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University Center for Commercialization of Sustainable Energies and Precision Agriculture Sensors Technologies

University Center for Commercialization of Sustainable Energies and Precision Agriculture Sensors Technologies

  • Center Director: Qiquan (Quinn) Qiao
  • Supported by the Department of Commerce (DOC) Economic Development Administration (EDA)
  • Funding: $1.45M for 5 years including cost share (2018-2023)

This University Center will focus on (1) supporting regional commercialization, (2) developing a high-skilled regional workforce, (3) advancing high-growth entrepreneurship, (4) cultivating innovation, and (5) promoting business expansion efforts in environmentally sustainable energy and precision agriculture technologies in South Dakota.

Scope of Work and Anticipated Impacts and Results


To address the economic ecosystem gaps identified above, the Center will work with SDSU Extension Offices across South Dakota to conduct the strategy plans and activities shown in Figure 2.

Specific activities

  1. Build university-industry partnership networks in sustainable energy and precision Ag technologies. The Center will establish new and expand upon existing partnerships with industry and improve practices to optimize communication and leverage the respective roles of the research team and private sector in streamlining commercialization. Target companies include John Deere, NanoTek LLC, Raven Industry, John Deere, SST Software, S&C Electricity and EMI USA Corporation. Within the private-public partnership networks, university researchers will be able to work closely with industry partners to know what market really needs.
  2. Assist entrepreneurs with commercialization plans, licensing and patenting activities and market analysis. The Center will collaborate with SDSU’s TTO and Research Park to mentor and assist entrepreneurs in licensing and patenting their research and in establishing companies to commercialize innovative technologies. For innovation-driven new products, invention disclosure will be made once the discovery is confirmed by scientists. Patent applications will be filed, venture capital and angel investors will be sought and start-up companies will be established.
    For technology-enhanced existing products, industrial partners will be identified from the onset of the scientific research. The commercialization of such projects can be achieved either through licensing the technology to the industrial partners or by creating stand-alone enterprises or joint ventures. Each product developed will need a plan specific to its potential markets, uses, where and how it will be produced and the competitive conditions it will face. Developing these business plans may include gathering primary data (surveys), analyzing secondary data on consumer acceptance of green technologies and analyzing geographic demand for different product types. Some technologies may be better suited for urban or rural locations, depending upon land needs and safety requirements. The market analysis (including international and other new markets) can begin once product prototypes are developed. The market analysis process might also indicate that an invention or specific product may better commercialized by forming (and licensing to) a startup company. The Center will recruit student interns from SDSU’s Economics Department to conduct the market analyses.
  1. Offer training series on IP protection and entrepreneurship. The target audience for this training will be South Dakota based university faculty and students. The series will cover renewable energy and precision agriculture intellectual property (IP) generation and protection, identification of commercially viable research opportunities, finding market applications for sustainable energy, and business planning concepts and financing options for start-up business ventures.
  2.  Provide student and faculty expertise, university laboratories and equipment and seed funds for proof of concept, applied research and prototype/product development. This Center will develop a SDSU-Industry forum to provide communication channels so that entrepreneurs, economic planners and industry leaders can know and access student and faculty expertise, university laboratories and equipment for new product development. About $40K/year ($30K from EDA and $10K cost share) will be distributed to support materials and supplies for 2-4 selected applied research projects cost which will involve university student and faculty expertise, and university labs and equipment. These projects will apply research to address a specific challenge or need experienced by innovators, entrepreneurs, economic planners, and industries in sustainable energy and precision agriculture.
  3. Work with the Research Park and BEDC to provide entrepreneurs with education and assist in establishing companies to commercialize technology or innovative products and services. The Center will provide comprehensive assistance to innovators and entrepreneurs to accommodate their varying financial needs at the different stages of product life cycle. It is expected that this startup would be located at the Research Park at SDSU to take full advantage of the business development resources, including the Enterprise Institute, angel investment funds, accounting and legal professionals, entrepreneurs-in-residence, and other incubator services offered by the Research Park.  
  4. Assist communities in identifying workforce needs, building a talented pool and developing professional and leadership skills via core business training. The Center will assist South Dakota communities in identifying, defining and building a networked talent pool the following programs. Certificate programs and worker retraining: The project will work with community colleges to offer certificate programs, worker retraining and other workforce development efforts in the field of sustainable energy and precision agriculture. These programs will be open to people both from on campus and off campus across the state. Undergraduate and graduate students, including Native Americans: The project will involve more than 20 undergraduate and graduate students per year, with 20% representing tribal colleges. These students participate in a series of introductory lectures on sustainable energy (biofuel, solar and wind) and precision agriculture (sensors, automation and big data analysis), followed by internships in SDSU research labs and companies. Professional and Leadership Trainings: The Center will host a series of professional development training sessions on communication, leadership, research and career development. The series will help students develop necessary skills to be used in academic, industry and/or government jobs. The professional and leadership certificate will appeal to current and future employers.