Entrepreneurs contribute to economic growth by creating new products and services, which stimulate new employment and economic development. These new businesses also create entry-level positions and help nurture skilled workers.In addition, entrepreneurs generate innovative ideas that open the door to new opportunities, products, and technology. And in many cases, find solutions to problems that existing products and services have not yet solved.
For these reasons, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) is launching a revamped version of its Entrepreneur in Residence Program (EiR). Founded in 2016, EiR is a comprehensive program to catalyze and support small businesses and entrepreneurial innovation in value-added agriculture. Through this new version of the program, qualified entrepreneurs will benefit from AURI’s equipment and expertise. Like all of AURI’s clients, participants in the EiR will have access to AURI’s laboratory facilities and meet regularly to confer and strategize with AURI staff and scientists throughout the duration of the residency. Some participants may even be eligible to receive a small stipend for qualified expenses related to using AURI’s lab facilities.
The relaunched program may provide cost-share support to entrepreneurs in their efforts to obtain non-dilutive funding through grants from federal, state and other public or private entities. While some research and development grants may not allow financing for laboratory space and facilities, or may require matching funds, AURI can help increase the likelihood of grant awards by providing qualified entrepreneurs with a source of in-kind match funding.
“Sometimes one of the most challenging early tasks in proving a new concept is to access specialized equipment and expertise,” said Dr. Luca Zullo, AURI’s Senior Director of Science and Technology. “For instance, a biomass energy entrepreneur may need access to commercial-grade biomass densification equipment and technical insight to move their idea from concept to a proof of concept, which may be suitable to attract investors. That access may be difficult and expensive to source for an entrepreneur, especially when one is trying new high risk high reward concepts. We aim to reduce that gap, and we want the entrepreneur, when possible, to leverage AURI’s contribution as a match against public and private grants.”
Participation and Qualified Entrepreneurs
The EiR program is open to businesses organized under the laws of Minnesota or with a principal place of business in the state. Those expected to benefit the most from the program are pre-revenue, small businesses, although AURI may consider other entrepreneurs depending on circumstances. “The Entrepreneur in Residence Program is well suited to entrepreneurs that have the necessary topical technical expertise and a basic understanding of laboratory operations and equipment use,” said Shannon Schlecht, AURI Executive Director.
To optimize the use of limited laboratory and staff resources, AURI will limit the number of concurrent EiR projects, with a preference for residencies of no more than eight months in duration. To be eligible for AURI’s services, program candidates must benefit Minnesota’s agricultural sector while demonstrating the potential for positive impact on Minnesota’s economy and be commercially viable. Additionally, a candidate’s products or processes must fit within one of AURI’s four focus areas: Food, Coproducts, Biobased Products and Renewable Energy.
EiR candidates must also demonstrate the capacity and intent to continue commercializing their idea upon residency completion. Finally, EiR candidates must provide a work plan, as well as a business plan with a budget that reflects their ability to support the project during residency, and their strategy to continue its funding beyond EiR.
“There is a large opportunity cost associated with the funding of access to equipment, expertise and facilities at the earliest stage of a venture. Our aim is to reduce this and allow the entrepreneur to focus on investing what they have (sweat-equity and ideas) rather than what they do not (hard cash),” said Zullo.
Interested entrepreneurs are required to submit an application package. AURI will accept applications year-round and they will be reviewed regularly by staff. Additional information or clarification may be requested during the review process.
For more information on the application process and to request a packet, email EiR_request@auri.org.
EiR Program Areas of Support
AURI will make available laboratory space, facilities, lab services and specifically identified equipment needed to advance the project toward commercialization. Entrepreneurs in Residence will have access to AURI’s Coproducts lab in Waseca and its Analytical Chemistry, Bioproducts and Food and Meat Processing lab in Marshall. These facilities will assist in product and process development, scale‐up, nutritional assessment, pilot production line development and production for market assessment.
In addition, while the EiR is engaged in the program, AURI staff will provide assistance and expertise on technical soundness and quality of product and process development, analytical testing, product formulation, evaluation and testing of the product, prototype development, sourcing of ingredients and feedstock, choice of materials, equipment and services selection, market suitability and prospects and commercialization viability.
We want to lower the economic barrier needed for them to pursue their idea. At the early stage, this type of program can be particularly valuable.
To learn more about AURI’s Entrepreneur in Residence program, visit auri.org.
The EiR program is offered in partnership with Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Mainstreet Businesses Focused on Food and Agriculture initiative (MBFFA).