Megan Vollstedt begins her work as the first executive director of the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator with a background at one of Iowa’s most prominent (former) startups — Workiva, the growing productivity software firm in Ames that started as WebFilings.

Vollstedt knows what it’s like to come up with an idea in the morning and start implementing it that afternoon. She has marketing experience that comes in handy when it’s time to help the new crop of ag tech startups explain what they do. And she grew up in a farm family on an acreage between Denison and Manilla — so she has a high appreciation for all things farming. 

The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator has opened shop in a place that’s very much unlike Crawford County — Des Moines’ East Village. The one-woman shop is in the same building as the Global Insurance Accelerator — the model for the ag operation — and Square One DSM.

The AgriTech Accelerator was formed by the Greater Des Moines Partnership and Cultivation Corridor.

Vollstedt will work with the seven initial investors in the program — Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. of Iowa, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co., John Deere, Kent Corp., Peoples Co., DuPont Pioneer and Sukup Manufacturing Co. Each invested $100,000 for the first year in return for 6 percent equity in the companies — and a chance to help refine software, equipment and other products that can help agriculture grow.

It’s clear Vollstedt is enthusiastic about this new job. We asked her about her farming street cred, how she’s wired, and how she’ll approach the job.
 
We’re guessing you know your way around a sonnet,but do you have street cred in agriculture? 
I came from a family of farmers. My background is in rural Iowa — that’s where I grew up, between Denison and Manilla. Also, what’s so appealing about agriculture and technology is this is where it is happening. We have these huge industries in Central Iowa. I really want to be a part of furthering agriculture and adding the technology aspect to it. Technology has been my background. I am really excited about combining agriculture and technology. I have been working for a technology company (Workiva).

How do you see your Workiva experience fitting in with the accelerator?
I got to grow and increase my skill set and learn about the startup environment from being in one. I joined WebFilings, the name at the time, in February 2011. It was a very small startup at that point. I joined to help grow our communications. I was in charge of our internal communications. You wear many different hats (at a startup). You might make a decision in the morning and you might execute it in the afternoon. Time management. Innovation. Being able to throw out ideas, try something, then discover that it wasn’t right but learn lessons from it, then implement something else. That background in seeing how a startup works and seeing how a startup can scale up to a larger company is huge. I will be able to relate that to startups who are coming into our accelerator. 
 
Your office is next to the Global Insurance Accelerator?
Yes, we are renting space from them. Currently, I’m sitting in Square One DSM (another accelerator). 
 
What will be most challenging about your new job? 
I’ve been in leadership roles before. This is going to challenge me to grow even further in a leadership role. I will be working to make sure that the startups and the mentors and the connections that they have are successful and also that I need to be certain that the accelerator is successful on behalf of the board. 
 
What do you make of being a staff of one? Is that intimidating?
It’s not intimidating. It’s exciting. I want this challenge. I want to be the leader of this organization, but I’m so thankful that I have the resources I do. 
 
How are you wired?
I’m pretty open and dedicated. My communications background helps me understand how to communicate with people and the ways in which I should. I can balance what I need to and support a diversity of communication styles. 

Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?
I argue with Tej Dhawan about this. He says I’m an extrovert. I am an introvert, but I am a social introvert. I have to come home at the end of the day and charge my batteries, but I love to know people and get to know people.
 
What other skills or characteristics do you have that apply to this job?
I like to meet people. I love to relate to people and understand what their goals are. We talk at the accelerator about giving. Giving your time and talent to help someone else — the startups. I am a very giving person. 
 
Will the presence of the Iowa State University Research Park and other major ag facilities help attract companies to the accelerator?
Absolutely. The companies in Ames and Des Moines show that technology is huge for these communities. That continues to grow. 
 
When do you pick the second class? 
About this time next year. Early summer 2018. We’ll go out for applications in the spring.

What have been your initial tasks?
Quite a few because the program is right around the corner. It’s a big focus on getting the program started — it’s three weeks away.

How do the mentors work?
Initially all of our companies will meet with each of our mentors and they will do their pitches so the mentors know where the needs are and where they can help each other. They will each have three to seven mentors. We also have entrepreneurs in residence. These will be dedicated experts who come into our office space, dedicate a day a week, and they are able to also support the startups. And we’ll take field trips to the businesses of investors.