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Open Innovation and the Reverse Pitch: The future of problem solving

As you may have heard, AURI partnered with some of the world’s largest and most influential food and ag companies last month to host a unique event dedicated to novel problem solving. The event was so unique, in fact, it turned the traditional model of pitching novel ideas 180 degrees by utilizing a “reverse pitch” in which food and ag companies gathered to share industry challenges and then invite an audience of researchers, entrepreneurs, producers, and innovators to propose novel ideas to those problem areas.

While this is not a new model, pharmaceutical and technology sectors have employed it with great success in the past, it is a relatively new approach for food and ag, and especially from a collaborative platform. I believe this was the first time so many leading food and ag companies came together to use this approach—last month’s event included: AURI, Cargill, Compeer Financial, Ecolab, General Mills, Grow North, Hormel Foods, Land O’ Lakes Inc., Schwan’s Company, Syngenta, TechStars Farm to Fork Accelerator, and the University of Minnesota.

Due to the wide range of challenges and opportunities facing Minnesota’s ag and food industries, it was advantageous to bring together so many organizational networks to one juncture to broadcast these challenges to the widest audience possible. In this way, we could ensure there were no blind spots or missed opportunities for innovative proposals to these challenges. The participants now have the opportunity to forge new partnerships and to identify potential innovations or advance novel solutions benefitting both parties.

I’m a firm believer in taking new approaches to problem solving, like a reverse pitch, as essential platforms to further the future of innovation to benefit the agricultural industry. I’m sure we have all experienced situations where existing, but maybe not creative, solutions were applied to problems much to the detriment of a project. In being open to a new external model and approaching solutions from a new perspective, innovation can thrive and provide new answers that may have otherwise gone undiscovered. To me, that’s the heart of innovation and a contributor to competitiveness.

If you were unable to attend the session in March, I encourage you to visit to explore the various challenges put forth. Then, if you believe you have a solution or new approach to one or more of them, fill out the online proposal application, which is available on the same page.