I heard an update recently from Dr. Chris Peterson, professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, and director of the MSU Product Center Food–Ag–Bio, about the impacts the center has had since it was created in 2004. The center was established to serve the needs of entrepreneurs who are developing and commercializing “high-value, consumer-responsive products and businesses in the agriculture, natural resources, and bioeconomy sectors.” It was created with funding from Michigan State University Extension and MSU AgBioResearch, along with some key grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Product Center combines in-depth analysis of business trends in these three sectors with on-the ground, community-based and individually tailored delivery of educational services to entrepreneurs. Campus-based analysts team with community-based Extension educators who are trained as innovation counselors to provide the business-centered services. Clients are facing complex and dynamic situations in which they have to make potentially business-ending decisions. Sometimes the best decision they make is to proceed no further with their investments of time, talent and money. In other cases, they walk a tightrope of risk, carefully gauging each decision step as they seek to maintain a balance between profit and loss.
Over the first seven years of the center’s existence, it has provided more than 21,000 counseling sessions and its clients, numbering nearly 1,800, have created 229 new enterprises, creating more than 900 new jobs and helping to retain more than 400 existing jobs. The total amount of capital that has been invested in these enterprises exceeds $310 million. The center’s productivity has accelerated in the past 18 months as the MSUE restructuring allowed greater concentration of effort by innovation counselors on the enterprise development program.
The center has initiated a new line of programming that is directed towards existing Stage 2 businesses that have sustainable revenue and are looking to make major expansions in sales and production. This takes more detailed analysis of business trends and enterprise operations, but the investment of MSU’s effort is justified by the increased likelihood of success for established enterprises as opposed to startups. This new initiative is named the High Impact Venture Action Team, or HI-VAT, and is supported with investments of funding from MSUE. It will be interesting to track the continued success of the innovation counselor network and the HI-VAT team as they continue to build on the very successful first seven years of the Product Center. We are deeply indebted to Dr. Peterson and the Product Center and innovation counselor teams for their leadership in creating a new model for how Extension can have an impact in communities across the state.