Archive for April, 2009|Monthly archive page

Great article from Koch CFO on small business innovation

In Innovation, Small Business on April 22, 2009 at 1:56 pm

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Be the best vanilla possible

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Innovation on April 21, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Food has many characteristics that make it special. Texture. Color. But most important is: Flavor.

And in much the same way, people, companies, ideas and brands can have flavors that make them special.

One flavor that gets a really bad rap is vanilla. It is sometimes synonymous with bland, plain and average.

But when it comes to food, vanilla can actually be quite extraordinary. A rich, delicious vanilla shake. Thick, warm vanilla pudding. Just a hint of real Mexican vainilla in your dad’s famous whole wheat waffles.

Well, it works the same way in the non-culinary world. Sometimes it’s not about trying to be a completely different flavor. It’s about intensity, amount and how the flavor is applied. It’s about finding a new way to unlock the possibilities that lay in something seemingly mundane and everyday.

Imagine that:

Cheerios are pacifiers that create happier family outings

Beef jerky is the perfect diet food for men

Grapes are great bedtime snacks for kids and parents

It’s all in how you look at things. Vanilla can be plain or it can be the farthest thing from it.

NAMA keynote speaker highlights need for differentiation

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Marketing on April 16, 2009 at 3:30 pm

This year’s opening keynote speaker at the 2009 National Agri-Marketing Association convention in Atlanta, Scott McKain, highlighted the need for differentiation with his four cornerstones:

Clarity – To grab attention and guarantee satisfaction, you have to be precise about who and what you are. You cannot differentiate what you cannot define.

Creativity – Distinctive organizations find some unique twist, some original spin to put on the interaction that they have with customers.

Communication – While we often hear about the importance of that topic, what our research clearly shows is that today’s customer wants to be engaged by a compelling narrative. Tell the story of your product, your company and your service in a manner that involves customers and prospects.

Customer-Experience Focus – This is more than the old “focus on the customer” line we’ve heard for years. Today’s Ag customer centers purchase decisions as much on feelings as facts and figures. In other words, how they feel about your marketing — and the experience and emotional connectivity they have with your organization and people — are the primary determinates of what they will buy and refer.

As reported by NAMA

Cheap food or value-added products: the choice is yours

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Innovation on April 15, 2009 at 2:47 pm

We have a choice to make in this country. It is the choice between pouring billions in government subsidies into a race to the bottom with countries like Brazil and China and pouring billions in investment into the next wave of ag-borne technology.

For too long, we have been enticed by other nations’ “rope-a-dope” strategy. And we’ve been wearing out our banks, our farmers and our soil as we swing away while our competitors wait for their opportunity to deliver a knockout punch.

Now this isn’t to say that we should or will abdicate our position in production agriculture. But the current state of affairs-note the pace of new ag land coming into production in Brazil-should serve as an alarm bell that we need a mix of products that is more robust and diverse.

As one of my good friends and colleagues Dr. Vincent Amanor-Boadu reminded me once, we are actually put into the position of trying to grow commodities cheaply and ship them out of the country only to see them come back to us in the form of value-added products that our consumers then purchase.

We are transgressing our own strengths-innovative thinking, infrastructure, capital-with an antiquated system that focuses on cost instead of profit. Profit is a function of cost AND revenue.

And I’m not going to quote numbers here. I want you to go look them up for yourself.

So what are we to do? Well, first we need to admit there is a problem with the status quo. And second, we need to start spending money at a level of investment that is commensurate with the appropriate product mix of low-cost, heavily-subsidized commodities and value-added products. And I’m not just talking about natural and organic food. I’m talking about polymers, construction materials, household goods and cures for diseases.

It’s time to answer the bell.

Water could represent the new ag frontier

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Innovation on April 11, 2009 at 7:17 pm

When we think of ag innovation, we tend to focus on things like food and polymers. But our most precious resource, water, might be our most important source of innovation material.

We live in a world where, according to the United Nations, more than one billion people have no access to clean water. That’s a problem begging for a solution.

Water also holds tremendous potential as a place to grow food for a rapidly-expanding immigrant population here in the US. Many of these nationalities prefer fish, and someone needs to figure out how to grow it for these consumers in a profitable manner.

Other opportunities for innovation include finding ways to conserve water to be used on crops and better methods for using water in very water-intensive processes, such as ethanol production.

It’s easy to dismiss these pursuits as green but not money-makers. But there is no arguing that water is becoming a more precious resource, and creating a way to conserve scarce resources is rewarded.

The time for planning is now

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship on April 7, 2009 at 9:12 pm

It wasn’t that long ago when the words “succession” and “plan” weren’t even used in the same sentence. Since then it has become more common for families to begin the process of deciding how to hand over the reins.

Still, too often, this process starts late in the career of the incumbent farmer. And in too many cases, the business and family dysfunction that are uncovered as a result makes it difficult to craft a winnable solution.

Probably the best thing about this situation is that if the process of succession planning and addressing the ancillary issues is begun early, there is a better chance of creating a higher-performing farm business unit. A proactive approach is less costly and more rewarding in the long run.

There are several phases of the farm business that should be addressed on an ongoing basis, not only when there is an acute need to talk about them.

And the thing about these is that none of them have as much to do with agronomy or animal husbandry as with farm business management.

Here they are:

1. Strategic Planning: Defining business and personal goals is important to do before your age or business situation forces you to do it.

2. Portfolio Management: This is the process of determining how to allocate resources. Now would be a good time to consider both which enterprises are most profitable and whether to add new ones.

3. Early-stage Succession Planning: This process should begin when your children, should you have any, are still children. There are organizations that can help you with this process.

For help with succession planning, contact the Kansas Rural Family Help Line at their Web site: Kansas Rural Family Help Line

For help with strategic planning and portfolio analysis, contact David Mace at Maverick Creative Group: Maverick Creative Group

Network Kansas offers support to entrepreneurs

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Small Business on April 4, 2009 at 11:41 pm

We try not to spend a lot of time in this blog wailing about the current state of the economy or the plight of agribusiness, preferring instead to maintain a positive tone, focused on innovation. There are a lot of great stories happening out there.
Some entrepreneurs have inventions, others are simply seeking to fill a need in their community. In any case, these people are passionate about their plans.
Every day, we work with small business owners and budding entrepreneurs who have hopes and dreams for creating a business that will sustain them and offer a high degree of independence. We find that there are a lot of highly-motivated people with great ideas; all they need is a little support and guidance.
There are numerous resources available throughout the state if you’re a farmer or other entrepreneur who wants to start a business.
Starting and managing a business of any size is difficult. We encourage you to visit, where you will find resources to help you in your quest.
You can also contact Maverick Creative Group directly at

Harvard Business School to offer global agribusiness seminar

In Agribusiness on April 3, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Harvard Business School (HBS) is offering an agribusiness seminar May 10-13 in Mumbai. The program will be offered in the United States in January 2010.

The cost is $6,075.00.

This is the first-ever seminar of its kind offered by HBS.

For more information visit