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Technology foundation to host first-ever animal science venture forum

WILLMAR -- In what's being described as a matchmaking event for animal science innovators and investors, the MinnWest Technology Foundation is hosting its first-ever animal science venture forum in September.

Organizers want to bring a select group of people together and see what happens when ideas are swapped, connections are made and new partnerships developed.

Just maybe, it could lead to the establishment of a new, cutting-edge company specializing in the animal sciences, says Joanna Schrupp, project assistant at the technology campus.

"You never know what's going to happen when conversations take place," she said.

The forum opens Sept. 21 with a reception, then goes into full gear with a day-long conference Sept. 22 at the MinnWest Technology Campus.

It's a first for the animal science and technology industry in Minnesota, say conference organizers.

"There isn't anything currently like it," said Jean Spaulding, assistant director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, which is one of the sponsors of the event.

Those being invited to the table include early-stage companies in the animal sciences, venture capitalists, angel investors, strategic investors, and economic development and education leaders.

About a dozen entrepreneurs will be given the opportunity to describe their venture in 10 minutes or less. Information also will be presented on industry trends and what's new and innovative.

The heart of the conference, though, will lie within the networking it facilitates, Schrupp said.

"If we can just start people talking and collaborating, that's a big part of it," she said. "We want it to be a catalyst... We're really excited about this. We're trying to be leaders in this arena."

Just as significantly, the venture forum also will cast a spotlight on the MinnWest Technology Campus, an enclave of animal science, bioscience and technology companies on the wooded grounds of what was formerly the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

The campus currently has 23 tenants who collectively employ just under 230 individuals. Its most recent addition is Tenex Inc., a medical device manufacturer. Later this year the University of Minnesota is expected to open the Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center on the campus.

Generating traffic to the campus has been key to attracting businesses to locate there, Spaulding said.

In many cases, once visitors have toured the site and seen what it can offer, "the response is overwhelming," she said.

"This is our opportunity to show new start-up companies that this is a good place to work. This is a good place to come," Schrupp said. "The more people we get out here to show off our campus, the better."

It's the hope of organizers that the venture forum will be an annual event. Organizers will know they've been successful when early-stage companies are capitalized and begin to grow as a result of the deal-making and partnerships that happened at the forum, Schrupp said. "It's going to be those success stories that are going to happen."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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