–By Liz Morrison
It’s often said that small businesses are the engine of job creation. AURI helps fuel that engine by offering hands-on scientific assistance to small businesses, along with access to research and resource networks. The goal is to help Minnesota entrepreneurs bring innovative, ag-based products to market, generating economic activity — and new jobs.

Small firms provide about half of all private sector jobs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And small companies provide the greatest share of net new jobs, according to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy.

Still, the rate of new business startups fell in 2010 to the lowest point on record, the Census Bureau reported in May. New companies as a percentage of all businesses dropped below 8%, from a peak of 13% in the 1980s.

One of the problems: startups have a hard time finding the expertise and resources needed to bring their new ideas to market, says Jennifer Wagner-Lahr, AURI innovation director. That’s where AURI can help, working with entrepreneurs on the nuts and bolts of product development and testing, processing, materials sourcing, market analysis, and business planning. Here are just a few AURI clients who are helping create jobs:

USA Solutions
Tony Schmitt and Daryl Metcalfe worked with AURI’s coproducts lab in Waseca to develop biodegradable, cornstalk-fiber swine farrowing mats as an alternative to rubber mats in nursery pig barns.

  • By the numbers: Sold 320,000 Compost-A-Mats in 2011. USA Solutions’ contract manufacturer, Mat, Inc., employs six workers to produce the mats.
  • On the horizon: Working on a deal with a South Korean distributor that could double mat sales and further boost manufacturing jobs in Minnesota.

Pet Care Systems

AURI helped entrepreneurs Mike, Vonnie and Mark Hughes develop their idea for Swheat Scoop, a renewable, flushable cat litter made from naturally-clumping wheat.

  • By the numbers: A $20 million business; employs 24 full-time workers and a national sales force of eight.
  • On the horizon: Pet Care Systems is completing a $4.25 million expansion of its Detroit Lakes manufacturing plant, which will add another four jobs, says Don Davis, president of Farmers Union Industries, which now owns Pet Care Systems.

Suntava

Suntava has commercialized its purple corn and natural red food colorants, supplying Illinois-based Axium Foods with its purple grain for Mystic Harvest Purple Corn Tortilla Chips as well as other grain and
color applications.

  • By the numbers: Employs eight people in administration, sales, and product development; contracts with about a dozen Minnesota farmers who grow the company’s patented non-genetically modified purple corn.

BioPlastic Solutions

 Bio-Plastic Solutions manufactures BioBest® bioplastic parts for doors, windows, wall trim and office furniture. The proprietary plastic, developed with the help of AURI, is 80 percent renewable carbon.
  • By the numbers: Currently a nine-man shop, owner Gary Noble expects this effort to lead to at least three more jobs by the end of the year.