Case: Open Innovation in the Biorefinery Industry

Last year I came in contact with the co-founder and advisor of the Biorrefiniria Brasil open innovation community, José Augusto T. R. Tomé. He started an interesting venture within the chemical sector, a venture focused on biorefinery. Read further to learn more about his vibrant innovation community and open innovation in general.

Gianluigi Cuccureddu (GC): Mr. Tomé, please tell us a bit more about yourself

José Augusto T. R. Tomé (JT): I was born in the Recife, Northeast of the country (ed. Brasil), and when I graduated (this was five years ago), I received an invitation to work with R&D in the sugar cane industry in São Paulo state. I’m an open innovation and green economy enthusiastic.  I agree that cooperative tools and exponential technologies are reshaping our globe as described in “Abundance” the new book by Dr. Peter Diamandis.

GC: Please introduce the Biorrefiniria Brasil open innovation community to our readers

JT: We understand that the technological maturity of biorefineries is important to global sustainability and open innovation; hyperspecialization and the “teaming” concept will be the working models that will dominate the market. We decided to create the Biorrefinaria Brasil (BBR) to provide these work models to the biorefinery industry.

In BBR we create models that allow organizations and professionals to connect to innovate. At the moment this is done through four pillars: challenge driven innovation, the dream team, knowledge sharing and precompetitive projects.

(Ed.: you can find the four pillars on the website)

GC: Why did you co-found the Biorrefinaria Brasil open innovation community?

JT: The Biorefineries are very important to global sustainability, be part of an initiative that aims to promote collaboration and innovation in this field is a pleasure.

I always enjoyed studying administration and when I did a mini-course with Professor Henry Chesbrough, one year ago, I began to understand the topic better and realized that there was a huge potential to apply this knowledge in the field of biorefineries.

GC: What is the focus of your community? Is it only the production chain, or do you focus on the entire supply chain (for instance marketing, collaboration, sourcing issues, etc.) as well?

JT: The focus is the entire value chain, although we are seeing interest primarily from engineers. It’s the same for biomass. We will work with all kinds of biomass (corn stover, oilseeds, algae) but till now the interest is higher with sugarcane biomass.

GC: What are the biggest challenges in the biorefinery industry?

JT: We’re at a turning point in the biorefinery industry. Proving the viable technical-economic cellulosic ethanol production at industrial scale is the challenge right now. But this is already generating interest and development of many products from other biomass fractions, e. g. hemicellulose and lignin, to replace petroleum derivatives.

GC: Which stakeholders is this platform meant for?

JT: Companies e.g. sugarcane mills, chemical companies (particularly those who are interested in replacing petroleum derivatives with biomass as a feedstock), pulp and paper (those who are interested to diversify the products), biotech companies, research centers, academy. In general, all involved with biomass conversion processes and technologies. On the other hand, we are focused on professionals, employees from the companies listed above, students, researchers, entrepreneurs and even retirees.

GC: You mentioned that your platform works with the assembly of a so-called “Dream Team” – basically a team that involves the company and the team leader – at the onset. Why did you choose for this approach and how does this decision-making mechanism work?

JT: This is a new approach. It was based on the Idea Connection website. But at Idea Connection all groups work until the end and only one wins the prize. We believe that the greatest value in this process is the activities plan.

This is how the process works:

  1. First of all, we’ll identify professionals with the potential to lead the team. Those who are interested will present a work plan.
  2. The plans are passed onto the company aiming to solve the problem. At that moment the company checks the plans, choses the best alternatives and performs some due diligence to reduce the risk of creating an undesired deliverable.

This way only one plan will be executed. In other words only one team will be formed.

The challenge for participants is to create the best plan. By following this process the other participants who will finally not execute, save time by not having to go through the whole process.

GC: Is there in this specific vertical a demand for open innovation or are you testing the potential value of it?

We’re testing. We know there are some disadvantages (e. g. diversity will not be great as in a generic platform) we see also further advantages such as making pre-competitive projects. Specialchem recently launched its vertical model: specilchem4bio.

GC: How did the biorefinery industry react to your initiatives until now?

JT: We have not yet made intensive dissemination so we are expecting to sense the reactions gradually.  For the time being, only professionals are participating in the challenge that we are promoting. We realize that companies do not yet know as much about open innovation as we would like. We are therefore creating attractive benefits for an annual membership. Part of these benefits is also the “innovation agent” – the person who will be responsible for spreading the open innovation culture inside the company.

GC: What’s your opinion on open innovation also being a mechanism to engage the internal organization? Open innovation is mostly about getting the outside-in, but not getting the inside to unlock the full potential it has.

JT: I think that companies should improve internal innovation process before going to open innovation. And even in open innovation processes internal employees should have the same rights as external participants.

GC: Can your platform also be used internally?

JT: Our platform is not a type of customizable software for internal use; we encourage the client organizations to invite internal employees to participate in challenges and dream team.

GC: Where do you want to be in three to five years’ time with the Biorrefiniria Brasil open innovation community?

JT: We would like to be recognized worldwide as the best partner for open innovation in the biorefinery industry.

GC: Last but not least, what would you like to say to our readers?

JT: Join us to make a greener world!

By Gianluigi Cuccureddu

About the author:


Gianluigi CuccuredduGianluigi Cuccureddu, contributing editor, is an experienced writer specializing in innovation, connected business and marketing. He is co-founder of Damarque, an EMEA professional services firm that takes a strategic view and hands-on approach across the entire value chain to help organizations integrate social technologies. To help them drive employee productivity, customer loyalty and better innovation. Damarque acts as trusted advisor to organizations to support and guide them through this transition phase and offers a unique approach and combination of competences.

  • http://www.facebook.com/luizhenrique.moreira.372 Luiz Henrique Moreira

    Thanks Gianluigi and José Augusto for the very interested case posted. I agree with José Augusto: let´s invite people to make a greener world!

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