Business partnerships are a 'win-win'

The University and local corporations have found a perfect union

Blaine Nelson came to the University of Minnesota from “way up north,” and that description is anything but an exaggeration. His family’s 3,000-acre farm is near Lancaster, Minnesota—roughly 10 miles from North Dakota and 10 miles from Canada.

Nelson, an applied economics major in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), says he has found a home away from home with “the small-town atmosphere” of the U’s St. Paul campus.

He also found a great opportunity for personal and professional development last year when he landed an internship at WinField, a division of Land O’Lakes.

Nelson was a marketing intern in WinField’s crop protection and inputs department. He helped produce materials describing the attributes of WinField products and took part in field days where representatives talked about the products with farmers.

“It helped me apply a few of the things I learned in class—for marketing, especially,” says Nelson. He also had a chance to make a lot of great contacts.

“I networked with all different levels of employees, including the CEO, Chris Policinski,” he says. “And that’s something you can’t put a price on.”

Land O’Lakes is one corporation among many looking to the University of Minnesota for its next generation of leaders. The U has thriving partnerships with many Fortune 100 companies, including several in Minnesota.

Three such partnerships—with Land O’Lakes, 3M, and Boston Scientific—are featured in a series of new radio ads, as well as print ads set to appear in magazines later this month. Discover more about the campaign at Partnering Illuminates Possibilities.

Rhythm, growth, and limitless power

The ads feature concrete examples of the University and business working hand in hand to address our state’s challenges and drive innovation. For instance, engineering faculty at the U have developed a 3-D visualizer that Boston Scientific scientists are using to help design their life-saving heart devices.

WinField experts are working with U students to produce crops with ever-increasing yields. And engineering students are collaborating with 3M scientists to enhance the capabilities of the latest solar energy materials.

Those are some of the bigger U partnerships with businesses featured in the ads, but there are many others, including with Medtronic, General Mills, Target, Travelers, United Health, and Securian Financial.

“Because of the types of students that are attracted to the University of Minnesota and are getting educated [there], you end up with a much, much richer talent pool.” —Margaret Anderson Kelliher

The corporations may provide gifts to support scholarship funds for U students, and they often offer another valuable commodity—internships. And the students they help often become their future workforce.

In some cases, students who attend the University launch careers at corporations, then bring their talents, directly or indirectly, back to campus.

Tim Hebrink earned his degree in chemical engineering at what is now the College of Science and Engineering in 1984, but he’s still highly involved with his alma mater.

He has served on a strategic planning task force for the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is working with Professor Jane Davidson to develop new hybrid solar thermal panels, and has assisted the U’s solar car team for four years.

“I think it’s good to inspire students about the application of the science that they’re learning in school, and inspire them to come work at 3M,” says Hebrink.

“There’s a 100-year relationship between 3M and the University of Minnesota,” and “a lot of 3M’s lead scientists come from the U of M,” he adds. “Partnership is good for recruiting the best students to come to 3M, and it’s also beneficial to 3M to be able to apply theory to the products we have for a better understanding.”

Nelson, the former WinField intern and current president of the CFANS student board, also sees the benefits for both students and businesses.

“I think it’s a win-win,” he says. “Land O’ Lakes gets the hardworking students willing to offer them a fresh perspective, and the [students] are getting the opportunity to work with these proven business people who have been there for 10 or 20 years.”

Good for the workforce, great for the economy

In the case of these business partnerships, what’s good for the University and for corporations is also good for Minnesota.

“There’s a definite strong connection between the University of Minnesota, the research that goes on there, the commercialization of that research out of the University of Minnesota, and the broader health of the business community—and specifically the science- and technology-based businesses. A very direct and strong link,” says Margaret Anderson Kelliher, president and CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA).

The MHTA has a grant-funded program called SciTech that matches students with small companies (under 100 employees) in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math. To date in 2013, half the applicants for the program have been students from the U’s Twin Cities and Duluth campuses who are looking for an entrepreneurial opportunity.

“Because of the types of students that are attracted to the University of Minnesota and are getting educated [there], you end up with a much, much richer talent pool,” she says. “We know that companies talk about the need for strong talent, and the U of M is one of the major generators of technicians and scientists—especially at the master’s and Ph.D. levels."

She adds: “You really can’t walk through the halls of a company without—within a few steps—touching someone who has their degree from the University of Minnesota.”

And that’s good for business.