EDITOR'S NOTE: This joint commentary is by University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel and GREATER MSP CEO Peter Frosch.
Minnesota became a hub of the global Bio Revolution following the launch of BioMADE in April. BioMADE is an independent, nonprofit manufacturing innovation institute headquartered on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus, with $87.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and more than $180 million in support from nearly 100 industry and academic collaborators across 31 states.
BioMADE will be the center of a new national ecosystem of research, investment and entrepreneurialism based around bioindustrial manufacturing, which uses engineered microbes (bacteria, yeast and algae) to create entirely new materials or sustainable alternatives to existing petroleum-based materials. Across the country, it will help startup companies pilot and scale their work to commercial viability, and facilitate efforts by large firms to broaden and diversify their products.
What’s more, new bioproducts could potentially use renewable agricultural materials produced by Minnesota farmers instead of petroleum products, resulting in a boost to the state’s agricultural economy and new, greener supply chains for many goods and products.
Bioindustrial manufacturing uses bio-derived chemical building blocks to create everything from fabrics, food additives, fragrances and cosmetics, crop protection solutions and next-generation biosynthetic fuels. The process can create durable and sustainable bioplastics, as well as films and composites that can be used to make improved displays and circuit boards, aerospace materials and even high-performance alpine skis.
BioMADE has a national mandate and scope, but having it here gives Minnesota a foothold in one of the fastest growing industries of the 21st century: the bioeconomy, which the McKinsey Global Institute estimates could have a direct economic impact of up to $4 trillion annually within the next 10-20 years.
We see bioindustrial manufacturing as an engine for economic growth and job creation in Minnesota on par with our food and agriculture and medical device sectors. It has the potential to be transformative here in the same way that a DOD semiconductor institute awarded to Austin, Texas anchored the U.S. computer chip industry there, and a DOD robotics institute at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh precipitated a cutting-edge robotics industry cluster around it.
The University of Minnesota’s BioTechnology Institute has developed a national reputation in biomanufacturing over the past three decades. As a leading American research university, the U of M also boasts complementary strengths in genomics, computational biology, green chemistry and supercomputing. Those assets helped attract BioMADE to headquarter here and having BioMADE as a partner will help advance the work of U of M researchers who are, for example, already developing and commercializing enzymes that convert harmful chemicals in drinking water into benign compounds and that could fight marine corrosion in shipping and naval applications.
GREATER MSP, the metro region’s economic development partnership, is working to surround the university and BioMADE with the talent, capital, real estate and national and global visibility required to fulfill the potential of this once-in-a generation opportunity.
Minnesota already has built a globally-leading life sciences and medical technology sector. This latest opportunity with the bioeconomy builds on our strengths and will unlock a new generation of innovation and growth. This is the tech economy Minnesota is built to lead.
Joan Gabel is the President of the University of Minnesota. Peter Frosch is the CEO of GREATER MSP, an economic development partnership for the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.