"A lot of what we do is to tap into our broad network and connect people to the resources they need whether they’re technical, financial or incredibly specialised."
Vireo Advisors works with entrepreneurs and technology leaders in the bio-based industry to help them accelerate the adoption of safer and better technologies using the latest sustainable techniques. Its president and founder, Jo Anne Shatkin, speaks to Dave Songer for this week’s 5 minutes with… on the company’s place in the bio-based industry and the service it offers its clients.
Jo Anne spoke at this month’s Bio-Based Live, where she shared her years of experience gained from helping entrepreneurs in the bio economy to bring their products to market. In this interview she talks about how far bio technology has come, the new areas those technologies are being used in and the power of nanocellulose.
Dave Songer (DS): Thanks for giving me your valuable time. Can we begin with a little detail on what it is Vireo Advisors does?
Jo Anne Shatkin (JAS): We work with entrepreneurs and innovators to help get better products to the market. We use an integrated and proactive approach to assess the potential impact of innovations and seek to reduce business risk and inform product design in small and large organisations.
(DS): What made you want to work in the bio-based industry?
(JAS): Honestly, I’m so excited about the opportunity to the economy for sustainable manufacturing and safer products and we do a variety of different things to help progress that. We’re expert advisors focused on safety and regulatory requirements but we also help companies demonstrate the benefits of their new technologies in the bio space and in nanoscale technology. We’re working with them to get their products to market, and that could be achieved through demonstration, it could be a regulatory package or in some cases it can be working to address customer concerns or requirements.
We do a lot of very different things to do that: we work to assess, manage and communicate about potential risks and benefits, and we do that by conducting technology and risk assessment, market analysis, research and other areas to help meet stakeholder requirements. That could include convening a workshop for some cutting-edge research or engaging with experts to affect issues related to adoptions. A lot of what we do is to tap into our broad network and connect people to the resources they need whether they’re technical, financial or incredibly specialised. The requirements are so varied and every situation is so individual and that’s what’s fun – really focusing on solving the problems in front of them.
(DS): When did you begin working in the industry and how has it changed?
(JAS): It’s been about a decade since I started this kind of work and when I started it was mainly about energy technology, alternate energy, alternative fuels and sources for fuel. Whereas now it’s really revolutionising so many manufacturing sectors: textiles, coatings, the electronics and automotive industries and healthcare. It’s a lot more diverse than it used to be.
(DS): What do you most enjoy about your role?
(JAS): I really enjoy meeting the entrepreneurs that we serve in this space and learning about their innovations and challenges and then helping them get their products to the market.
(DS): What has been your biggest professional challenge since you got involved in the bio industry 10 years ago?
(JAS): The long time horizons are often a challenge. Keeping clients solvent throughout the commercial sales processis difficult, so sustainable has to include economic sustainability. That’s hard when people are working in new business models and taking different approaches to commercialisation to make different innovations that need infrastructure. It’s hard to be up front because people aren’t always ready to be the ones to be in the lead position, where they’re the first adopter, and that’s a real challenge.
(DS): What are Vireo Advisors key priorities for 2018?
(JAS): Well, our work tends to grow in scale, scope and diversity so our priority therefore is to identify what the critical industry needs are in the bio-based sectors so that we can work on solving them. For example, developers of nanocellulose are interested in food-related applications so our industry roadmap prioritises not only occupational safety but also food safety testing.
(DS): You said last year that ‘defining bio-based is a challenge but also an opportunity’ – what are those opportunities as you see them?
Well, I think as the industry matures there’s room for differentiation – it’s a family of technologies and innovation so it’s not just alternative routes to traditional substances, and it's also bio-based alternatives different from conventional technologies. This could include bio-based composites that are competing with steel or aluminium, as well as bio-refinery models – the whole industry development model is different.
(DS): Finally then, what’s your favourite bio-based product and why?
(JAS): I’m really excited for the prospects of nanocellulose. The materials in this family have such potential to reduce the impact in so many different types of products. I’ve been working on nanocellulose since 2009 and every year there’s greater interest in commercial adoption. My clients and collaborators have such great technologies in the pipeline and users are seriously looking at them. I think the successes here in these products are going to go a long way to opening markets for other bio-based technologies that aren’t as far along.
Thanks very much, Jo Anne (@josthoughts), I hope you had a great time at Bio-Based Live.
Our last 5 minutes with…
Bio-Based World News will bring this 5 minute feature to our readers every week. This will able to put a face to the brand and provide established businesses and new start-ups the crucial advice they need in this industry. If you would like to be interviewed about your own bio-based/sustainable business then please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.