What’s ‘New?’: Council leaders talk innovation at AURI-sponsored forum

The AURI New Uses Forum provided a platform for innovators and investors to gather to present their work, listen to new ideas and network with other professionals. This year’s focus, “Exploring the Intersection of Sustainability, Innovation and Investment in Food and Agriculture,” highlighted a variety of speakers and panel discussions, including Jocelyn G. Brown Hall from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Dr. Karama Neal with USDA Rural Business – Cooperative Service.

The Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) has a longstanding partnership with AURI, working with them on a variety of checkoff-supported projects through the years. Council Director Ron Obermoller, who represents MSR&PC on AURI’s board, said the New Uses Forum is the perfect opportunity for “entrepreneurs, investors and dreamers” to come together in one room to learn from each other.

For Obermoller, the most important part of the New Uses Forum is the exposure to innovative ideas, especially for soybean producers.

“For me, the most interesting part is seeing people come out of the woodwork. Some of them have been thinking about this project for 20 years,” said Obermoller, who serves as AURI chairman. “And soybean gets exposed to a lot of ideas at the New Uses Forum. When we are in our committee rooms, we are in a sheltered part of the world. Here, they get to see a little bit of everything else out there and come out of their shell.”

Council Director and Brewster farmer Ron Obermoller is also chairman of AURI.

The Ag Innovation Campus, of which MSR&PC is a founding member, opened and closed the Forum. In her opening comments, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan commented on the cutting-edge research that the AIC will birth.

“The Ag Innovation Campus will secure Minnesota’s reputation as a national leader in agriculture,” Flanagan said. “We believe this project will do incredible work and are excited for the opportunities this will bring.”

To cap the New Uses Forum, Acting AIC CEO Tom Slunecka, presented on the AIC during the MN Food and Ag Ecosystems Highlight panel. Construction on the 10-acre site continues this spring, with production to follow next year.

“The intersection between fresh, but small ideas and the impact roles of a larger corporation and a larger volume product usage is where this idea came from,” said Slunecka, who’s also CEO of Ag Management Solutions, which oversees both MSR&PC and the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. “It’s a nonprofit. It’s a crush plant. It’s a research facility. It’s all of the things you need to get through that valley of death.”

To celebrate AURI’s Ag Innovator of the Year, Wednesday concluded with a reception. Shannon Schlecht, AURI’s executive director, recognized that the Ag Innovator of the Year takes an “idea from concept to commercial marketplace.” This year, the award went to NewStarch Solutions, co-founded by Dean Bartels, Don Niles and Matt Niles. NewStarch Solutions works to create packaging products from starch, a sustainable and renewable source.

“The economies of scale on this allows us to break ground in areas we’ve never seen before,” Bartels said in his acceptance speech.

Among the MSR&PC attendees was Director Rochelle Krusemark, who praised MSR&PC’s partnership with AURI.

“AURI never disappoints. This year showcased another diverse group of entrepreneurs,” said Krusemark, who’s also sat on the United Soybean Board. “MSR&PC’s investment promotes innovative concepts while AURI offers support through technical assistance, product analysis and startup – taking imagination to fruition.”

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