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A Platform for Accelerating Innovation


After last year’s hiatus due to COVID-19, one of the nation’s premier value-added agriculture and innovation-focused events is back. The fourth New Uses Forum, scheduled for March 23-24, 2022, at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota will continue to serve its goal of accelerating innovation and investment in value-added food and agriculture.

AURI is proud to partner with Compeer Financial and Georgetown’s Rural Opportunity Initiative again in 2022 to bring together the capital investment experts and food and ag innovation entities under one umbrella for this year’s conference.

There are two big reasons for the forum – to showcase what different companies, individuals and entrepreneurs are doing in value- added agriculture innovation and to highlight financial investment opportunities and trends to grow innovative businesses,” says Jennifer Wagner-Lahr, AURI senior director of commercialization.

“Even broader than value-added agriculture, certainly things are happening on the farm and in the digital ag space that are exciting to hear about, too,” said Wagner-Lahr.

The event accelerates utilization for regional commodities and products, generates awareness and enthusiasm around value-added ag products and creates opportunities for innovation. At the same time, the forum brings people together

to explore ideas, expand networks and incorporate finance and investment. Connecting multiple stakeholders, partners and sponsors will also potentially lead to greater ongoing collaborative relationships and new idea generation.

“We want to showcase what’s happening and inspire others who are seeking services in these areas, as well as those who are looking to make connections, or even start their own company, to inform them of how others have done it and to potentially walk in their footsteps,” Wagner-Lahr says.

“The New Uses Forum helps us highlight and connect new value-added innovations and opportunities with investment capital, producers, businesses and entrepreneurs,” explains AURI Executive Director Shannon Schlecht.

“It allows us to highlight great innovations within our borders, while also showcasing innovations from outside Minnesota that have some potential to benefit the agriculture industry.”

“And the partnership with Compeer Financial and Georgetown’s Rural Opportunity Initiative brings a capital markets perspective to inform participants about new financial resources and tools to grow their business,” said Schlecht.

Learning Together

Wagner-Lahr says the forum will examine how companies are dealing with issues related to sustainability, and what various organizations are doing in terms of product innovation and securing capital.

“Then we’ll dig into some of the major themes in areas related to food and bio-industrial products, coproducts and renewable energy,” Wagner-Lahr says.

Among the biggest challenges for established and  emerging  businesses alike, is accessing information, assistance and funding  needed to increase the likelihood of business success and scale their businesses. The New Uses Forum brings many of those pertinent resources together in one place.

“The forum creates greater awareness across different sections of the value chain to highlight opportunities that may not otherwise occur,” Schlecht says. “This awareness can accelerate solutions to problems that make them more efficient and profitable. We all know that business is about relationships, and this platform allows relationships to get started through exposure to new ideas.”

Capital Gains

Among the challenges facing entrepreneurs and companies pursuing new innovations is access to capital. Launching new businesses or ideas requires funding, so the New Uses Forum will delve into the topic to help connect innovators with potential sources for the capital necessary to move ideas forward.

“Capital is almost always a need,” Wagner-Lahr  says. “Especially in our region, there’s been a lot of focus on trying to identify and provide opportunities for capital to flow into these new companies or even just new concepts.”

Wagner-Lahr says a number of different sessions focused on financing innovations, as well as representatives of investment funds that are active  in the region, will be on hand at the New Uses Forum and will help highlight what those organizations look for when considering investment.


Social and environmental responsibility are also becoming increasingly important as consumer preferences and demands influence how companies do business. Sustainability will be another topic addressed at the New Uses Forum.

“What we’re looking at as a starting point is consumer-driven demand for sustainability, as well as what legacy food and ag corporations are including in their corporate sustainability goals and how that translates to innovations that they are putting forward in their own supply chains or potential opportunities for start-ups  to  plug  in,”  Wagner-Lahr  explains.  “We’re  working  to develop partnerships to meet the needs of our bigger corporate players who have some serious goals to achieve related to climate change and soil health preservation.”

Wagner-Lahr says consumers have an interest in putting their money into products that are sustainable. Those decisions can include purchasing food products based on where ingredients are sourced, packaging, and a company’s overall production process. But, Wagner-Lahr contends, sustainability issues could extend further up the supply chain to include the type of feed that is going into a livestock operation which can impact the ability of a retailer down the supply chain to market their products differently.

“Sustainability is much more ubiquitous in terms of the entire supply chain of food and ag, and you can spread that out to fuel and fiber, because sustainability doesn’t impact just one sector of agriculture, it’s the entire industry,” Wagner-Lahr says.

AURI will also announce the 2022 AURI Ag Innovator of the Year at the New Uses Forum. The Ag Innovator of  the Year  award  was  created  to  showcase an innovative Minnesota-based company that is making positive contributions to the state’s agriculture industry and to draw attention to the impact value-added agriculture has on Minnesota’s economy.

Valuable Connections

After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 events, the  2022 New Uses Forum will be a hybrid event consisting of in-person offerings as well as some events that will be available online.

“After 20 months of pandemic, we are hoping that we can provide opportunities for people to network and build connections and find resources,” Wagner-Lahr says.

“It’s been a tough couple years to connect,  so goal  number one is to connect with people again outside of a computer screen,” Schlecht  says. “Secondly, things have changed across value chains with new constraints as well as new technologies since we last got together, and we hope to showcase some of the new opportunity areas and highlight issues that need ideation and creativity.”

Wagner-Lahr says the current plan is to stream the sessions online via a virtual platform, allowing people who are unable to attend in person to engage and connect with people at the event.

The New Uses Forum will feature speakers and experts from Minnesota and beyond. Previous forums have drawn participants from over a dozen states and from coast to coast.

“The agenda is set to attract a wide audience of individuals connected to value-added agriculture,” Schlecht says. “We hope that producers, investors, bankers, entrepreneurs, academics, associations and corporate representatives will attend as there is substance for everyone and it allows    for a great platform for people that might not normally interact to connect with each other. Minnesota has a great backyard in the food and agriculture space and we hope this event brings them all together.”

Wagner-Lahr says that while the New Uses Forum agenda contains a lot of valuable information, organizers are well aware that there’s value in giving people the opportunity to connect one-on-one.

“What we’ve learned is that in the midst of all the good stuff that you want people to hear about, you need to give them time to talk to one another. So, we’re really being diligent in terms of fitting in time for people to network     and to visit with one another and to make those connections,” Wagner-Lahr explains. “We want to share information and to build awareness, but those connections and the networking opportunities lead to action, and that action is really what we’re trying to inspire and to promote. If someone is able to make connection, they can then potentially build a partnership or build a new product line or possibly incorporate a new technology into their facilities. That action and that investment is really what we’re trying to inspire.”

“As we often see, this type of connection event brings a synergy and excitement around the subject, with the endgame of making connections and stimulating  action,”  says  Nan   Larson,  AURI  Connects  Manager.  “The  New Uses Forum could also have a direct, positive impact on some of AURI’s clients who are ready for next stage funding, and it will help clients who are in the earlier stages of development. It could also be helpful for some of the underserved communities that are new citizens to the upper Midwest as well as women, veterans, black, indigenous, people of color, and others who are beginning to enter into ag/food innovation.”

Wagner-Lahr says the New Uses Forum has not only given AURI a platform to share what’s happening with its projects, but it also presents an opportunity to highlight the important work of different ecosystem partners.

“People can expect to learn about the different resources that are available to them if they are intending to commercialize a new product or technology, or if they’re looking to connect to the vibrant ecosystem which exists here when we  think about food and ag,” Wagner-Lahr says.

Event Partners

Compeer Financial is a member-owned, Farm Credit cooperative serving and supporting agriculture and rural communities by providing e-loans, leases, risk management and other financial services throughout Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and The Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business work to foster, study, and promote rural economic development through partnerships between the public and private sectors. This effort, called the Rural Opportunity Initiative, was created to provide a larger network of academic and land grant institutions that understand the value of rural America and see opportunities to invest in its people, businesses, and infrastructure.

For more information on the New Uses Forum agenda and to register for the event, go to