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The Rural Opportunity Initiative (ROI) Kicks Off its First Rural Investment Workshop in Des Moines, Iowa

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Rural Opportunity Initiative (ROI) - Iowa State University (ISU) Rural Investment Workshop


By: Kevin Iraheta (GSEI Staff)


On November 2, the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business went to the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines, Iowa to host the “Rural Opportunity Initiative (ROI) - Iowa State University (ISU) Rural Investment Workshop.”  ROI is an initiative of GSEI. This event was co-hosted with Iowa State University’s Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business and sponsored by Wells Fargo.

Seventy entrepreneurs, investors, state officials, economic development organizations, and others gathered together for a full day to focus on how to close the gap of access to capital between entrepreneurs and investors in Rural America.

In the morning, we kicked it off with introductions from Sam Rikkers (former Director of ROI), Matt McKenna (Executive in Residence at GSEI and Founder of ROI), and Russ Laczniak (Associate Dean and Professor of ISU’s Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business). Next up we had a warm intro from Marva Williams (Economic Development and Iowa State Director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago). After the intros, the programmatic part of the morning session began.

The morning focused on lessons learned from successful entrepreneurs who gave invaluable insights into how to build a successful business and a bank's perspective on the investment landscape in the rural Mid-West region of the US.

Tera Johnson, Founder of Tera’s Whey and Founder and Director, Food Finance Institute, gave her personal insights into how she scaled her business to get into Whole Foods, raised millions of dollars from a diverse array of investors, and successfully exited and sold her company.

After Tera’s presentation, Chad Jorgensen, Senior Supervision Manager, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, spoke about his own views on what financial options the Fed provides and what criteria the Fed prioritizes and uses to evaluate a viable and worthwhile investment.

For the final part of the morning, Herb Eckhouse, Co-Founder of La Quercia Handcrafted Cured Meats, spoke about how he fell in love with Prosciutto in Italy and then returned to Iowa to build his business in his basement, which eventually scaled throughout the world. Herb really focused on the key ingredients it took for him to develop one of America’s best-cured meats.

Once noon came around, we had a nice lunch and heard remarks from our sponsor, Tim Billerbeck, Region Division Manager – Midwest Division at Wells Fargo Business Banking, and the event’s keynote speaker, Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Both of them were really impressed to see that a diverse group of attendees came out. We also got to hear from Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn about the World Food Prize Hall’s  rich history in highlighting great achievements in agriculture and fighting hunger.



For the rest of the afternoon, fifteen entrepreneurs had the opportunity to participate in a pitch competition, where a panel of investors and audience of investors learned about the entrepreneurs business and investment needs. These entrepreneurs business’ covered areas such as cloud-based software for mobile collaboration and customer support in agriculture, high-quality beef cuts,  natural gas fed mini-methanol plants, autonomous farming platforms, a web-based marketplace for buying, selling & renting farmland, and many more. Below is a list of the entrepreneurs who presented:


  • Ag Manufacturing and Technology: Aftermarket solution for John Deere air seeders.
  • AgriSync: A customer support mobile app connecting partners in agribusiness.
  • FarrPro: Farrpro is changing the way the world grows pork, beginning with innovations in the farrowing process.
  • Gross-Wen Technologies: Develops a water treatment process that is sustainable, effective and affordable.
  • IAM AGTECH LLC: Bringing precision farming to the next level using patent-pending technologies to deliver the Field Marshal, a Mobile Automated In-Field Laboratory that enables timely, cost-effective, high-density soil moisture and nutrient sampling.
  • JoKir's Wild, LLC: Locally raised, locally processed, dry aged black Angus beef.
  • MBS AgServices: Provides competitively priced seed, crop protection, and fertilizer inputs to progressive, low maintenance customers.
  • Midstream Methanol LLC: Building a series of scalable natural gas conversion plants located near customers in the U.S. Midwest, reducing transport costs and benefiting from cheap shale gas feedstock to provide the lowest delivered methanol cost to regional customers.
  • Performance Livestock Analytics: Performance Livestock Analytics aims to help livestock producers become more sustainable and profitable. Our precision ag application combines today’s cloud-based technologies with on-farm information, bringing big data solutions to the livestock industry.
  • PHYCO2 LLC: Creating sustainable commercial algae production while sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial operations and purify waste water.
  • Smart Ag LLC: Building an autonomous farming platform allowing any machine on a farm to run autonomously, connect to the cloud and other machines while being fully monitored and controlled from anywhere in the world.
  • Terva: An online real estate marketplace that makes finding land easy and enjoyable for farmland professionals.
  • The innovative and affordable solution to young tree care.
  • VetMeasure, LLC: An animal health technology company. Our current product is MeasureON!, a wearable harness focusing on canine. MeasureON!  generates an animal’s personal health profile including heart rate, respiration rate, activity level, body temperature, ambient temperature, and ambient humidity.


Based on the diverse set of people who came out to engage in the day’s event, how much valuable content was learned, and the connections that were made, I am confident that ROI successfully carried out its mission to foster, study, and promote rural economic development through partnerships between the public and private sectors.


Press Releases:


Halvorson, Rusty. “Investing in Rural America – Workshop Puts Rural Entrepreneurs on the Radar of Private Capital Investors - AUDIO.” American Ag Network, 1 Nov. 2017,

Harsh, Jonathan. “Can renewables spur more investment in rural America?” Agri-Pulse, 28 Nov. 2017,

Haughney, Christine, et al. “Matchmaking for Rural Start-ups and Investors.” POLITICO, 3 Nov. 2017,

Nelson, Kriss. “Rural Opportunity Initiative Held in Des Moines.” Rural Opportunity Initiative Held in Des Moines - - Farming News and Information for Iowa - Farm News, 17 Nov. 2017,

Nuelle, Ben. “Universities Partner to Promote Rural Investments.” Iowa Agribusiness Network, 3 Nov. 2017,