AURI Finds Success with First-Ever Ag Innovation Forum

Earlier this year on March 21, AURI hosted its first-ever New Uses Innovation Forum. The event brought together expert voices from throughout the upper Midwest’s value-added agricultural sector. If you weren’t able to attend this year’s forum, the Director of Grow North Minnesota Lauren Mehler Pradhan offers a great overview. She said, “The New Uses Forum gave the community an opportunity to see what is exciting about Minnesota’s agricultural ecosystem. The collaboration, the sense of community and the drive for innovation was apparent in each of the sessions. I think now is the time for Minnesota to truly capitalize on this energy and take it to the next level.”

The event opened with a hearty welcome from AURI’s Executive Director, Shannon Schlecht and Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture Commissioner David Frederickson, who shared his thoughts on Minnesota’s value-added agricultural sector and its importance to the state.

From there the day took off with many interesting and passionate discussions of the various topics that affect innovation and value added agriculture within Minnesota today. The topics ranged from Minnesota’s value-added agriculture sector to the state’s agbioeconomy to experiences of successful entrepreneurs. GreenSeam Director, Sam Ziegler, was part of the agbioeconomy panel and said, “the forum provided a platform for everyone involved or interested in new uses to learn, connect and share ideas. It was impressive to see such a diverse mix of individuals ranging from entrepreneurs to legislators to business executives all with the same outcome in mind, which was to find ways to add value to the products we grow in the state.”

The event also brought together a number of professionals to discuss ag and food investment opportunities in Minnesota. This panel was of special interest to entrepreneurs and innovators looking to overcome one of the most common challenges to innovation—funding. Panelists believed financing and collaboration ideas were both significant takeaways for attendees. “I felt the conference was most useful in highlighting the importance of collaboration in accomplishing economic development goals,” said Tim Penny, the President and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. I have always subscribed to the theory that the sum can be greater than the parts. And, this is especially true on the local foods, entrepreneur work that we have undertaken in partnership with others in our southern Minnesota region.

Similar to collaboration, one of the best takeaways panelists and attendees identified at AURI’s New Uses Innovation Forum was the ability to network and connect with other professionals, entrepreneurs and legislators. AgStar Financial Services’ Aaron Knewtson put it best when he said, “I found the event to be a great cross section of Minnesota agriculture, and I made many new connections including those who challenged us to think more broadly about Minnesota food and agribusiness.  Not only were the professional connections important, but the ideas shared and introduced were extremely beneficial.”

In the end, the event proved to be an asset to all who attended, giving them new tools and resources to take back to their organizations, businesses and institutions of higher learning. Based on the feedback from attendees, AURI believes the New Uses Innovation Forum was a success and plans to offer more events like it in the future to bolster Minnesota’s value-added agriculture sector.

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