Ames, Iowa, Fronts $50K for Autonomous Tractor Startup

SmartAg has received funds from a number of state and local sources.

by Dan Mika, Ames Tribune / August 20, 2018

(TNS) — SmartAg, a startup in the Iowa State Research Park, is planning to move into a new office and development space in the park later this year after securing loans and assistance from the city and the state.

The Ames City Council approved a $50,000 forgivable loan to the autonomous tractor startup this week for a local match, while the Iowa Economic Development Authority approved $250,000 in direct aid and $830,000 in tax benefits under the department's High Quality Jobs program in its meeting Friday morning.

SmartAg produces aftermarket kits and software to dealers and farmers that allow tractors to drive and perform tasks without needing a human operator. Founded in 2015, the company is also part of the first cohort of the ISU Startup Factory, a startup accelerator program housed in the Research Park.

The company most recently secured a $5 million investment from Stine Seed in June.

According to its application to the IEDA, the company is requesting $380,000 in financial aid from local and state sources to build out infrastructure and lease a 10,000-square foot building in the South Bell TIF district. The $2.95 million project is slated to begin in September.

SmartAg expects to hire 40 full-time staff if the expansion is completed, including 20 engineers. It currently has nine full-time employees and four part-time staff.

Justin Heath, SmartAg's chief marketing officer, said the company would move all of its operations to the new building and start to bring some of the manufacturing it outsources from other locations in the state back in-house.

He said SmartAg fundamentally plans on being primarily a software company focused on building a platform for other agricultural autonomy applications to be developed on. However, the company wants to manufacture its kits in-house as much as possible, including components for its AutoCart software set to go on sale in 2019.

"There's always going to be a hardware component to what we do, but our goal is not to drive all hardware manufacturing," he said. "...We'll continue to outsource certain components and bring them in-house for assembly, kitting some manufacturing like cable harnessing."

Heath said SmartAg is finalizing details on the lease, but the company expects to move in sometime in late fall or early winter.

©2018 the Ames Tribune, Iowa Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.