Challenges spur innovation

Posted on Oct 1, 2011 :: Editor
Margaret LeBrun
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

WHEN TIMES ARE TOUGH, creativity sinks in. The threat of shrinking demand and increased competition keeps everybody on their toes. Even companies that have always been innovative kick into high gear as customers expect more for less.


Take Briess Malt & Ingredients, which has created a product for baking mixes using some of the same ingredients it processes for the beer industry. Briess recently introduced a new product called CocoaPlus, which mimics the color, functionality and flavor of cocoa powder. Food processors can substitute it for up to half the amount of cocoa – a more expensive ingredient. When Briess offered blind taste testing of brownies at the Institute of Food Technology Show in New Orleans early this year, most people couldn’t tell the difference between the cocoa-based and the barley- and wheat-based CocoaPlus. Industry mavens believe the product could potentially become a common ingredient in chocolate cake and brownie mixes. Check out our cover story by MaryBeth Matzek on page 26.


State budget cuts and the threat of skyrocketing tuition have brought some innovative ideas to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. When I met with UWO Chancellor Rick Wells, he could hardly contain his excitement about a couple of initiatives that stand to solve some problems for the campus and the community, while potentially resulting in new revenue sources.


Both involve public-private partnerships. One is a hotel and conference center that will provide accommodations for the thousands of visitors to the campus who register for educational conferences. The other is an agreement in the works with Milk Source LLC (our May 2011 cover story) to build a wet anaerobic biodigester/biogas production facility at Rosendale Dairy, just west of Oshkosh. The plant would use the farm’s livestock manure to make energy in an odor-controlled environment. It would operate as a collaborative biosolids research and teaching laboratory with an attached public education center.


UWO has experience with biodigesters – it has operated a dry biodigester on its campus (the first of its kind in the nation) since last spring. Its airless storage chambers, filled with grass clippings, agricultural plant refuse and food waste from the campus, produce electricity and heat from biogas, the byproduct of the decomposing material.


Wells looks forward to the research and educational opportunities for UWO students at both biodigester locations as well as the potential to advance sustainable solutions that will enhance life in rural communities statewide. To hear it in his own words, turn to “Face Time,” page 21; an update on the project also appears on page 16.


Biogas, an innovation borne of the need to find alternative sources of energy, is poised to become an important industry in Wisconsin. A recent conference hosted at Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH) in Appleton showcased the huge potential this new industry has in Northeast Wisconsin. Consider: If the 23 million tons of manure produced each year in the state were converted to natural gas, Wisconsin would offset 4.4 percent of its energy needs. To learn more, check out our Green Business feature by Rich Redman on page 52.


Yet another brilliant idea is in the exploratory stages in the New North: Promoting the region as a sound place to build large data centers. Turns out Northeast Wisconsin is an ideal place for telecommunications and data storage systems. We don’t have earthquakes or hurricanes, the risk of flooding is low, the average temperature (on the cool side) is favorable and our capacity for electricity is high, among other factors. New North, Inc. is working on ways to promote the region to data companies (see page 14).


“There’s a lot of untapped potential in the market,” New North Inc. Executive Director Jerry Murphy says of biogas.


From just the few examples in this issue, untapped potential is all around us. Those who see opportunity in the face of challenges will obviously be in the best position for success.


Margaret LeBrun

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →