Strengthening skills while addressing agriculture needs

University of Arizona students have the opportunity to work with the agriculture industry to identify its needs and develop a product to address those challenges with the Go To Market Initiative.

The Go To Market Initiative is a partnership between the University of Arizona (UA) College of Engineering, McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship and the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture.

It provides students with experiential learning and venture opportunities while they work to meet the needs of the agriculture industry, especially date pollination challenges.

“The pollination of dates is labor intensive, the whole process of growing dates is,” said Paul Brierley, Yuma Center for Excellence in Desert Agriculture executive director.

The Yuma Center for Excellence in Desert Agriculture is a public-private partnership between the UA and the agriculture production industry to address the challenges identified by the agriculture industry.  

“Our role really is to understand what industry wants and work with university resources to get researchers and other people working on these problems and try to get results for the industry that’s funding our center,” Bierley said.

The students participating in the Go To Market Initiative are tasked with developing methods to ease the date pollination process that they could commercialize.

“When you think about innovation and entrepreneurship, it’s not just about startups. It’s about corporate innovation, nonprofit innovation, public sector innovation,” Rick Yngve, McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship director said.

He asked, “How do we solve the wicked problems of the world? What are the grand challenges where we have to bring together multiple disciplines to be able to solve that?”

The Go To Market is a two-semester program. The students begin the program by taking a bus tour to Yuma to see the date orchards and pollination.

“The second semester, as quick as they could, they got the prototype put together and went down to Yuma to test it in actual date orchards,” Bierley.

He said, “Most of them probably had never thought about agriculture as an industry or as a potential career. And, all the sudden they’re immersed in realizing that their major in engineering or their major in business has very real-world applications in agriculture.”

While some students gain experience and complete a course, others can take it a step further. They can work with Tech Launch Arizona to figure out how to take their product to market.

“Tech Launch [Arizona] is the commercialization arm of the university. So, anything that’s owned by the university and is going to go out and have some kind of commercial impact essentially travels through our office,” Doug Hockstad, Tech Launch Arizona assistant vice president said.

The Go To Market participants can carry their product forward and make a business out of it to serve the industry’s demands.

“There is intellectual property that is already part of this particular project and it’s expected that more will be created during the project. So, it’s really our job to kind of lay the groundwork to make sure that the startup can be successful and that our goal- I think everybody’s goal- is to see the results of this project actually hit the market,” Hockstad said.

Sierra Ciaramella

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