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Seek Research Magazine

Budding Opportunities

By Kelly Hannigan, senior in agricultural communications and journalism

University tapping public, private industry to help meet increasing food demands

Kansas State University's Global Food Systems Initiative is leveraging the university's more than 150-year food and agriculture heritage, expertise and world-class research facilities to help meet the challenge of sustainably feeding a growing population that will reach 9.6 billion people by 2050 and double the global food demand.

The initiative, introduced by Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz in January 2014, creates future opportunities for the university and the state by building on the university's land-grant heritage in crop production and protection, animal health, food safety and food security, and leveraging that research and expertise to industry partners and entrepreneurs. These partners can quickly move new food-based technologies that address emerging food challenges to the marketplace.

"The great thing about the agricultural industry is that it has been around for centuries and a lot of the companies that are ingrained in the global food system itself have excellent pathways to the market," said Ken Williams, director of licensing at the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization. "They have brand loyalty and they have a lot of different things that allow them to be successful. Trying to replicate that on your own as an entrepreneur can be tough; it's not impossible, but it can be tough."

Two initiatives in particular are helping develop public partnerships. Launch a Business Launch a Business is a program that provides entrepreneurs with access to university faculty and to alumni mentors who are operating successful businesses.

Chad Jackson, director of the Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship at the university's College of Business Administration, said that the program has doubled the number of entrepreneurs it is accepting into its five-week summer course, including 10 spots for those focusing on advancements in food and agriculture.

"In its first year, our program had a broad reach of entrepreneurs, and we'll continue that," Jackson said. "But the exciting thing is when you start to develop expertise for specific industries, the effect you can have goes up a notch."

Partnership with General Mills Food giant General Mills Inc. recently formed a research agreement with Kansas State University to develop wheat varieties with improved nutritional milling and baking qualities. The project directs more than $400,000 toward wheat development projects at the university.

"The expectation is that Kansas wheat farmers will benefit directly from this research," said Jesse Poland, assistant professor of plant pathology and director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics. "Through these projects, we are focused on developing and delivering wheat varieties with superior quality that may be grown in high-value, contract acres."