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Innovation Road Tours

–by Teresa Spaeth, AURI Executive Director

At AURI, we don’t work alone; we have an expansive network of experts and partners. Recently, I hit the road as part of a year-long “Innovation Tour” to meet up with a few of the important players in our network.

First stops: Suntava and Kindred Kitchen. Although these two organizations are very different, they represent the wide range of possibilities in food production.

Suntava has been working with AURI since 2002 to develop markets for Suntava Red Corn. After years of research and development, Suntava is gaining success not only as a food colorant, but also as a nutraceutical or health-promoting ingredient.

As a past AURI Ag Innovator of the Year, Suntava demonstrates that innovation is more than an idea. The company has worked to understand their product, diversify their markets, take a strategic and deliberate approach to scale-up, and keep an eye on the future. Under the direction of CEO Bill Petrich, Suntava has a clear plan for innovation.

Kindred Kitchen, profiled in the July 2011 Ag Innovation News, is a relatively new partner that we are extremely excited to be working with. Terese Hill, Kindred Kitchen director, took me on a tour of their facilities. This bright new commercial kitchen space looks out onto West Broadway in North Minneapolis. It is part of a revitalization project spearheaded by Kindred Kitchen’s parent nonprofit, Catalyst Community Partners.

Entrepreneurs can enroll in Kindred Kitchen’s 15-week training series that walks entrepreneurs through everything from food safety to business plans, from accounting to market strategy. Charan Wadhawan, AURI food and nutrition scientist, gives presentations on nutritional labeling and recipe scale-ups. We are happy to be a part of this holistic approach to growing local business.

Suntava and Kindred Kitchen exemplify two principles that AURI sees as critical to successful ventures: a focus on deliberate implementation of an idea and a comprehensive approach to supporting the whole venture – not just the product or technology.

Both stops provided me with insights on AURI’s programs, our clients and the future of the food production sector. More importantly, the innovation tours first stops reinforced how valuable good networks and partners are to the work we do at AURI.