As sustainable and greener solutions have become a priority for consumers, the bioindustry has accelerated the development of new technology and new products. Companies need talent who have applications and practical experience in this ever-evolving market. This can be a complex task considering how quickly technologies and products have been developing. HC Insider examines some proposed solutions to tackle this challenge.
The biotechnology and biosolution markets are coming into sharp focus as the global coronavirus pandemic has underlined the importance of environmental and sustainability issues with consumers seeking more sustainable brands. Many industries are turning to biotechnology for solutions to make more sustainable choices. Recent advances in biotechnology and biosolutions within raw materials, chemicals, energy and nutrition could help transform entire industries as well as our daily activities and lives.
According to a report published by consultancy McKinsey report in May 2020 and entitled ‘The Bio Revolution’, a confluence of advances in biological science and accelerating development of computing, automation, and artificial intelligence is fueling a new wave of innovation. This bio revolution could have significant impact on economies and our lives, from health and agriculture to consumer goods, energy and materials. As much as 60% of the physical inputs to the global economy could, in principle, be produced biologically. About one-third of these inputs are biological materials (wood or animals-bred for food) and the remaining two-thirds are nonbiological (plastics or fuels) but could potentially be produced or substituted using biology.
Given this market growth, there are opportunities for new companies entering the market who can take positions with differentiated production assets, application knowledge and access to renewable carbon sources. It is critical to invest in applications development, targeted application data to build credibility and competent technical support to gain traction as a new player.
Established players must convert short-term wins to longer-term strategies as they invest in new bio-application, notably through new innovations and M&A deals. They have an advantage over less resourced, smaller entities when it comes to overcoming regulatory requirements which can make it increasingly difficult to bring new products to market and can stifle innovation across the industry.
The development of new ideas and technologies is paving the way for a surge in investments both in capital and resources such as better developed machinery, tools and equipment for lab work. Companies such as Dutch food and biochemicals specialist Corbion, US-based agriculture giant Cargill and Japan’s energy and chemicals group Mitsui have invested in producing renewable chemicals using renewable feedstocks. Corbion, with its joint venture with France’s energy company TOTAL, has invested significantly into the Polylactic Acid (PLA) market, as well as sustainable food solutions, like lactic acid and other derivatives, to become a leading supplier of sustainable ingredients and processes to deliver sustainable solutions for the preservation of food and for food production.
In August 2021, Cargill’s joint venture with Thailand chemical group GC International, NatureWorks, invested USD$600mn into a new PLA biopolymers production plant in Thailand. Mitsui will become Japan’s first company to use bio-based feedstock, joining forces with Finland’s Neste and compatriot Toyota Tsusho to produce renewable plastics and chemicals from 100% bio-based hydrocarbons.
Other companies such as Germany’s chemical group BASF, California-based chemical company Zymergen and Ginkgo Bioworks, a biotech company headquartered in Boston, focus their investments in pushing R&D and innovation to the next level by using new technology, like synthetic biology. BASF has invested in start-up company Bota Bio, a synthetic biotech company that uses innovative technology to enable clean and efficient biomanufacturing using sustainable solutions. Zymergen enables green biomanufacturing by developing genetically engineered microbes used for industrial fermentation. Ginkgo Bioworks, leader in synthetic biology, genetically engineers living cells to grow and design more sustainable solutions and products across industrial applications. The company was worth USD$4.2mn in 2019, and since then, it has grown exponentially to a value of USD$15bn today.
Significant investments in the biotech industry, notably through new start-ups and the rise of alternative proteins, mean access to capital is rarely an obstacle to scale. While scientists are performing excellent benchmarking and lab work through initial development and research, companies struggle to determine where and how to scale up their products to effectively demonstrate their value to customers. According to our network, the primary obstacle is finding candidates with practical industrial and commercial experience.
This means companies need to prioritize skills to build robust supply chains, support customer applications, run consistent operations and safely manage inventories. Our network believes that there is frequently too much emphasis on high-level education such as PhD qualifications, while the activities within biotechnology, like in technical service or product applications roles, can often be completed just as successfully by a bachelor’s or master’s education.
Amid such a rapid industry growth, it is difficult for academia to evolve at the same pace. Practical experience and a strong understanding of the industry are more critical to enter the market to effectively scale products. Companies are finding that they can teach new recruits the technical, inner workings of biotech products.
An opportunity for companies here could be to invest in local universities and develop talent. For example, Nu-Tek Biosciences, a Minnesota-based company that manufactures critical raw materials for the biotech industry, is working with a local university to build a biopharma production curriculum. The goal is to work with faculty to develop bachelor’s degree and associates’ programs to train students in biomanufacturing in a more hands-on approach and continue to support them in employment after graduation. By having application programs developed and overseen in partnership with industry, students could be in a better position to fill the needs of the industry.
With smaller companies looking to grow, they will likely seek out commercial or supply chain candidates with better resourced applications experience from larger firms. These candidates will have more robust training in successful scale-up and marketable solutions which smaller companies desperately need to expand. There is a growing emphasis on promoting products’ commercial added value in addition to their technical performance.
Candidates in commercial roles will increasingly need to acquire an adequate understanding of market dynamics to inform companies’ sales strategy. Research & Development (R&D) talent is essential in developing products and processes. But it is only by emphasizing the value of biosolutions through competent sales, technical support and applications talent that companies can compete with petroleum-based products while also addressing climate change and the growing desires for sustainability.
In prioritizing commercial and hands-on application experience over technical scientific skillsets, companies have been able to recruit talents from other similar industries, like specialty chemicals (i.e., Swiss Clariant, BASF, and Belgium’s Solvay), amid continued popularity of sustainable biosolutions. As pointed out by the International Energy Agency’s ‘Net Zero by 2050’ report in May 2021, there is a need to dramatically reduce the use of coal, oil and gas, and to deploy more bio-based, clean energy solutions. Specifically, emissions from producing primary chemicals such as ethylene, propylene and others must decline by 10% by 2030 to limit the global temperature rise to 1.8 degrees Celsius, the IEA said. This is also driving talent’s growing preference in joining sustainable biomanufacturing companies over traditional chemical companies.
However, meeting compensation expectations from talent can be an issue. Some companies have also faced challenges in recruiting candidates who prioritize employment security and stability in a well-established company. Joining a start-up or developing business unit can be perceived as a risky move by candidates, no matter how promising the market is. The solution here could be anything from employee stock programs to assure talent that they will grow along with the company, to fostering more autonomy in impact-driven roles and promoting an entrepreneurial environment. Companies need to create long-term opportunities for talent to alleviate the risks inherent to joining a business that is still in the process of consolidation.