Tom Lyons: Innovating for Innovators

An experienced entrepreneur, AFRE professor Tom Lyons pushes the boundaries of innovation at the MSU Product Center.

An experienced entrepreneur, AFRE professor Tom Lyons pushes the boundaries of innovation at the MSU Product Center.

The MSU Product Center has provided more than 51,000 one-on-one client counseling sessions and helped 634 ventures launch since its opening in 2004. Just in the past year, almost 100 of those ventures were launched under the leadership of the Product Center’s director, Tom Lyons.

The state’s hub for information, resources, and guidance for Michigan agriculture, food and natural resource entrepreneurs, the Product Center facilitates industry events and provides entrepreneurial counseling and resources for Michigan residents who want help with their food or resource-based business. Since becoming the director of the center in 2016, Lyons has been determined to see the center expand their reach and invigorate the current services provided to local entrepreneurs.

Not only the Director of the Product Center, Lyons is also a practicing entrepreneur with two launched enterprises including his current venture, a web-based entrepreneurship skills assessment company.

“As an entrepreneur I know how difficult the mechanics of a new business or product can be, and having something like the Product Center for help is invaluable,” said Lyons. “My goal is to continue to push the Product Center to keep innovating and being the amazing resource it is for our local stakeholders.”

The newest addition to the MSU Product Center, the new Food Processing and Innovation Center (FPIC), will soon be Michigan’s leading food development, processing, packaging and research facility. The FPIC gives the next level of assistance to the Product Center’s clients throughout the Great Lakes region.

“It’s a very exciting project — it’s the first of its kind and it’s right here at MSU,” said Lyons. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for local food innovators to try out new things and push the boundaries of what’s possible for them.”

The product of several years of tremendous teamwork and dedication from Product Center staff members Matt Birbeck, Bruce Harte, and Tina Conklin, the FPIC will provide a real-time production environment to support the creation of vibrant new food products, serving the needs of Michigan-based food businesses big and small as well as large-scale startups throughout the Great Lakes region. The Product Center's former director, Chris Peterson, was also a major contributor to carrying forward the vision for the FPIC. The new facility launched in early March with a single client to refine processes and services available, will open to all clients on June 1.

With decades of public sector, government, teaching, research, and entrepreneurial work, leading the MSU Product Center is the culmination of Tom Lyons’ extensive career.

“This position really has brought everything I’ve done together,” said Lyons. “I’m getting to use all the connections and knowledge I’ve built to help those who want to contribute something new to the world.”

When not directing the Product Center, Lyons researches entrepreneurial topics and teaches within the department, currently instructing an Entrepreneurship along the Agri-Food Value Chain course.

Learn more about the FPIC and MSU’s Product Center.

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