By MaryBeth Matzek
MAA Editor
Entrepreneurship and agriculture go hand-in-hand if you ask Ryan Augustine.
Augustine won the Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneur of the Year Award for AccuGrain, a business he developed while participating in the Iowa State University Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative (AgEI).
“The many opportunities for mentoring and growth that we had through the Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative at Iowa State University, have helped give us the resources and confidence we need to take our idea from a simple start-up to a successful business,” Augustine said.
Started in 2005 with a $1.6 million gift from Roger and Connie Underwood, AgEI broadens the understanding of entrepreneurship among students and faculty members in ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences by providing educational experiences to develop students’ entrepreneurial skills while increasing the interaction among students, faculty and ag entrepreneurs.
“We started out with about 50 to 100 students and now we have 500 participate in our various programs,” said AgEI Coordinator Carly Cummings. “Students see the need to have an entrepreneurial base in their education and that even if they don’t start their own business, what they learn adds value to them as an employee.”
AgEI consists of roundtable events, a business incubator program, challenges and courses focused on what it takes to launch and sustain a start-up. While the program has the word “ag” in its title, it’s not limited to agriculture students, Cummings said.
“Entrepreneurs need a lot of soft skills to be successful and our program looks at helping students grow those skills and also provide an environment where their ideas can develop and flourish,” she said.
Augustine said one course in particular – Economics 334 – provided him with the skills and resources he needed to develop a start-up business. During the class, he came up with the AccuGrain concept – an agricultural business using X-ray technology to measure the weight of flowing grain through pictures. 
Augustine isn’t the only AgEI grad to win the two-year-old Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneur of the Year Award; Michael Koenig, Stuart McCulloh and Holden Nyhus won the award last year for their start-up, ScoutPro.
 “We’re proud of our program grads,” Cummings said. “Our program has been successful because we are providing students with a real world experience before they leave college.”
AgEI was the first program of its kind when it began 11 years ago and Cummings said that even today there are few similar programs elsewhere in the country. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has something similar and she said they have worked together on a few programs.
“We hope our program continues to grow and we can help other programs get started elsewhere,” Cummings said.
Social media is one way ISU seeks to get out the word about AgEI and attract students interested in combining their agricultural and entrepreneurial skills, Cummings said.


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