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The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges and also some unforeseen opportunities for Iowa businesses and industries. Many Iowa companies have adjusted, innovated and stepped up to fill needs in the form of personal protective equipment, sanitizer and testing components. Iowa’s electric cooperatives serve a number of these companies.

For nearly 35 years, the Iowa Area Development Group and its electric utility partners have presented Iowa Venture Awards. In total, 272 organizations have been recognized for their significant contributions to Iowa’s economy through entrepreneurial leadership, innovation and job creation. In this article, we spotlight companies who, during the pandemic and in the course of typical business operations, continue to demonstrate the qualities they were recognized for as Iowa Venture Award recipients.

Iowa’s ethanol producers

As travel and the demand for fuel plummeted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ethanol industry experienced a significant downturn. With an available product and the desire to help in a time of need, many plants have sold or donated ethanol and glycerin to produce hand sanitizer.

Members of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) donated products to Iowa Prison Industries to make hand sanitizer. To date, these donations helped to create more than 25,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, which is equivalent to 46 million single uses. The hand sanitizer is provided free of charge and distributed through the State of Iowa emergency center. Recipients include major state agencies, hospitals, daycares, jails and more.

“It’s incredible to watch this project grow as Iowa ethanol producers continue to step up to fight the spread of COVID-19,” says IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw. “We applaud Gov. Reynolds and Iowa Prison Industries for working to make this manufacture of hand sanitizer possible.”

Iowa’s electric cooperatives have honored 11 ethanol plants with an Iowa Venture Award. 

Brownmed, Inc.

In early March, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Iowa, Spirit Lake manufacturer Brownmed quickly identified ways it could help provide necessary personal protective equipment to local medical facilities. The company, which manufactures innovative orthopedic products like cast and bandage protectors, arm slings, cold therapy wraps and kinetic sleeves, added additional products to its company offerings. The staff is working extended hours, including weekend shifts, to produce up to 30,000 face shields per day. Brownmed also produces protective gloves and shoe coverings to support frontline medical workers.

Brownmed has adopted the motto “find a way” and lives that mantra every day. In anticipation of increased demand for personal protection, the company began producing cloth masks for the general public. This effort was even before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that everyone wear cloth masks in public places. Brownmed established a satellite production site in Spencer by partnering with Community Insurance Group to use its facility. Enthusiastic students from Spencer and Lake Park have also joined Brownmed’s efforts at the production facilities.

Brownmed continues to give priority to Iowa hospitals and other in-state facilities. As its production capabilities have expanded, the company has been able to grow to nationwide distribution.

“Every person on staff in our Iowa locations is a hero,” says Brownmed President Kylia Garver. “They exemplify the hard work and determination Iowans are known for, and I hope they know they are saving lives.”

Brownmed is a 2013 Iowa Venture Award recipient, nominated by Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative.


Humboldt’s Hy-Capacity is another Iowa manufacturer that felt an immediate desire to help the medical community safe as they work amid the coronavirus. Molly Varangkounh, president of Hy-Capacity, says Humboldt County Memorial Hospital (HCMH) needed masks and asked if the company could help.

Hy-Capacity, a manufacturer and supplier of heavy-duty tractor parts, also has a sewing department that makes tractor seats that could accommodate the request for masks. Workers made a couple of prototypes, then reached out to Jensen Trailers, who produced aluminum nose pieces that could be sewn into the mask to provide the necessary fit. Hy-Capacity is also sewing hospital gowns at the request of HCMH.

“It is important for us to support our community,” Varangkounh says. “Many Hy-Capacity employees and their family members have helped with making hundreds of cloth masks.”

Hy-Capacity is a 1998 Iowa Venture Award recipient nominated by Midland Power Cooperative.

Integrated DNA Technologies

Coralville company Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) was the first company in the nation to have its primer and probe kits approved by the CDC for use as a key component of the testing protocol for the diagnosis and detection of COVID-19. IDT quickly achieved large-scale manufacturing. As of early June, it had produced primer and probe kits sufficient to enable more than 34 million tests to be conducted in the U.S. pursuant to the CDC Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) testing protocol.

In early June, IDT and Sherlock Biosciences announced the companies’ strategic collaboration to enable large-scale manufacturing of the Serlocktm CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 kit to detect the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This new test is the first CRISPR-based diagnostic test to receive EUA use for the detection of SARS-CoV-2.  It does not require specialized instruments to complete the test and uses standard laboratory equipment, providing a turnaround time of approximately one hour, significantly faster than other testing methods. IDT supports the manufacturing of the kit by supplying several key components on which the test is based. IDT’s product quality, speed and ability to scale are key factors in bringing the Sherlock kit to market.

“Sherlock has developed a unique methodology for quick and specific detection of SARS-CoV-2, and IDT is proud to leverage our high-quality products to support this groundbreaking testing method,” says Trey Martin, president of IDT.

In addition to its manufacturing headquarters in Coralville, IDT has manufacturing sites in California, North Carolina, Belgium and Singapore. 

Integrated DNA Technologies is a 2001 Iowa Venture Award recipient nominated by Linn County REC.

Stories of people, companies, and communities stepping up to support efforts to address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic are many. Iowa’s electric cooperatives thank our members and others who have donated time, talents, resources and care to navigate these turbulent times.  

Kay Snyder is the director of marketing and communications for the Iowa Area Development Group.

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