The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) will receive funding to implement an innovation networking model in southern Minnesota. The $20,000 award from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) will be matched by AURI’s cash and in kind efforts to fulfill entrepreneurial development and food agbioscience industry growth in the region.

“This model encourages collaboration with industry partners and economic development experts. Innovation networks foster connections and opportunities to develop business acumen, enabling entrepreneurs to better compete in the global economy,” said Shannon Schlecht, executive director of AURI. “Guidance from thought leaders will ensure AURI and partners in the network pursue the research, opportunities and investments to reach successful outcomes.”

The project will encompass a topic-based entrepreneurial network, establishment of a thought leaders group to provide direction on industry topics and include the launch of an opportunity symposium to present emerging industry trends. The symposium will provide a forum to share current research and discuss opportunities, as well as build collaborations.

The decision to formalize a plan for industry growth was, in part, influenced by economic research conducted by the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality. AURI, along with five regional initiative foundations, provided funding to support this research. Additionally, the Economic Contribution of the Agbioscience Industry in Greater Minnesota report, commissioned by AURI, found businesses in the SMIF region produced $7.4 billion in output and identified the food sector as a dominant regional strength.

“This research report reinforces a known critical strength for our region – agriculture, the associated biosciences and specifically, value-added food production. We hope to be able to capitalize on this strength as part of our efforts to build a strong future for this region,” said Tim Penny, president and CEO of SMIF.

The ultimate goal is to assist entrepreneurs within the region to better compete in the global economy. The project aims to enhance new and existing businesses, to form and/or further develop partnerships to cooperate on a regional basis, to identify and promote investment opportunities and to enhance the region’s ability to innovate and grow wealth.

Vibrant network connections across the agricultural supply chain and amongst food partners can be advantageous to business growth and development. We’re grateful for the opportunity to apply AURI’s model, build a network and partner with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation,” said Schlecht.