— by Amanda Wanke
photos by Rolf Hagberg

Nan Larson, Rural Innovation Network Director

What is the Rural Innovation Network?

AURI is all about adding value to agriculture through research in proven but innovative ways. Our innovation strategy is 1) generate ideas for value-added agriculture, 2) select the best ideas that have the potential to create the greatest return for our existing ag industry, and 3) implement those ideas in the marketplace to grow our economy. The Rural Innovation Network focuses on collaboration with other organizations, such as commodity organizations and economic development organizations, to determine the highest impact projects and research. Once that research is done, we disseminate that information to the businesses and entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to take those ideas to commercialization. We try to start conversations about our research that will lead to action. Our 2013 initiatives, found on page 2, are great examples of the types of research and projects we’re doing.

How does the Rural Innovation Network work?

We bring together different networks such as commodity groups, economic development organizations, initiative foundations, industry partners, and others, in large and small groups, around specific topics in AURI’s core four areas: food, renewable energy, coproducts and biobased products. We build connectedness in those groups of people to help identify the highest impact research needs and then bring together the right people to implement the ideas in the marketplace. In my role I maintain different networks and bring additional people into the process.

Why is the Rural Innovation Network important to AURI?

Commercialization success requires many participants from private business, as well as service providers and economics developers, financiers, and often government and academia. We strive to bring the necessary mix of individuals to the table to benefit the businesses that are interested in moving forward with innovations. Building these bridges are essential to innovation success.

What do you mean by implementation?

Research is just the beginning of what AURI does, not the end. Research reports or studies don’t do any good just sitting on a shelf. We want to find an existing business or new business that is interested in pursuing commercialization, so that the information we’ve researched becomes a reality in terms of a marketable process or product.

What’s an example of what happens through the Rural Innovation Network?

For example, a community may have a business that has waste products (known as coproducts) that they’d like to sell or find other some way to make that waste create value for their business. AURI can partner with the community or local economic development organization and the business to help determine a feasible, cost-effective way, through research or our hands-on scientific assistance, to create value from those waste products, making the business more profitable and therefore growing the economy in that community. Again, bringing the right people together around the right opportunity.

Does someone “join” the Rural Innovation Network?

Individuals and organizations with an interest in value-added agriculture and innovation in our core four areas of food, renewable energy, coproducts and biobased products are invited to participate in events specific to each area, receive news about our research in those areas, and network with others with an interest in these areas. Simply email news@auri.org, and we’ll subscribe you to our enewsletter and events announcements.