The UNI team believed that a technology solution could be found to identify and attract entrepreneurs so that EDO’s could engage them over the life of their business and that such an approach could improve business owner access to resources and their peers. Building upon the premise that all entrepreneurs want to secure cash grants if possible, the Dream Big Grow Here contests were developed as an attractive cash competition to engage entrepreneurs online, where they could then be connected with resource providers in their home communities and online. As it was developed over the first two years, it also became a powerful tool to foster collaboration between existing service providers and a marvelous way to celebrate small business in the state.

We established multiple success measurements for DBGH:

  1. to connect small business and entrepreneurs with regional economic development organizations,
  2. to encourage small business owners to use technology and to interact with one another online,
  3. to leverage widespread marketing and positive publicity for small Iowa companies,
  4. to enhance the supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem in the state.

The use of an online contest to attract, learn about and engage large numbers of entrepreneurs is novel. Unlike business plan competitions which attract only small numbers of deeply committed entrepreneurs, Dream Big Grow Here attracts hundreds of entrepreneurs at different stages of business development and across many industries. The online pitches capture critical information about these entrepreneur’s plans for startup and growth which can be used by regional EDO’s to better serve them and others on an ongoing basis.

Recognition & Awards

  • Mid-America Economic Development Council's 2012 Annual Economic Development Award
  • University Economic Development Association Award of Excellence in Innovation & Entrepreneurship 2013

Last Year's Winners

Click below to choose a category of last year’s winners and entrants.

Ag Innovation

Have an innovation in the agriculture industry? Share your dream with us here! The Ag Innovation contest is sponsored by Renew Rural Iowa.


AgriSync provides the first customer support platform for farmers and advisors.

Casey Niemann
AgriSync Inc
West Des Moines, IA
AgriSync, Inc. delivers the first customer service platform built from the ground up for the agriculture industry. Farmers simplified access to their trusted advisors, increasing uptime and maximizing their return on tech. Advisors provide better support at lower cost.
While most of the ag tech revolution has been focused on data and precision ag; we focus on the human element of the grower and their trusted local advisor. We serve growers and the advisors who help them in the ag retail, local equipment dealers, university extension, risk management and independent agronomy consultants space. We monetize through advisor subscription fees. We target the $1B ag services market and the 2M+ U.S. farmers.
We are proud to be founded and growing our startup in Iowa. Iowa has an opportunity to be the silicon valley of agriculture technology, and we are excited to enable world class technology companies to deliver world class customer service through AgriSync. This contest will allow us to share our message with prospective customers and provide funds to expand our marketing efforts.

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Help Farmers achieve the prices they deserve

William Pattison
ProduceRun, Inc
Cedar rapids, IA
ProduceRun is a new and better way to buy and sell high quality farm goods, connecting consumers directly with their food producers. By cutting out the middleman, we allow food producers to sell at more competitive prices and consumers to get better food at a better price.
We allow farmers to sell on our website for only 10% per successful campaign.
For example we sold $1458 worth of turkeys for wallace farms for retail prices in only a couple day and our commission was only $145.8.
In 2012 there was 7 billion worth of farms goods sold direct to the public which is promptly sold through farmers markets and community supported agriculture programs.
We predict this number will increase across america with the use of our technology
To further showcase our business in front of business leaders and the agriculture industry.
The winnings would be also helpful.

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TreePans.com "protecting trees, protecting our future"

Bill Brown
Akron, IA
TreePans is an environmentally friendly product manufactured using recycled plastic. TreePans, when placed around the base of a tree, decreases the water needed by retaining moisture. Our product will be used to replace the current industry standard of plastic sheeting and mulch.
Treepans replaces mulch, plastic sheeting, tree rings and tree wraps. TreePans helps to protect against damage from mowers, weed eaters, frost, drought, fungus/mold and rodents. The dome design promotes growth, uses less water, and reduces labor costs. Treepans patent pending design is the only product of its kind that actually expands with the growth of the tree and is recyclable so you can dismantle and use again. With renewed emphasis on "going green' and planting trees, our mission of "protecting trees, protecting our future" will be the platform of our marketing to social media, retail, associations, government and trade shows.
The much needed award would be utilized to produce our new, smaller standard sized Treepans mold with a cost of $30,000. We have received feedback from large retailers (Home Depot, Lowe's) indicating that the 48" jumbo Treepans would be difficult to stock in the stores. They are interested in adding the Treepans to their websites for drop shipping but not for in-store display. In addition, our goal is to move our manufacturing home from India and secure our supply chain. This "Made in America" status will do that.

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Stainless Steel Vegetable Washer

Dick Schwab
Solon, IA
The local foods movement is growing rapidly in Iowa and across the country. A significant challenge for all vegetable farmers is to wash their root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc) safely and efficiently. Barrel washers are the implement of choice. Food safety is a challenge with wooden washer.
I have designed a stainless steel barrel washer that is efficient, safe and affordable. We have refined the design through 4 iterations of the washer and used these prototypes to wash vegetables at Wild Woods Farm in 2014. The washer has been designed to be a highly efficient farm tool which is safe to use and easy to clean. The washer is designed to be shipped on a pallet to customers at a reasonable cost. Based on my research, there are no other small scale stainless steel barrel washers on the market.
The next major challenge to bring the product to market. The most cost effective sales channel is to create a web site describing the washer while showing it in operation. Social media will be used to draw potential customers to the site.
This product is targeted to the small to medium sized vegetable producers. There are approximately 30,000 producers in the US. Nearly all of them grow root vegetables and face the challenge of washing their product safely and efficiently. These producers are increasingly aware of more stringent food safety regulations. A compelling case can be made to these producers that they should purchase a stainless steel barrel washer.
The current market size is $135,000,000 (30,000 producers x a target selling price of $4,500). Assuming market penetration of 15 to 20% over 5 years, revenue potential is in excess of $20,000,000. The target profit margin is 15%.
The product is complete and tested. The next major challenge is to cost effectively bring it to market. The target market is small to medium sized vegetable producers in the US. The most effective way to reach these potential customers is through a web site that describes the washer, shows it in operation and has testimonials from satisfied users.

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Top-Spread Helping Folks save Time and Money

Steve Smith
Top-Notch Machine
Charles City, IA
Patent Pending Top-Spread bale processor strives to set people up for success through an affordable way to cut material usage and time spent on tasks.
Top-Spread is Ag Innovation. Top-Spread is a unique product concept with patent pending technologies for bale processing. Top-Spread quick attaches to a skid loader, front loader, or telehandler to operate. You are able to scoop up the bale or the material you wish to use. The apron feeds twin rotors which are both patent pending to grind up the material finely. The material is directed under a deflector and is spread up to 50ft.

This was all designed by Iowa Farmers. A couple beef producers were looking for an easier way to bed their barns, but no piece of equipment was able to fit in the alley or run on something besides a tractor. After a few prototypes, they built Top-Spread. Now, one person is able to complete the whole process from their seat! Top-Spread saves users 25-50% of material usage and half the time.

We will earn a profit by providing an affordable spreader that people can use with the equipment they currently operate. There is nothing else like this in the industry that is capable of holding a large round bale. Top-Spread is the only spreader in the United States that doesn’t require a 3point hook up. By keeping our material costs low, we are able to pass these savings to our customers making us a price leader. The opportunity for new customers is currently endless. With nothing comparable built in the United States markets, Top-Spread has the strength of being an innovative product that could make tasks in a lot of industries easier. Spreading mulch, corn stalks, straw, and paper bales are just a few of the uses of Top-Spread.

Most of our folks have over 40 years of experience in the Ag industry, operating their own farms and raising livestock. They also have over 20 years of certified welding and machining experience. This combination is perfect for creating the right product for our customers. Steve, the owner, has a passion for improving people’s lives and providing the tools necessary for them to succeed. In starting production of Top-Spread, Top-Notch Machine has added five new positions in our growing community of Charles City, Iowa.
There are two areas we need to improve on specifically. We hope to create more product awareness and to make production more efficient.

We have taken several steps already including a full spread ad in SimTalk Magazine that is published across the country as well as creating an online presence. We are working on the steps of producing Top-Spread to make the labor more cost effective.

We would use part of the money for Marketing and Product awareness. Additionally, we would install an overhead hoist system in house for safe manipulation of equipment. The remaining dollars would be applied to complete the patent process for Top-Spread. The combination of these three will create a large impact on our operation efficiency and benefit our current and future customers.

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Landscaper wants to grow and connect gap between company and customers with a retail store.

Megan Archer
Mj's CountryScapes
Bloomfield, IA
Mj's wants to grow! Starting with my own perennials, pumpkins, and other specialty crops. I need 3 hoop houses, shade covers, beehives and equipment. Second, I want to build a landscape, garden center and gift shop full of knowledgeable staff, great products, and that benefits my community.
Megan Archer, owner of Mj's CountryScapes, started out in 2008 with nothing more than a few shovels, wheelbarrow, and a pick-up truck. Over the years Mj's has grown into a full-service landscaping company. Offering services such as design plans, plant installation and maintenance, seeding, sod installation, retaining walls, and twice a year liquid lawn weed and feed. Mj's services 6 counties in Iowa and 4 counties in Missouri. Megan does both residential and commercial landscaping. Commercial examples include Burger King, Menards, Quincy Place Mall, local Care Centers, vet clinic, banks, schools, hospitals, and pharmacies.
Megan had worked for various flower shops, garden centers and different landscaping companies, until the company she worked for decided to shut-down operations. After sending out countless resumes, she was faced with a decision. She had always dreamed of setting out on her own and decided, why not now?! Born and raised on a family farm with 65 year old roots in Davis County, hard work and old fashioned values and principles were instilled in her upbringing. So when Megan started out, she picked the motto "Diggin it Right Oldschool" because she knew that through hard work, dedication, and honesty she would build the kind of business she had always dreamed of and one that she could be truly be proud of. She didn't have lots of fancy equipment or a huge crew to do it all for her, but she worked hard and dedicated herself and all that she had to Mj's CountryScapes and overtime, she built up the business to buy the equipment she needed and continued to add more services to her list. Unlike most landscaping companies with 'manly crews', Mj's is an 80% one woman-manned crew and company. Megan does everything from the consultation, the design plans; which are all hand drawn, she pitches the plans and bids, and does the installation. Megan is passionate about what she does and enjoys working with customers to make their dreams become a reality. She knows that every job not only has her company's name on it, but it also has her own. Megan's perseverance, hand-drawn design plans, and craftsmanship is only a small part of what makes Mj's unique. Megan might not be very good with a skill saw, but if you give her a block saw, stand back and watch the magic happen!
The need and want for beautiful curb appeal and relaxing outdoor spaces is growing by leaps and bounds every year. As the cost of travel and vacationing rises, people have become more centered towards turning their own backyards into a paradise oasis. A place they can go 6 months out of the year to relax, entertain, and enjoy, instead of only a week. Not only adding beauty and value to their everyday life, but also to their properties' bottom line. Plants and materials are evolving and changing rapidly. Megan wants to provide a place where consumers can get advice and help make decisions that is right for them. Here in Davis County, we have a huge Amish community who have capitalized the market in Annuals and vegetables. We also have Bloomfield Greenhouses, a garden and landscaping center. Mj's Flowers and CountryScapes not only wants to help compliment the existing businesses, but also wants to provide additional products, services, and events not yet in the community.
The future for Mj's? In a dream where money is no object! Megan wants to buy an acreage to grow her own perennials, shrubs, trees, and other specialty crops. She wants to build an 'event center' for weddings, family gatherings, etc... and surround the center with massive beautifully landscaped gardens and relaxing outdoor spaces. And perhaps even someday, a winery! But for now, a few hoop houses and a landscape, garden center, and gift shop is on the agenda. Megan is excited for what the 2015 season has in store. She looks forward to continue growing Mj's and serving her community. The funds provided through this process would certainly make a huge impact on Mj's and help Megan continue to 'Dream Big, and Grow Here'.
With Mj's 8th season fast approaching, Megan feels like its time to grow and make 2 more dreams a reality. First, she wants to grow her own perennials, pumpkins, and other specialty crops and will finally get the chance to start that this season. Megan has already prepared the site, but still needs to purchase 3 hoop houses and shade covers to create the ideal growing environment. She also, would like to start beehive boxes to help amp up production and help contribute in the fight to bring back the honeybees.
Secondly, Megan has purchased a vacant lot, right off the very busy and major highway 63 that runs right through the heart of Bloomfield. This is where Megan plans to break ground in the summer of 2015 to build a new home for Mj's Flowers & CountryScapes, a retail landscape, garden center, and gift shop. Mj's Flowers and CountryScapes is a chapter that has been put on hold for the last year. Megan first opened Mj's Flowers in 2012 in Lancaster, Mo, which is 3 miles from the Iowa/Missouri border and 20 miles from Bloomfield. Megan purchased an old bus barn/antique shop and completely remodeled the building into half an apartment and half into a full-service flower shop and garden center. She offered everything from fresh and silk flowers, Willow Tree figurines, purses and snow boots, annuals and vegetables, to bulk mulch. Megan held events such as 'Ladies Nights', where she not only opened her store to the community offering huge sales, but she opened her home to a vendor show. Megan cleared out her kitchen, dining and living room to accommodate the vendors. Ladies Nights received a huge positive response from the town and surrounding communities. They gave a night out, shopping and connecting with local entrepreneurs, discovering products and services offered in the communities. Megan also hosted local Head Start field trips, teaching the children about Christmas Trees and providing a little Norfolk Island Pine for each one to decorate with garlands, ornaments and tinsel. Mj's Flowers made many contributions to the local cancer foundation, 4-H Events, and made fresh Christmas wreaths for a local 4-H fundraiser. Mj's Flowers received a tremendous amount of community support and had a really great first year, but unfortunately it just wasn't enough and by the end of the 2013 closing of the shop was evitable. Megan wants to reinvent the store in Bloomfield, where the obstacles that caused the closing in Lancaster are not a issue. She will continue to plan 'Ladies Nights' and other such like events. As well as, host field trips and sponsor fundraisers with local organizations. Megan also, plans to build a classroom in the new store to hold educational workshops, fun paint nights, lectures, etc... Megan wants to keep giving back to the town where she was born and raised and help create more events in the community. She is also, currently in the early stages of preparing a community garden in Bloomfield, in which all the produce will be donated to the local school. In addition, Megan wants to help close the gap between her company and her customers. Most of the community is a d.i.y.er, and she wants to tap into that by opening a store and continuing to be a source for knowledge, plants, landscaping materials, and much more. Megan wants to create a local store for her customers and community instead of them driving the extra 40 mile trip to the big box chain stores. She already has a established customer base and has received a positive response to her plans for growth.
Mj's is only just beginning to grow. Megan knows that through her hard work and perseverance, she will make all of her dreams for Mj's become a reality, but she is hoping for a little help along. The Dream Big, Grow Here Grant can help give her that hope.
Thank-you for your time and consideration.

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Pollution Solution Providers - Transforming Waste into Cash

Gene Veltkamp
Veltkamp Integrated Renewable Energy Process Solutions, LLC (VIREPS)
Paullina, IA
The company will provide solutions for other entities pollution, and transform the "pollution" into renewable products using cellular technology. The end results will be a cleaner environment, clean water, and a revenue stream for small cities, towns, and producers.
The company has developed a concept in which it will convert waste byproducts from municipalities, animal producers, food processing plants, and light industry into components that can then be transformed into renewable energy compounds, renewable chemicals, clean water, and cleaner air. By definition, wastes are materials that the consumer, animal producer, food processor, or the light industry cannot use anymore and must be discarded or discharged either into streams rivers, lakes, or as solid waste into landfills.

The company business model is to set up campus style facilities, located where the raw materials (wastes are stored), and convert the wastes into components using microbial agents. The campus will consist of different production facilities, that are right sized for the amount of waste materials generated for the animal producer, municipality, or the food processor. The conversion of the waste stream(s), instead of being thought of as a poison, is actually an energy source that can be mined and converted into the products listed previously.

It is obvious that the process will have to be controlled to maintain optimum growth conditions for the organism(s) used in the different processes. The system needs to be producing compounds, regardless of the ambient conditions found in the state during the winter months. By placing the different production processes in close proximity to each other, the intent will be to minimize transportation costs of the raw materials into the campus, but allow for the final product to be transported to the local distribution hubs located within the state. The byproduct of one process becomes the feed material for the next production process, which we believe will significantly diminish the Carbon waste footprint of the campus into the ambient environment.

The uniqueness of these processes is that we will be smaller towns and cities, that we will be able to clean up our wastes and convert to economically important products, that we will be able to help our customers to be able to comply with regulatory changes coming in the future, and we will be able to have a cleaner environment for the general population, in terms of air and water. Having smaller will still be profitable, because multiple products can be generated, such as renewable electricity, renewable cellulosic biofuels, and renewable cellulosic chemicals generated from wastes of what we consider as poisons today, and are not using food supplies to generate renewable fuels.

As far as I am aware, this concept is unique, in the way that we are looking at our feed materials, the way that we intend to process, and the final products obtained. The concept involves the idea of recycling and reuse or renewal of material instead of discard into landfills or into our surface waters, but seeks to clean up while using the sale of the by products of the final process to finance the clean up process. Recycling of the thermal energy will allow us to minimize the need for virgin energy. Recycling the light industry wastes such as cellulosic feed stocks - wood pellets, paper, grasses, corn stover, etc - will generate Carbon dioxide, heat and electricity, which can the be recycled into production of additional energy components.

The goal within 10 years of the first production facility is to have another 10 campus's up and operational, each generating between 5M and 50M gallons of renewable products, with gross sales between $15M to $150M per facility. The analysis of the operation suggest a 25% return on sales, and a 3 to 4 year pay back for investors. Once this is operational, then additional expansion into additional towns and cities that meet the criteria will be pursued.

My experience is that I am a microbiologist by training with experience in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and dealing with regulatory agencies such as FDA, USDA-APHIS, BATF, and others. I have spent over 17 years in the microbial field with regulatory affairs experience, 4 years with the neutraceutical industry, 6 years in the energy efficiency/renewable energy, and finally 5 years in the customer service sector as a HVAC/Plumbing trade.

I have also been involved in 4 startup companies during my career. Some of the startups were wildly successful and some failed for different reasons. The two that failed should have been successful, but failed for various reasons. This experience in entrepreneurial ventures is why I want to start this company. To solve problems and help others. I have experience in all areas of the start ups, but prefer to spend the majority of my time in the technical side of the company, solving problems. For those reasons, I am looking for people to come along side of the venture and bring their specific talents to bear such that the company will be successful economically.
The reason that I am applying for this program is as follows:
1. Use the money as seed to initiate patent protection for the process. The total amount of money to completely finance this operation will indeed dwarf the size of the grant(s) competing for. However, the exposure alone is well worth the effort to enter this competition.
2. Use as a matching fund for additional funding to determine the correct strain of organisms to use.
3. To solve problems in our environment due to excess nutrient runoff into our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans
4. To be able to provide for economic development for small cities and towns within IA
5. Provide new well paying jobs for people to stay in the smaller towns and cities in IA.
6. Make IA and the Upper Midwest US the renewable energy capital of the world

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