Success Stories - Iowa Innovation Council

Success Stories

VIDA Diagnostics

Coralville-based VIDA Diagnostics’ innovative technology helps doctors detect lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, emphysema, and lung cancer at earlier stages. This technology helps to develop personalized treatment and lowers patients’ health care costs.

University of Iowa researchers founded VIDA Diagnostics using their expertise in electrical and biomedical engineering, physiology, radiology and pulmonology. The company uses this multidisciplinary approach to pulmonary disease research by taking quantitative imaging directly into medical practice.

VIDA Diagnostics’ technology balances a medical image, such as a CT scan of a tumor, with an objective and quantitative measurement, such as the size or location of the tumor, or the patient’s lung capacity. Traditionally, doctors read medical images and use subjective measures and benchmarks such as breathing tests to interpret the image’s content, which can vary from one doctor to another. VIDA Diagnostics’ technology, known as Apollo, provides a more standardized, objective measure for doctors.

“The technology doesn’t take physicians out of the process; it helps them with their interpretation,” explains Dr. Susan Wood, president and chief executive officer of VIDA Diagnostics.

The company’s technology also can help determine much earlier in the treatment process if a therapy is working or if a physician and patient need to change the course of treatment.

Because the technology helps diagnose conditions in earlier stages, it lowers the cost of health care.

Apollo also allows doctors to use less invasive procedures than other pulmonary tests that yield similar results. For example, a suspicious nodule in a patient’s lung can be difficult to biopsy. Using Apollo technology, doctors can use a procedure that goes through airways noninvasively, helping to diagnose potential issues while minimizing the patient’s cost and physical impact. 

VIDA Diagnostics is also focused on identifying lung conditions early in at-risk patients, such as asymptomatic smokers.

“There are between 90 and 100 million current or former smokers in the United States, all of whom have a heightened susceptibility for lung diseases,” explains Dr. Wood.

As a result of successfully taking its scientific solution to a broader medical audience for clinical trials, the company has doubled revenues for each of the past two years and has expanded to employ approximately 17 people. The company recently received regulatory approval to sell in Europe and an ISO certification to verify quality standards.  Learn more at

Integrated DNA Technologies

Coralville-based Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) is a life sciences company that produces custom biology products for academic, government, and commercial researchers in biotechnology, clinical diagnostics, and pharmaceutical development.

IDT is the largest U.S. manufacturer of custom oligonucleotides-strands of DNA and RNA that are the critical agents for many molecular biology procedures, and diagnostic tests for genetic and infectious diseases. Although these “oligo” products are cornerstone for IDT, the company also provides custom biology products for use in other life science technologies, including gene silencing, antisense technologies, transcription profiling, DNA sequencing, SNP detection, and DNA amplification.

Integrated DNA Technologies’ customers range from small university labs to multinational pharmaceutical companies. Collaborations with its biomedical partners, such as Roche and Agilent Technologies, have focused on designing oligonucleotides to test for various medical conditions, and the development of new treatments for diseases such as HIV, cancer, and influenza. IDT products were key to diagnosing and controlling the outbreak of the 2009 H1N1 virus- the company’s oligos were the vital component of the H1N1 test provided by Luminex Corporation. IDT oligonucleotides are also used in breast cancer diagnostic tests that help doctors decide if a patient will benefit from a particular treatment.

Expansion and diversification of IDT product offerings over the past several years has included the manufacture of oligonucleotides for gene silencing, or RNA interference (RNAi). This new, innovative therapy is used, in essence, to shut off specific undesirable genes.
“As the life sciences market continues to grow, oligonucleotides are being used in an ever expanding number of applications,” notes Christine Boge-Hubbard, IDT Senior Vice President-Integrated Supply Chain. “They have become a molecular biologist’s primary research tool.”

To address the high rate of growth in the life sciences industry, since the 1990s IDT has expanded its office and manufacturing space from 10,000 to 176,000 square feet in its three Iowa locations alone. The company has also grown its employee base from 30 to 650 personnel across its locations in the Iowa City area, California, Illinois, Belgium, the UK and Germany.

University of Iowa scientists founded Integrated DNA Technologies as a research company on contract to Baxter Research in the late 1980s. When Baxter Research redirected its business a few years later, the IDT founders changed the focus of the company to become a manufacturer of biotech products. By the 1990s, IDT was able to fund its own research with the profits from its manufacturing business.

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Phasient Learning Technologies

Ames-based Phasient Learning Technologies is breaking ground in the area of online learning, helping clients train their workforces while keeping costs under control.

Phasient has two key offerings -- providing online, on-demand classes and customized courseware for its clients. Although most of Phasient’s current clients are based in Iowa or the Midwest, the majority have a global presence, such as Pioneer, Kemin Industries and Vermeer Manufacturing.

Employees, sales teams, members and customers of Phasient’s clients can log in securely to a specialized web address and register for the classes they need through Phasient’s CLaaS, or Cloud Learning as a Service. Participants can start learning immediately and can return at any time, anywhere an internet connection is available.

With CLaaS, clients do not need to purchase hardware, install software, or worry about internal tech support or maintenance.

Phasient works with clients to develop online courses that reflect the particular organization's unique culture and products. The courses contain engaging scenarios, simulations, Virtual Role Play™ and other interactive features that capture learners' interests and provide realistic practice in applying knowledge.

The concept of virtual role play technology was originally developed for the call center industry, but clients have come up other creative ways to use the technology. Learners can interact with the course verbally and then play it back. Phasient tries to build in different and even unusual scenarios to help companies prepare their employees. The role play aspect gives employees and supervisors the opportunity to practice or reflect on difficult conversations or how to respond to difficult situations.

Denise Link, Phasient’s Vice President and one of the company’s founders, said a key goal is to keep the online learner engaged with courses that are relevant and interactive."We try to make all our courses media-rich -- using audio, images, and video when it is appropriate -- as we try to stay away from the ‘talking head’ concept," Link said. "When it’s appropriate to show a video or use Flash animation to illustrate a concept, we will do so, but our goal is to keep it interactive. We don’t want people to just turn the course on and let it play, then walk away and do something else."

Phasient believes in engaging subject matter experts on the most sought-after content needed in today’s business world, but the company also gives clients the ability to develop or edit the Phasient-created courses with what the company calls its"authoring tool." This allows both Phasient and client to tailor and revise courses so they stay up to date.

The entire team thrives on excellence and innovation, but Link said the heart of the company is the instructional designers and course developers."We hire teachers, technical writers and communicators because we find they are very good at taking new information they didn’t know before, understanding it, organizing it in a meaningful way and presenting it to the audience," Link said. "They have extremely logical minds and think ‘how can I lay this out in the best way for my learners’?"

Just as the internet and cloud computing technologies were created and continue to morph through their own business life-cycles, so has Phasient.

"When we first started the company in 2002, we had a team of software developers, software engineers and myself. We simply believed we could do e-learning better than anyone else that was out there at the time," said Link, who has a background in education and technical communication. "Over the years, after the technology was built out and developed, the business became more mature and just needed maintenance."

Phasient is currently expanding its product base by developing a library of courses that are less customized with topics such as leadership, communications and teamwork. Relevant across many different industries, the courses expose learners to real-life business situations they might encounter with both customers and peers.

"We’re constantly looking at ways we can leverage our platform and our ability to expand beyond training…at how we can bring value to our clients and to other markets," Link said. "As we press ahead towards the future, it’s very exciting to try to figure out ‘what else can we be’?"


Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont Business


Scientists at Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont Business, are making major breakthroughs in the area of plant genetics, developing productive crops for farmers around the globe to help meet the world’s need for food, fuel and materials.


The company, which has headquarters in Johnston, sells seed in more than 90 countries around the world. Pioneer works to increase the productivity of a variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, sorghum, mustard, pearl millet, inoculants, canola, sunflower, alfalfa, wheat, and rice. Research for these products is conducted in more than 100 locations in 24 countries on 6 continents.


Throughout Pioneer’s history, one reason for the company’s widespread success has been innovation.


“Research and customer service have been leading drivers of Pioneer’s business success,” said John Soper, Vice President of Crop Genetics Research and Development at Pioneer. “We continually reinvest a substantial percentage of our revenue back into research investments to remain in a leadership performance position and stay on the cutting edge of technology. By making high-risk, long-term investments, we’ve been able to stay ahead of our competition and be successful.”


Pioneer was founded by Henry A. Wallace in 1926, and has remained in Iowa since the beginning.


 While the company is owned by Delaware-based DuPont, Iowa has remained the major center for Pioneer’s business. The company points to Iowa’s high quality of life and a positive family environment when recruiting scientists. In addition, Pioneer and DuPont have received recognition as the top places to work in the life sciences industry from The Scientist magazine.


Pioneer’s long-standing relationship with Iowa was strengthened when the company announced a significant expansion of its Krug and Mendel facilities and a new facility, all in Johnston, Iowa. The total investment of these expansions is $67 million and will include laboratory and office space, in addition to its existing state-of-the-art labs. The expansions will also create more than 500 jobs for the area.


The research conducted by Pioneer’s scientists can be divided into two major segments. The first is product development, where scientists trained in genetics and plant breeding work to develop new seed varieties for growers.


The other major area of expertise for Pioneer is biotechnology, where researchers help develop new traits for crops that do not exist in their native species. 


One of Pioneer’s biotech breakthroughs came when it co-developed resistance to corn rootworm with Dow AgroSciences.  Without biotechnology traits or insecticidal treatments, corn rootworm can significantly reduce corn yields due to root damage and lack of natural resistance.  The company also developed molecular marker gene-tracking systems, much like those used forensic science, to help breeders more efficiently identify corn and soybean lines containing genes that confer resistance to a broad range of diseases, pests, and environmental stresses. The first efforts, in which Pioneer led the industry, was in the use of these marker systems to select soybean varieties containing native genes conferring resistance  to soybean cyst nematode, a parasitic worm that damages soybean roots and is leading cause of yield loss to soybeans in the U.S.  


Pioneer highlights its close connection with its customers. The company has a sales system that ensures a Pioneer representative provides face-to-face service with the farmer and acts as an adviser from the beginning planning stages right through harvest time.


“We view farmers as partners. Their success is our success,” Soper said.  


When natural disasters threaten the structural soundness of buildings and essential infrastructure, SENSR LLC, a company in Elkader, Iowa, ensures engineers have the information they need to keep people away from dangerous situations.


SENSR is in the business of measuring dynamics, or more simply, measuring the motion of an object.


SENSR’s equipment is leaving a positive impact on a wide variety of projects around the world- from ensuring the world’s tallest building is structurally sound, to testing the safety of roller coasters across the country, to monitoring the safe transport of important products and packages. 


The company services more than 700 customers in more than 40 countries and on six continents.


SENSR’s primary market is in civil engineering and structural monitoring. In this arena, SENSR’s equipment is used to monitor and report data to project managers or engineers related to the integrity of a structure. 


“It is important for a lot of industries to understand how movement and vibration impacts them,” said Chris Kavars, President and CEO of SENSR. “For instance, sometimes damage can obviously be seen, but oftentimes we can’t use the naked eye to identify how a structure withstands a natural disaster. This is where our equipment comes in. We help alert people when a structure is changing or behaving in a way it hasn’t before.”


The company’s technology can be found on structures located in areas prone to natural disasters and objects prone to collisions, such as bridges. The sensors are also found on things that require great attention to their structural integrity, such as tall buildings, aging structures or dams. Understanding how each one of these structures is moving or affected by its surroundings is vital to its existence.


The company also can monitor the shipment of an object and identify if the object has been handled appropriately. The level of shock that a SENSR piece of equipment measures determines if a package or product was safely delivered.


Several companies use SENSR products to ensure that the transport of microchips is handled properly. If the data reported by a SENSR piece of equipment registers above a certain level, a business would be alerted the microchip may be damaged.


With just seven employees, SENSR broke into the international market through its innovative efforts. The company is one of only a handful of top-tier suppliers in the market of measuring dynamics, but is the only one that combines inputs from the information technology sector. 


SENSR’s USB sensors hook directly into a laptop and are web compatible with a data collection unit. The equipment can send e-mail alerts when something changes with a structure. All of these unique characteristics make SENSR’s products user-friendly and the reports easy to access and understand.


“We saw the opportunity with a new generation of sensing elements which had not been widely distributed in this market,” Kavars said. “Our products are designed to work with technology of the 21st century. Looking at this industry from a completely different perspective, we developed a product where everything you need is right there. You have your data and you can go.” 


Not only is SENSR’s data accessible, but also affordable, since SENSR’s products often cost three to five times less than the cost of their competitors’ products.


These are some of SENSR’s diverse projects:

·         Measuring vibrations at the top of the Burj in Dubai--the world’s tallest building

·         Monitoring the delivery of equipment to be used for the CERN Large Hadron Collider-- a large underground scientific instrument spanning the border between Switzerland and France expected to revolutionize the study of physics

·         Ensuring the safety of amusement park rides, including those at Disney World

·         Assisting NASA with experiments related to glacier melt by measuring how big glacial dropoffs are

·         Used in restoration efforts in the New York City Subway

·         Measured structural integrity of the Roman Aqueducts in France

·         Used in racing to review the performance of pit crews

·         Used internally at UPS to ensure proper handling of packages and the smoothness of conveyors

·         Accompanies wind turbine blades for Clipper Wind to ensure their safe transport


Kavars cites employees’ work ethic and the investment they put back into the organization as what he likes best about doing business in Iowa.


“Midwest people are dedicated and loyal, and that’s different from other places I’ve been,” Kavars said.


Kavars also gives high marks for Iowa’s location. 


“Iowa is in the center of the U.S., so we can easily service all parts of the country. Because it takes the same amount of time to reach either coast, managing time is pretty easy,” he said.




The concept behind CemenTech’s machinery is simple -- rather than mixing a batch of concrete with a short shelf life at a remote location and trucking it into the job site, why not mix the ingredients right on the truck?


That novel concept has led to the Indianola, Iowa, company’s machinery being sold in over 50 countries around the globe.


“We’ve been the innovators, if you will, in our little niche market,” said Gary Ruble, Chairman and CEO of Multi-Tech, Inc., CemenTech’s parent company.


From construction sites in industrialized countries, such as the Autobahn in Germany, to projects in developing nations, such as the Caribbean Islands, CemenTech’s machinery can be found throughout the world.  


The company’s idea has produced a long list of advantages compared to a standard cement drum truck, which transports concrete that is pre-mixed to a construction site.


One benefit of using a CemenTech concrete mixer is that the concrete is always fresh and of the best possible quality. 


Most ready-mix concrete that is transported via a drum truck begins to rapidly degrade in quality within 45 minutes of it being mixed. Because CemenTech’s mobile cement mixer mixes the concrete components -- sand, stone, Portland cement, and water -- at the point where it will be poured, the concern that a load may break down en route to the construction site is eliminated.


A second advantage of CemenTech’s machinery comes from the changing needs of the construction industry. The days of allowing 28 days for concrete to sufficiently set are over. The increasing demand for concrete to become more of a rapid-setting material provides an opportunity for CemenTech’s equipment to be utilized at a construction site. The company’s concrete will reach its maximum strength in as little as 15 minutes. 


CemenTech units are also often used for short-load concrete projects, which require less than a full load. Rather than making a full batch with much of the concrete going to waste, a CemenTech piece of equipment will allow the user to simply make the exact amount at the particular location and have materials left to make concrete for a different location.   


Additionally, CemenTech offers users a variety of specifications for concrete often needed at various construction sites. The company’s machinery can mix different strengths and colors of concrete for different projects, such as footings on a house versus what is needed for a sidewalk pour.


The innovative design of CemenTech’s machinery also sets the company’s equipment apart from the rest of the field. The compartments carrying the water on a CemenTech truck are made from a polymer plastic, rather than steel, which eventually rusts and cracks on other mixers, requiring the unit to be replaced every few years. The mixing process used in a CemenTech truck also produces a less dusty cement. 


Finally, the advanced technology of the mobile mixer allows the user to operate the machine by remote control on the job site. 


Not only is CemenTech a leader in the volumetric concrete industry, but the company is also continuously pursuing new opportunities for product development. 


They build a municipal sludge mixer that produces reusable fertilizer, which is especially beneficial to areas of the country in which the soil lacks lime.


Another quality that makes CemenTech unique in the industry is the fact that the company is 100 percent employee-owned. Each of CemenTech’s 100-plus employees are part owners of the company.


Ruble gives high marks to Iowa’s work force.


“We very much think the work ethic in Iowa is far better than some other parts of the country,” Ruble said. “We have great people. The ability to pick up quality people is just wonderful for manufacturing.”


He also has praise for the state CemenTech calls home.


 “I tell everybody and anybody that will listen that Iowa is the perfect place for us to be doing business,” Ruble said. “We are centrally located in our domestic market and the access we have to the interstate for delivery of our product is excellent.” 





Nu World Amaranth

One innovative Iowa company described as a pioneer of the gluten-free and allergen-free food market has established itself as a go-to expert in this ever-expanding industry. By resurrecting an almost extinct ancient grain, Nu World Amaranth has revolutionized the modern-day allergen-free food market.


Nu World Amaranth, which started in the 1970s as a three-person family business, has expanded into a company with two manufacturing facilities in Dyersville, Iowa. 

Larry Walters, a food scientist and principal founder of the company, had a vision to provide good tasting, gluten-free, and allergy-free food products to the general public long before mainstream food manufacturers took notice of this untapped consumer market.


“It’s a wonderful challenge to find ways to meet the demand,” said Diane Walters, wife of Larry and one of the original founders of the company. “We’re bringing very sound expertise to a brand new area.”


The business initially started when the company owners began to experiment with an ancient grain known as amaranth, which individuals who suffer from most food allergies can consume. Amaranth, once considered a staple in the Aztec empire, became virtually non-existent in modern society. In fact, prior to Nu World Amaranth’s venture into the study of small seeds, amaranth was practically unavailable domestically and on a worldwide basis. The seed, once provided to the Aztec warriors in order to increase their endurance, has now found its way back into the present-day diet, including the professional sports arena, because its healing powers include anti-inflammatory treatment. 


Through various experiments with the ancient grain, Larry, Diane, and Larry’s brother Terry, another founder of the company, perfected their allergen-free food recipes. The company now offers a wide variety of baking products, breads, cereals, and snacks. The owners have also set a personal goal to develop at least two new great tasting products per year to deliver to the healthy, allergen-free food market.


What makes Nu World Amaranth so unique? Few companies in the United States are dedicated to having 100% gluten-free and allergen-free manufacturing facilities. Nu World Amaranth can guarantee their food products will not be contaminated with common food allergens. Neither Nu World Amaranth facility produces any food item with any of the top eight allergens as an ingredient.


Initially, Nu World Amaranth sold gluten-free and allergen-free food products directly to consumers who were looking for these healthier food options. The company now includes an ingredient and milling division in its manufacturing process, and sells directly to other food manufacturers who are creating more allergen-free food products.


“We really know this industry inside and out,” said Walters. “A lot of mainstream manufacturers are wanting to get into the gluten-free, allergen-free market, but it’s a whole different educational background. It’s not one that’s been emphasized in traditional education.”


Today the public has a better understanding of the difficulties associated with food allergies than ever before. As allergen tests become more sophisticated and the numbers of individuals affected by food allergens continue to rise, many consumers are turning to a gluten-free and allergen-free lifestyle.


For more information, visit:

Helping Iowans Prosper

Located at the Iowa State University Research Park, BodyViz creates incredible 3D MRI/CT scan visualizations, unlocking medical imaging for doctors, specialists, surgeons as well as educational institutions.  BodyViz has been awarded the prestigious Prometheus Award for Startup Company of the Year by the Technology Association of Iowa, was awarded first place in the John Pappajohn Iowa Business Plan Competition, and has been featured on the megahit reality television show The Biggest Loser. Leveraging expertise developed at ISU’s state-of-the-art Virtual Reality Application Center (VRAC) on Iowa State University’s campus, BodyViz was created by VRAC Director James Oliver, VRAC Associate Director, Eliot Winer and world renowned surgeon, Dr. Thom Lobe.  BodyViz has extensive visualization features that enable users to quickly and effectively view and interact with their patient's data in a never-before-seen 3D manner that is changing the way medical and educational professionals view their world. This virtual reality visualization software is affordably priced, lightweight and simple to use on laptops, PCs or on large stereoscopic 3D projection systems.

BodyViz CEO Curt Carlson was a guest on WHO Radio's "Van & Bonnie in the Morning" on September 29, 2010.

For more information on BodyViz, visit:

Innovation has helped Thombert

Innovation has helped Thombert, Inc. stay at the forefront of its industry.

Thanks to the ingenuity of its owner and employees, the Newton-based manufacturer of lift truck wheels and tires was able to scrap a time-consuming production process. In its place now is a quicker, more efficient way to make tires, cutting costly waste.

Thombert’s employees figured out a way to bring a key ingredient prepolymer to the plant by tanker truck in a heated, liquid form that can be used on the production line – an industry first.


Prepolymer is the most prominent raw material component of polyurethane, used to make the tread of Thombert’s tires. 


Previously, Thombert would get 55-gallon drums of prepolymer that would be in a hardened state at room temperature. Employees would have to put the drums into an oven to re-melt the material before taking it to the production line.


Thombert was able to partner with its supplier and sister company, ITWC, so the material was delivered in a tanker truck to Thombert’s bulk tank as a liquid.


“It never hardens. It’s kept fresh. That’s a quality advantage, and now we don’t have to deal with all those drums,” said Maureen Lockwood, who oversees manufacturing operations at Thombert.


It also makes the process more efficient now that production workers don’t have to shuttle drums in and out of ovens to the production line and then handle the empty drums afterwards.


“It just simplified the job so much,” Lockwood said.


The improved process cuts down on waste, since getting all of the prepolymer out of the drums was nearly impossible for Thombert employees.


Yet another example of the Thombert’s innovations in its production processes is how the company packages its products for shipping.    


One of Thombert’s customers wanted boxes for their orders consolidated onto large pallets that could then be shipped by truck. Each box could weigh up to 350-400 pounds and could be torn or damaged when it was transferred to a pallet.


Thombert worked with students through the Iowa State University Mechanical Engineering Capstone Program to find a viable solution. The result was a new way to package items at the point of production that allows several boxes to later be combined onto a pallet for shipment, a solution that equaled gains in productivity for Thombert.

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