Michigan State University Hosts Inaugural AgTech Symposium at Great Lakes Expo

MSU Research Foundation and MSU Technologies collaborated to establish the inaugural AgTech Symposium at the Great Lakes Expo. The event aimed to unite industry leaders for innovation and collaboration in addressing key challenges in Michigan’s agricultural sector.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — The Michigan State University Research Foundation and MSU Technologies hosted a first annual AgTech Symposium on December 7, 2023, as part of the Great Lakes Expo in Grand Rapids.

The Great Lakes Expo, a three-day event held at the DeVos Place Convention Center, is one of North America’s leading trade shows for fruit and vegetable growers, greenhouse cultivators, and farm marketers. It serves as a platform for promoting products, networking, and presenting innovative ideas and technologies, attended by over 5,000 influential decision makers annually. The MSU Research Foundation and MSU Technologies shared several booths in the “innovation aisle” exhibition area, which showcased a series of AgTech startup businesses, as well as emerging technologies developed by MSU researchers whose work has been funded by the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) AgBio program.

“The MTRAC AgBio program works to get early-stage AgBio innovations out of the lab and into the field,” explained Joseph Affholter, director of the MTRAC AgBio Innovation Hub based at MSU. “While some of these technologies are not yet fully ready for the farm, they may be soon. This year’s Expo provided a perfect opportunity for innovative growers and developers to engage directly with new technologies as well as interface with MSU faculty researchers.” The MTRAC AgBio Hub is co-funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

In addition to exhibition space, the Expo featured informative lectures, panel presentations, round-table discussions, and breakout sessions on topics such as emerging technologies and the future of AgTech.

Following the events at the DeVos Place Convention Center, the Great Lakes Expo concluded with the MSU Research Foundation AgTech Symposium at The Bridge incubator within the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building in downtown Grand Rapids. The Symposium served as a nexus for over 65 attendees, fostering connections among inventors, investors, entrepreneurs, producers, and members of the MSU Research Foundation and the Michigan State University ecosystem.

“The AgTech Symposium was an amazing opportunity to showcase the strength and connectivity of MSU, the MSU Research Foundation, and the Agricultural community around the state,” said Kyle McGregor, Director of Health Innovations. “We loved seeing this amazing group come together at the Bridge to think about the next generation of AgTech products needed to keep our country and the state of Michigan at the cutting edge of agricultural innovations.”

The symposium began with a networking luncheon, followed by two breakout sessions titled “Discover” and “Connect.”

The “Discover” session was facilitated by Brad Fingland, PhD, Director of Venture Creation. The session emphasized the exploration of early-stage agricultural technologies and strategies to navigate them towards commercial viability. Dr. Fingland highlighted the significance of aligning tech developers with extension educators and growers, emphasizing the need for enhanced educational opportunities and collaboration models.

“The Great Lakes EXPO highlighted so much of the innovation happening in the agricultural industry,” said Dr. Fingland. “It also highlighted the need for additional solutions, especially in farm operations and supply chains. The MSU Research Foundation, MSU, and the MSU Extension office are uniquely positioned to help address some of these challenges, so I’m excited about the relationships we built at the EXPO and AgTech Symposium.”

The “Connect” session was facilitated by Jeff Smith, Director of Research Parks. It concentrated on fostering diverse collaborations within the AgTech ecosystem. Discussions encompassed labor concerns, the optimization of university connections to address supply chain bottlenecks, and the intricacies of succession planning faced by growers.

“After attending the Great Lakes Expo and AgTech Symposium, I’m convinced that we need to continue to be involved,” said Jeff Smith. “There’s a real interest in innovation within Michigan’s agriculture industry. Attendees were very candid about their concerns and eagerness to integrate innovations into their day-to-day operations. They’re looking to address concerns over labor shortages, succession planning, sourcing and supply chain, and increasing operational expenses.”

The symposium concluded with tours of The Bridge incubator, a hub within the MSU Innovation Park, managed by the MSU Research Foundation. The facility is designed to nurture technological, healthcare, and educational startups in Michigan. It features collaborative spaces and private offices, fostering an environment conducive to growth and innovation.

“We’re looking forward to hosting this group again in 2024,” McGregor added. “We aim to build on the incredible momentum that was generated this year.”

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About the Michigan State University Research Foundation

The Michigan State University Research Foundation was established in 1973 as an independent nonprofit committed to the commercialization of cutting-edge technologies invented by MSU faculty, staff, and students. Today, the MSU Research Foundation is focused on enhancing research, encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, and facilitating economic growth at MSU and across the state through its subsidiary organizations—Spartan Innovations, Red Cedar Ventures, and Michigan Rise Pre-Seed Fund III—and its Research Parks.

About MSU Technologies

MSU Technologies (MSUT) is the technology transfer office at Michigan State University (MSU). MSUT facilitates the transition of innovative technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace through the commercial development and public use of technologies and copyrightable materials developed by MSU faculty and staff. With a dynamic team led by seasoned professionals, MSU Technologies is dedicated to accelerating the commercialization of intellectual property, fostering industry partnerships, and supporting faculty entrepreneurs with support for the establishment of startup companies.

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