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Volume 2, Issue 4
May 2010

MSU Product Center offers Tools for Innovation and Market Competitiveness

Improving economic opportunities and profits for entrepreneurs, businesses, and industries in the Michigan agriculture, food, natural resources, and bioeconomy sectors is what the MSU Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources is all about. The Center helps entrepreneurs and established companies develop and commercialize new product, market, and business ideas.

Picture of Joan Rose

The Center's vision for success includes empowering clients to be entrepreneurial; creating partnerships that result in clients having more competitive and profitable businesses; and ensuring the realization of innovative products, new jobs, and expanded incomes in these sectors.

Directed by Chris Peterson, Nowlin Chair for Consumer-Responsive Agriculture in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE), the Center provides one-stop shopping to MSU technical expertise, research, and educational services.

Customized Services and a Statewide Network of Partners

The Center assists clients from concept development to product launch and beyond. Services are customized and include assistance with business planning, marketing analysis, the provision of educational experiences, and undertaking related applied research. The Center connects clients to a team of experts and a statewide network of university, business, and governmental partners. Examples of services provided include: business planning, feasibility studies; sensory testing; packaging and labeling; nutritional analyses; feedstock logistics; processing assessments; in-depth feasibility analyses of specific product markets; updates on trends affecting the evolution of an industry or product; and entrepreneurship and innovation clubs that bring entrepreneurs and managers together to mentor one another. The Center also provides training programs and reports, sponsors conferences and Webinars, and produces a newsletter, which offers expert advice and a schedule of upcoming events.

Some of the Center's initial services are provided free or at minimal cost while more advanced services are fee-based depending on the work required.

In addition to campus-based staff, the Product Center's programs are supported by two staff economists, associated research faculty from AFRE, and a group of graduate students engaged in related research programs. The Product Center includes a network of innovation counselors and educators, largely consisting of Michigan State University Extension field educators, spread around the state and working directly with Product Center clients.

After working with agriculture and food ventures for five years, the Product Center is expanding its services to bioeconomy ventures dealing in bioenergy, biomaterials, biochemicals, and other biobased technologies. The Center is also increasing its staff and building additional networks of experts to assist with these ventures, which are critical to Michigan's future economy.

Collaboration to Help Ventures Succeed

Michigan clients of the Center include: Legends of the Lakes in Rogers City; Maeder Brothers Quality Wood Pellets, Inc., in Weidman; Achatz Handmade Pie Company in Chesterfield; and Green Bush Farms in St. Johns.

John Gauthier, president of the Legends of the Lakes fisheries cooperative, says, "The MSU Product Center was instrumental in helping us form our cooperative and pulling all the resources together to make this venture a success. The Center mediated and coordinated with us to implement the legal and working structure, work with a company to design and print the packaging, and find distribution and sales. The Product Center really is a one-stop shop."

"Having the MSU Product Center on my team opened doors that I was not aware of."

Sue Spagnuolo
Green Bush Farms

Dave and Wendy Achatz of the Achatz Handmade Pie Co. said of their working relationship with the Center, "The Product Center and its staff have been a great resource helping us work through the logistics and coordination of our facility relocation. The Center also helped us negotiate the inspection processes and work with government agencies, helped us hire staff, and facilitated a project with the university's packaging department to develop new packaging designs and concepts for future clients and distribution needs."

Sue Spagnuolo, of Green Bush Farms, struggled as a single woman not only to support herself but to find a career that would have meaning in her life and for others. After trying different options she launched La Dolce Vita Goat Dairy in April 2009. Through her perserverance and work with the Product Center, she has created a successful business. She says, "We all have to work together. Having the MSU Product Center on my team opened doors that I was not aware of. They are a valuable tool and I appreciate all the efforts and resources they provide." She produces chevre cheese and markets her products through area stores and the Michigan State University Dairy Store.

Established in 2003 by the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University Extension, and the Michigan Agriculture Experiment Station, the Center is located on the MSU campus. For more information contact the Center at product@msu.edu or (517) 432-8750; fax (517) 432-8756; or see the Center's Web site and brochure.

  • Compiled by Catherine Gibson, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Information and Photographs courtesy of Tom Kalchik and the MSU Product Center