Six-month update: Booming growth opportunities for the Kent Innovation Center

Ag science, Innovation | 04/04/2019

By Tia Snyder, sales and communications intern, tsnyder@cultivationcorridor.org

Jeff Underwood, VP of of Enterprise Innovation
Jeff Underwood, VP of Enterprise Innovation

In today’s competitive and fast-paced environment, innovation is a core strength Kent Corporation believes is essential to continue its prominence as a leader in agriculture, food, feed and bioscience. Innovation is also why the family-owned company, based in Muscatine, Iowa, decided to open the Kent Innovation Center in the Iowa State University Research Park (ISURP) six months ago.

“Innovation is taking a forward-looking approach and delivering solutions before customers know they need one,” said Jeff Underwood, vice president of Enterprise Innovation at Kent Corporation.

Underwood said there were two main drivers for the satellite location in Ames: the proximity to world-class student talent, and the unique, collaborative environment the ISU Research Park offers its tenants.

Underwood was the sole employee when the Kent Innovation Center opened in September, but shortly after, he hired two Iowa State students as interns to assist in software development and product quality improvement. The office in Ames allows Kent Corporation to utilize student talent year-round instead of solely during the summer.

Iowa State students and career services departments are more familiar with Kent’s brand six months into the Innovation Center’s opening. Underwood said he noticed an immediate advantage during career fair when he sorted between numerous high-quality applicants. He said he hopes to lease additional space and employ several more interns this fall.

“We’re getting great work out of our students. We’re really happy with their ideas, creativity and technical expertise,” said Underwood.

Kent Corporation is excited to be part of the ISURP, which has over 80 companies represented, including John Deere, Sukup Manufacturing, and many startups.

“The ISU Research Park and Cultivation Corridor do an amazing job of connecting talent within the Park,” said Underwood. “One of the most difficult parts of my role is choosing which of the vast opportunities to pursue in the Cultivation Corridor. That’s an exciting challenge.”

Tenants in the ISU Research Park employ more than 2,000 employees and 300 student interns at any given time, according to the ISURP website.

“The immense number of researchers and raw talent in the Park, and on campus, cause valuable conversations to naturally flow,” said Underwood.

Underwood says the constructive environment creates a flurry of beneficial outcomes, such as, healthy competition that drives employees and students to think outside of the box.

Underwood’s eyes lit up as he discussed the future of the Center. He said the growth opportunities are endless between the talented Iowa State students Kent Corporation is hiring and collaborations with other Research Park tenants, not to mention Kent’s own product and market research.

The Kent Innovation Center team will mark its one-year anniversary at the ISURP in September.