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Small Minnesota businesses get financial boost

Drew Ryder, president of the Feed Logic company located on the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, is pictured Wednesday in the shop where his company is developing an automated livestock feed system. Feedlogic is one of nearly 70 small businesses that received more than $4.3 million in Pohlad grants and loans. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Small businesses such as Feedlogic Corporation of Willmar are weathering the national economic downturn with financial assistance provided by the Pohlad Family Foundation and administered through the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's Grow Minnesota! program.

Feedlogic is one of nearly 70 small businesses located in 50 communities in Minnesota and employing more than a thousand Minnesotans that received more than $4.3 million in Pohlad grants and loans.

Grow Minnesota! is the Minnesota Chamber's private-sector business retention and economic development program. It is run in partnership with 45 local chambers of commerce and other private-sector economic development organizations.

The recipients -- selected from among 765 applicants seeking $75.3 million -- will receive loans or grants for working capital, business planning or employee retention. Most applicants sought grants to retain key employees.

Other companies receiving Pohlad funding include:

- AgVenture Feed & Seed Inc. of Watkins, a full service feed and seed supplier (business planning grant).

- Baumgartner Environics Inc. of Olivia, an environmental agriculture products company (working capital loan).

- Tebben Enterprises of Clara City, a manufacturer of quality farm and industrial equipment and boat trailers (employee retention grant).

"We welcome the opportunity to partner with the Minnesota Chamber to help businesses survive the storm and prepare for economic recovery,'' said Jim Pohlad, foundation director.

"This money will help strengthen these companies and preserve essential jobs.''

Feedlogic was founded in Canada in 2001, spent about three years in Washington state, and is now located at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar. The Midwest location allows the company to be closer to the nation's major hog-producing area.

Feedlogic is a pioneer in development of hardware and software that provide real-time monitoring and feed management for hog producers.

The system consists of a rail-mounted feed delivery unit that can feed up to 2,000 hogs; communications system that provides for on-site or off-site access to the delivery unit; and software for monitoring and managing the system and for creating reports on feeding activities and performance.

The company was founded by Drew Ryder and his brother-in-law, a hog farmer and inventor who wanted a better way to feed hogs.

"He had the idea, which ended up being a very complex idea,'' said Ryder. "It was not just a little widget. It's really a process or concept or a way of doing things.''

The technology provides the ability to feed a very specific diet to a group of pigs or to a sow in a specific location in the barn, according to Ryder.

"That lets you do the targeting and to measure because you can measure exactly the amount eaten over a specific period of time. That information is important to a researcher or nutritionist or veterinarian or someone trying to understand how the animal reacts to different things,'' he said.

The development phase was challenging.

"We essentially invented a lot of the parts. We ordered some, but the combination thereof is very unique,'' he said.

Feedlogic launched the product close to 12 months ago and Ryder is confident the company has something that will help hog producers -- located not only in the upper Midwest but in other countries as well -- save on feed costs.

But Ryder said the company has hit some "speed bumps'' as have probably other businesses this year.

"We felt we would be a lot further along with this by now because there was definitely a pent-up demand for it. It's just a question of not being able to capitalize it,'' said Ryder.

"We face the other classic challenge that small companies with innovative products have,'' he continued. "The question a customer asks is who else has this thing and is it working. We're serving farmers. This technology has to work 24/7. That places enormous pressure on us to come out with a system that is very reliable and that takes normally in most companies enormous amounts of capital and time to perfect the technology.''

Ryder said the company has been blessed with loans and grants received thus far, but will need more capital over the long term to grow the business.

Feedlogic will use the Pohlad funding in part to place a couple of systems in large accounts on a demonstration pilot basis, according to Larry Erickson, chief executive officer.

"We have some opportunities to get into some large accounts, but those large accounts are generally used to working with large companies that are able and willing to put samples or demonstration systems and give them things,'' he said.

Feedlogic has a handful of employees and is looking for additional employees with a nutrition background and good selling and marketing skills.

"We need people with passion about improving the efficiency of this industry because it needs to, to be worldwide competitive,'' he said.

Erickson and Ryder are optimistic. Erickson said studies show entrepreneurs are persistent and always hopeful.

"I call Drew the Energizer Bunny because over these years he has continued to be true to the hope and vision of the company,'' said Erickson. "He is the charismatic leader of the company.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150