to move to a separate foundation board to manage patent rights and ownership in the future and to really incubate,” said Kielkopf. “We also have an endowment that was specifically given to provided on-campus educational opportunities and entrepreneurialism.”

The Emerge Foundation’s Board of Directors adopted a $300,000 funding plan to launch its operations and initial ventures, with over $200,000 being pledged from early supporters.

“Our goal is to leverage access to Iowa’s startup accelerators using untapped resources. We target pre-seed, technology-focused, ventures likely to benefit from a combination of smaller-college human capital and their passionate stakeholders,” said Kielkopf.

Kielkopf said the state has a lot of those valuable stakeholders that have done well in the business community and with technology startups of their own, but then they hit a certain level of success, they tend to leave the state.

“There really isn’t a funnel for the private college system in Iowa to try to engage those startups on their own campuses. And typically, those campuses are in little parts of Iowa. And so if you’re looking at ways to keep that funnel open, what we’d like to do at The Emerge Foundation, which is bigger than Simpson College, is be an administrative capacity builder for those regional communities.”

Kielkopf said that regional communities share the same passion, but they don’t always have the resources necessary to scale in order to be a viable vehicle.

“We’re hoping that we can show that there’s a model here and if we can help people work together, we can get more reinvestment in some of the more rural centers than what’s going on today,” said Kielkopf.

The Foundation is also developing a $5 million Seed Capital Fund to be a lead investor for college-affiliated ventures. Students, staff, faculty, parents, alumni, and board members will all be encouraged to work together to launch new ventures and help prepare them for growth stages.

The Emerge Foundation’s philosophy and tagline is, “What is planted together, grows together,” something that Kielkopf truly believes in.

“There’s growing interest in entrepreneurialism from non-business focused students and that broader approach is encouraged. When you look at the success of what’s going on [at larger state universities], you can see it’s a broader trend. Providing those experiences and learning opportunities is what’s really valuable.”


Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News



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