Ag Startup Engine, an investor-owned initiative aimed at providing advice and capital to agricultural startups in Iowa, has added Des Moines-based venture capital firm Next Level Ventures as its newest member.

The Ag Startup Engine was created last year with assistance from Iowa State University's Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative to address a need for early-stage investment and organized mentorship.

"We are excited to work with the leaders of the agricultural industry and Iowa State University to help provide advice and capital to Iowa's early stage ag opportunities," said Craig Ibsen, the managing principal of Next Level Ventures. "We hope there are many great outcomes from this effort, as this is another step in building a thriving startup ecosystem in Iowa."

The initiative is a separate venture from the Iowa AgTech Accelerator, which this morning announced an interim director and additional investors.

Working in tandem with ISU's StartUp Factory in Ames, the Ag Startup Engine will implement an infrastructure for mentoring, rapid prototyping, product development and customer acquisition, said Joel Harris, co-director of the Ag Startup Engine and founder of Harrisvaccines, which he sold last year to Merck Animal Health. "Most important, it will provide a critical element that is often lacking for entrepreneurs in Iowa – a structured pathway for financing the business," Harris said.

The Ag Startup Engine aims to find eight to 10 investors. Current investors include Ag Ventures Alliance, Summit Agricultural Group, Ag Leader Technologies and People's Co. Completion of the investor group and its organizational structure will take place over the following months.

"The business sophistication and expertise that Next Level Ventures brings to the table will greatly support our current and future portfolio companies," Harris said.