With a knack for applying creative ideas to real-world problems, it’s no surprise the Michigan State University Innovation Center (MSUIC) is the driving force behind multiple advances in the agriculture industry.
Composed of MSU Technologies (MSUT), Business CONNECT (BC) and Spartan Innovations (SI), MSUIC helps students and faculty members move their ideas from concept to product – and the results have been promising.
Spartan Innovations: Growing Start-ups
Spartan Innovations provides both the educational and financial support necessary to move the university’s research technologies into full fledged Michigan businesses.
“MSU faculty entrepreneurs receive a wide array of services and guidance from our expert team,” Spartan Innovations President Dave Washburn explains. “Each inventor, startup and technology is different, so we customize our support to focus on developing their ideas.”
SI offers five instrumental resources to support start-ups, including entrepreneurial education, access to a network of venture investors, business plan assistance, student stipends and gap funding.
“By working collaboratively with inventors, funders and specialists to de-risk technologies, we’re catalyzing and supporting groundbreaking solutions the market needs,” Washburn says.
CiBO offers analytical software combining agricultural simulations with real-time weather monitoring, remotely sensed imagery, spatial yield data and additional information gathered by unmanned aerial systems to measure crop reactions to drought, pests and nutrient deficiencies. CiBO, which received early support from the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program, startup support from SI and licensed technology from MSU, helps farmers make better-informed decisions about their crops.
“CiBO simulates ecosystems across different spatial scales for any crop, location and scenario to answer important and valuable challenges in food security, sustainability and waste,” Basso says.
MSU Technologies: Ideas to Market
MSU Technologies is the university’s licensing business unit. By managing a portfolio of intellectual property and evaluating the commercialization potential of research inventions, they move lab technology into the marketplace.
MSU’s world-renowned blueberry breeding program is an example of MSUT success. MSU horticulturists have not only developed blueberry varieties that have significantly impacted the agriculture industry in Michigan, but are also responsible for developing four varieties that are now some of the most widely planted in the world.
More impressively, varieties developed by MSU researchers have extended blueberry growing seasons around the globe. This allows growers to harvest fruit that provides additional supply to meet year-round consumer demand.
“The breeding program at MSU is not just focused on season, but also on selecting fruit for good flavor and long storage,” says Tom Herlache, assistant director at MSU Technologies. “It’s changed the way people consume blueberries.”
Royalties from blueberry plant sales go back into MSU’s breeding program, providing MSU researchers with the support they need to continue developing new cultivars.
Business CONNECT: Building Networks
Business CONNECT is MSU’s portal for engagement with the business community, providing companies with an entry point of contact at MSU and fostering productive relationships between companies and the university. Through the portal, MSU has partnered with ExxonMobil to expand research on the development – and future production – of algae-based fuels.
Spearheaded on the university side by Dr. David Kramer, MSU’s John Hannah Distinguished Professor in Photosynthesis and Bioenergetics, the partnership hopes to economically produce biofuels and bioproducts by improving the efficiency of photosynthesis in microalgae. While this innovation is still in its infancy, the high demand for both biofuels and bioreactors shows that these groundbreaking ideas are making serious headway in the biofuel space.
A New View on Pesticides
Vestaron, a Kalamazoo-based company, is leading the way in the creation of natural pesticides.
The company’s mission is to develop and commercialize biological insecticides to help the world’s farmers produce food in a safer and more environmentally friendly way. Its products are designed to be nontoxic to honeybees, fish, birds, humans and other mammals, while at the same time controlling harmful pests such as thrips, spider mites, aphids and more.
An interesting advancement that Vestaron has recently green-lighted is the use of Australian funnel-web spider venom as a key ingredient for a pesticide sold under the Spear brand.
Key peptides extracted from the spider’s venom kill targeted insects without harming other plants and pollinators in the garden.
Learn more about Vestaron and its products at vestaron.com.