Founded in 2003, the center began serving entrepreneurs a year later, supporting beginning businesses in the food, agriculture and natural resources sectors.
“We do that in a variety of ways,” says Tom Lyons, director for the MSU Product Center and professor in the Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics department. “We take the entrepreneur from stage zero, where they simply have an idea, and help them develop that into a viable business concept, hopefully getting the business off the ground. Then we help them through the growth stage, and stage three would be to become a large food-processing company.”
The MSU Product Center has a counselor network that helps starting entrepreneurs make connections within the industry and also pay attention to the technical aspects of starting a company.
“The fact of the matter is, you have to worry about things like pH balance in food, nutrition labeling, packaging, shelf life, etc.,” Lyons says. “We help people with all of those things. The real thing our clients are trying to achieve is getting their product on grocery store shelves, and we help them get prepared for that.”
One key way that the Product Center helps companies is through its annual Making It In Michigan trade show, where clients meet with buyers from major grocery store chains. The show is also open to the public, so they can see what may soon be available in stores.
Another important connection the MSU Product Center has is with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).
“MDARD and the MSU Product Center have very similar goals in that we are looking for ways to help food and agriculture companies grow here in Michigan,” says Peter Anastor of MDARD’s Agriculture Development Division.
The Agriculture Development Division helps deliver expertise and leadership support to Michigan’s food and agriculture industries, aiding in areas such as economic and community development, international marketing, grants, and more.
Lyons adds that MDARD is also a great resource for companies who want to venture into exporting. Dave’s Sweet Tooth, a growing company out of Detroit, works with the Product Center as well as MDARD’s export team.
“The company started with services at the Product Center and then, as they began to grow and expand markets, began to work with MDARD’s export team to look at opportunities outside of the U.S.,” Anastor says.
Both Anastor and Lyons agree the Product Center is essential in supporting Michigan’s economy.
“The MSU Product Center is very valuable to Michigan food and agriculture because it provides services and information that isn’t available from other resources,” Anastor says. “They are really a key part of our food and agriculture infrastructure. Not all states have an asset like the Product Center.”