Benson, Minn. — Curious onlookers scrunched in ear plugs to suppress the hum of a diesel generator. It powered a cyclonic dryer that “whirled” moisture out of corn cobs.

The demonstration highlighted an AURI dryer technology event that introduced Minnesota agri-processors to innovative equipment that could help their businesses. It is part of AURI’s new Innovation Launching Pads initiative (see accompanying story).

“One of the hurdles that we see, working with agricultural-processing or renewable-energy clients, is the need for efficient drying technologies for crop residues or coproducts,” says Alan Doering, head of AURI’s coproducts lab in Waseca.

Doering and fellow scientist Kevin Hennessy identified four companies with innovative drying technologies, including cyclone, microwave and membrane systems and a tri-phase, high-efficiency dryer.

Dryer company representatives presented information to more than 40 ag processors at the event. Most were interested in efficient drying methods to help them cut costs and create products.

“This was an opportunity for us to connect Minnesota industry and entrepreneurs with new technology,” Hennessy says. Launching Pad forums are a platform for generating, selecting and implementing innovative ideas.

One of AURI’s goals, Hennessy says, is to “take technologies off the shelf and transfer them to commercialization for improved efficiencies and

increased opportunities.”

LAUNCHING INNOVATION

AURI initiative brings businesses, researchers and communities together to launch rural enterprises

Innovations aren’t accidental. It takes deliberate action to move a concept to the marketplace.

AURI is taking action to drive innovation in rural Minnesota with Innovation Launching Pads. The initiative is designed to bring businesses, researchers and others together to generate, select and, ultimately, implement innovation.

“The goal is to support job creation and retention, and to develop business opportunities in rural areas,” says Kate Paris, AURI planning and project development director. “It’s an effort to … reverse rural brain drain.”

Innovation Launching Pad focus areas include bio-based products, bio-energy, food production and coproduct utilization. The initiative will bring diverse groups together to help identify and address hurdles to implementing new opportunities in those areas.

Launching pads are similar to the AURI-led Renewable Energy Roundtable, which brings Minnesota business, education, research, government and agriculture leaders together four times a year. They meet to identify actions to advance the state’s renewable-energy industry.

“It’s like particles in a sealed box,” Paris says. “The more particles there are, the more likely it is that they will bounce off one another and react.

“If we bring a large group of people together who are all working in bio-based products, for example, there is a better chance that partnerships will develop and ideas become reality because of the shared assets of the group.”

“Research shows that an entrepreneur’s chance of success depends on their connections,” says Jen Wagner-Lahr, AURI project director. Launching pads are designed “to help rural businesses make those important connections,” she says.

Innovation Launching Pad events are being held to connect industry-wide projects to businesses that could benefit. For example, a dryer-technology demonstration day in May brought a wide range of ag-processing industry representatives together. (see accompanying story)

Participants learned about emerging technologies that may help them dry their products more efficiently, save money and potentially create new products. After they identified challenges their industries face, AURI helped connect them with resources to improve their chances of success. A similar event to identify food production opportunities was held in late June.

“We want a continual dialog between industry and researchers,” Paris says. “Everything we do is focused on generating economic activity and giving Minnesota businesses a competitive advantage.”