#BehindTheScenesSDSU: The Research Park

The Research Park at South Dakota State University is a collaborative facility for SDSU and industry partners to foster research as well as develop ideas and new companies.

About 170 people work in the three buildings of the park, which covers about 125 acres. The Innovation Center, the Seed Technology Laboratory and the Speculative “spec” Building all make up the research park.

THE INNOVATION CENTER AND SPEC BUILDING

A “spec” building is basically a shell of a building, which leaves the inside unfinished. Once businesses are added into the research park and lease the space, they can finish the construction in a few months.

The “spec” building is beneficial to the park because it gets the preliminary construction out of the way, which is the hardest, said Dwaine Chapel, the executive director of the research park.

The innovation center houses offices, meeting areas and the incubator for businesses.

The incubator helps develop businesses through services, such as: advice from entrepreneurs, aid from attorneys on legal matters and a maker’s space. The maker’s space is an area that allows people to construct prototypes of their ideas. This area includes 3-D printing, an area for software design and even a kitchen if entrepreneurs are trying to develop new foods.

“With the maker’s space, that was one of the last pieces of the puzzle to bring the incubator all together,” Chapel said.

They also have a virtual office, which can be rented for $100 a month. This is for businesses not yet ready to go into an office setting. They get access to a team of entrepreneurs, meeting rooms and will have an address to use as their place of business.

“We really have tried to cover everything someone might want or need,” Chapel said.

Entrepreneurs have access to attorneys to aid in the legal side of things including patent development, Chapel said.

“Our research park is specifically designed to be a home to start up companies coming out of the university,” Chapel said. “So, that’s really why we’re here—so that there’s a place for that technology and innovation to thrive once it gets out of the initial stages of growth and development on campus.”

Several success stories have come since the beginning of the research park, Chapel said. One of those success stories includes Prairie Aquatech, a company started at SDSU that is housed in the Brookings Technology Commercialization Center.

According to South Dakota State’s website, Prairie Aquatech was started by SDSU Professors William Gibbons and Michael Brown.  The company markets high-quality, commercial fish feed ingredients made from feedstock, such as soybean meal or distillers’ grains.

Chapel said the research park is working through further development stages with the company, and they hope to help Prairie Aquatech get a building in the research park.

“Sometimes you need big visions to accomplish things,” Chapel said.

Chapel said the best part of working at the research park is helping people develop their dreams.

“It is just extremely exciting to see someone walk into the front door knowing that we have all these resident entrepreneurs on hand and can connect them with the appropriate team members,” Chapel said. “And that is just exciting because, whether they are 22, 42 or 62, they are excited because their idea has a chance to be commercialized.”

The research park is currently in negotiations to add on another 35,000 square-foot “spec” building, which will probably not be seen until 2017, Chapel said. However, there are other big things in the research park’s future.

“The interesting thing about economic development is you really work under the radar,” Chapel said. “A lot of the things you do you can’t talk about until it’s ready to announce. I think the community will be very excited in mid to late May on a couple of announcements we have coming out.”

THE SEED TECHNOLOGY LAB

Several things are housed within the lab: the state seed testing lab, South Dakota Crop Improvement Association, crop quality lab, molecular biology research labs (which includes winter and spring wheat breeding projects, oat breeding projects and pathology and genome research labs), greenhouses, biocontainment research lab and graduate and faculty offices.

“The amount of research that comes out of here is really important,” said Brent Turnipseed, the seed lab manager and an SDSU professor. 

“The direct impact to the farming economy in the state is huge because of the new varieties [of seed] that are coming out of this place.”

Turnipseed said the lab also has a kitchen of sorts where bread and dough are made from the flour of different germplasm varieties to determine the dough strength to develop the best baking characteristics, Turnipseed said.

“We get samples from at least 13 different states routinely,” Turnipseed said. “This year we’ve had samples from California and Maine.”

Turnipseed attributes this to the quality of work at the seed testing lab.

“Part of it is our reputation,” Turnipseed said. “We pride ourselves in being very good and not missing things.”

The lab employs about 20 students throughout the year, Turnipseed said. Students have a range of duties once employed at the lab and may cross train across two or three jobs. Work duties range from dividing seed samples to testing seed viability and endurance to cross-pollinating and planting.

Kyle Schnabel, a freshman Agricultural Systems Technology major, decided to follow his brother’s footsteps and work at the Seed Technology Lab during his college career. A perk for Schnabel was that the lab worked with his school schedule.

“Every time I come in, there’s something new to do,” Schnabel said. “It’s never the same.”

The Seed Technology Lab has provided him a new opportunity to learn things throughout college, Schnabel said.

Turnipseed said the seed testing lab gets a lot of interesting jobs, testing the seeds from chicken manure and the stomach contents of various wildlife being among them.

Another interesting piece of research from the Seed Technology Lab came from Padu Krishnan, an SDSU cereal chemist. Krishnan received recognition in the Wall Street Journal for his recipe to make snickerdoodle cookies from dried distillers’ grains.