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Sunday, 29 September 2013 22:00

Ottawa County plans virtual ag incubator

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Based on the strength of the agricultural sector, the innovative spirit of farmers and the stated need for entrepreneurial resources in the farming sector, Ottawa County proposes creating a virtual incubator to help farmers turn ideas into viable products.

The plans, which went before the Ag Incubator Steering Committee last Thursday and will go to the Ottawa County Planning Commission today, call for the rollout of a virtual incubator aimed at supporting farmers in the commercialization of agritech-based products.

The virtual incubator, which lacks a physical building but has county staff dedicated to it, would cost about $50,000 per year in staff time and other resources and would be able to support six to eight clients per year, said Mark Knudsen, planning and performance improvement director with the county.

The incubator would be supported with a performance-based compensation model.

“It capitalizes on our key industry – agriculture,” Knudsen said.

Farmers generally have their own facilities and tools and “really don’t need a physical incubator,” he said. But they do need services, such as assistance in determining whether an idea is viable and patentable and help to take an idea to market.

The group’s four focus areas are agricultural production equipment, technology and software; agricultural production; food processing and food safety; and food refrigeration and distribution.

Last year, the county hired Greenwood Consulting Group Inc. to conduct a market needs study for an incubator. The study found significant interest among residents. Of the 227 respondents, 95 percent said they believed the incubator was a good idea. Of those 166 people, 107 of them said they were interested in using the incubator’s services.  

But while the study’s authors called for a mixed-use incubator and the creation of a 15,000-square-foot to 20,000-square-foot facility, the steering committee ultimately opted for a leaner, “sustainable” and more cost-effective approach, Knudsen said.

Given the level of interest from the farming community, the steering committee launched a pilot of a virtual incubator before the market study was completed. The small-scale virtual incubator focused narrowly on agricultural technology and worked with three people to develop their ideas.  Knudsen described the program as a “lean incubation model, which has minimal startup investment and therefore low risk.”

“So far, so good,” Knudsen said of the pilot. “We’ve got three clients that are very happy, and we’re expecting once we open the (virtual) doors, that we’ll be inundated with requests for service.”

Read 3372 times Last modified on Saturday, 28 September 2013 17:13

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