–by Brittany Gilbertson

_RHP3142Those dedicated to state economic growth have begun formulating a plan to improve investment access in the food and agricultural areas for Minnesota’s entrepreneurs. Filling this key piece of the entrepreneurial ecosystem depends on broad support from different stakeholders, which is why AURI convened the inaugural meeting from among its partners and connections.

“In convening the working group to address the barriers to financing and commercialization, we see a new arena for AURI to support clients through connections to these potential resources,” said Shannon Schlecht, AURI executive director.

Need for investment access

Each stage of product development requires capital. Often, entrepreneurs struggle through early stage phases by financing the project on their own, often draining savings and soliciting funds from friends and family.

State resources designed to support new company growth have not provided the intended impact on agricultural companies. It’s a trend that has puzzled politicians, economic development officials, private sector, the investment community and entrepreneurs.

While discussing the limited participation of Greater Minnesota companies in Minnesota’s Angel Tax Credit, Representative Tim Miller inquired about the extent to which AURI connects clients to financing. Realizing a larger issue was at stake, AURI convened a working group to determine what entrepreneurial and funding resources existed, and whether improving funding access depended on raising awareness of existing resources or exploring new programs.

“Based on our conversations with clients, there have been more commercialization delays and financing failures than there should be,” said Rod Larkins, senior director of science and technology. “AURI’s goal has always been to help clients turn their idea to reality. We launched the working group after recognizing a need to connect entrepreneurs to necessary resources as they compete
for cash at each stage of the innovation process.”

Kick-off conversations

Initial working group sessions were held in December 2015 and January 2016. The first meeting hosted about 20 individuals representing a cross section of agency officials, association representatives, angel investors and venture capitalists. Turnout increased during January, drawing primarily from the same groups, and interest continues
to grow.

“We’re excited that people from various sectors are engaged in this effort,” said Dan Skogen, planning and government relations director for AURI. “We’ve successfully brought together these individuals and organizations to look for solutions that enable more agricultural products and processes to get to market.”

Right now, working group members are forming subcommittees to explore the planning process as well as identify funding opportunities and needs. The working group solutions will be inclusive enough to address multiple issues inhibiting investments in ag-based projects.

For example, the group will look for ways to prepare entrepreneurs to meet the rigors of product commercialization, endowing them with the business acumen and presentation skills to answer investors’ questions and confidently convey the business potential.

AURI’s expects its industry connections will facilitate the necessary interactions between clients, stakeholders and the investment community to help move innovative ideas through the planning and development process.

Potential for Minnesota

“We want to attract ag companies from all over the world to Minnesota because this is where things are happening now,” said working group member David Russick, founder and managing director of Gopher Angels.

The effort intends to create a vibrant investment community in Minnesota, one that functions as an incubator for new agricultural and rural businesses.

“We’d like to see Minnesota positioned as an innovation hub for food and agriculture, attracting the best talent and in turn attracting the dollars that fuel industry growth,” said Russick. “This activity brings tremendous benefit to Minnesota and I am proud to be part of the collaboration making it happen. To succeed, we need lots of support throughout the state.”

Meeting entrepreneur needs will encourage more innovation in the state, specifically the ag-based industries.

“The working group will help spur discussion to facilitate the movement of innovative food and agriculture ideas forward,” said Schlecht. “The members assembled represent the needed expertise to plan and execute strategies to enable the flow of financial resources to Minnesota’s food and agricultural entrepreneurs.”

If you are interested in participating in the working group, please contact Dan Skogen at 218-639-3405 or email dskogen@auri.org for more information and future meeting dates.