They call it “innovation scouting,” but the Soy Technology Program is really a multi-step process developed and fine-tuned by the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center
(OBIC) and the Ohio Soybean Council
(OSC) to evaluate new and emerging technologies against the marketplace. The Soy Tech Program began with a $150,000 grant from the Ohio Soybean Council. “The goal of Soy Tech is to connect with the technologies out there and evaluate their potential,” explains Denny Hall, OBIC Assistant Director. The Program goal is to accelerate commercialization of soy-based products in Ohio.
Kenny Anderson, OBIC’s manager for the Soy Tech effort, says that “Companies enter the program through an online survey of less than a dozen screening questions.” Then, the Soy Tech Committee evaluates the surveys, discusses the pros and cons of what each company has submitted, and identifies a small group of companies that are best-qualified to advance in Ohio’s business climate. “That is the first stage of the process,” says Anderson, “and from Stage I screening, we select approximately five companies with the best innovation potential.”
Stage II of participation in Soy Tech is a deeper dive. “We use a financial model based on how we expect each of these companies to perform,” says Anderson. “It is a discounted cash flow that is applied.” From the Stage II efforts, the Soy Tech Committee expands its perspective, asking company officers and industry people who are familiar with the company – in an effort to derive an “inside-outside” perspective, including a competitive analysis, to “determine how each company and its technology would likely perform in the marketplace.”
Companies that have participated in the program have benefited on several levels including analysis and suggestions for technology advancement. Some participating companies with soy-based technologies that had advanced more slowly have found that the information and support from Soy Tech has had a positive impact on technology advancement helping them become a technology leader. Implementation and success of these suggestions from the Soy Tech Program create strong, collaborative relationship between companies and the OBIC staff. “Especially as we help them write grants and get their technologies ready for the marketplace, companies become more engaged,” says Anderson. “The more they see the benefits, the more they see OBIC as an internal champion for their business, the more they take a leadership role and push the technology forward.”
Tom Fontana, OSC Director, says that “The best thing about Soy Tech is that it helps companies relate with their entire supply chain.” He adds, “The most important thing is for an innovative company to be emotionally invested to a very high degree, otherwise nothing will happen.” Fontana adds, “We want their technology to come to fruition, and we help them connect with state funding to help them move along.” OSC has also funded some companies directly, to help them advance quickly.
“The biggest challenge for OBIC and these projects is the amount of time it takes to make all the important contacts and do the program,” says Fontana. “But we are now at a point where all the effort is about to bear fruit.”
Bill Huffman, an OBIC consultant who work primarily with the Soy Tech Program, says that “Not only is OBIC championing companies they work with, they look for flags that show what the company has missed or what they can do, but haven’t yet done – these are pitfalls that can be avoided.” Says Huffman, “It can be as simple as realizing and pointing out to a company that they don’t have enough technical people on staff.” “We point out the danger signals, and help them fill the gaps. Then they take off,” he says.
Sometimes the Soy Tech analysis points to “second tier” activities that also can spell success for a company. “Although one of our primary goals is to create jobs in Ohio,” says Huffman, “we have, for example, worked with a company that is not manufacturing in Ohio. But as we focused on them in the second tier, we found that they have a huge potential to sell their product in Ohio, which also is good for business, even though it’s not as direct as creating jobs here in Ohio.” “If we bring a core product to Ohio, that will gradually translate in to new jobs in Ohio, too,” says Huffman. “Some of this happens because now, we (OBIC and the Soy Tech companies) are also talking to entities we would never have considered merely a couple of years ago.” “We now have products based on Ohio innovation, which we discuss with architects, for instance. So our circle of business is constantly expanding.”
Huffman says that “Through working with Ohio companies, making contacts, and reinforcing the supply chain, more companies and consumers are becoming acutely aware of soy technologies.” He adds, “These companies ask how, when, and why they should put soy into their product lines because their interests have been piqued by all the talk about green technologies.” The Soy Tech Program can be their first step in a greener direction.
Anderson says that “At OBIC, we talk about economic sustainability. Green is a selling point.” To confirm end-consumers’ willingness to pay somewhat more for an item because it’s ‘green,’ Soy Tech is surveying several hundred consumers to assess their purchasing attitudes. The survey should be completed by early fall, 2009. The data from this survey will be another strength that can be added to the Soy Tech Program and could very likely spur another round of innovation scouting, to help define the next wave of soy-based innovations preparing for the marketplace.
The Ohio BioProduct Innovation Center is a Wright Center funded by Ohio Department of Development. OBIC focuses on enhancing Ohio’s leadership position in bioproduct commercialization. A novel market pull model integrates academia in support of comprehensive supply chain collaborations across agriculture, specialty chemical and polymer industry sectors. For more information, bioproducts.osu.edu.
The Ohio Soybean Council is part of the grassroots organization, the Ohio Soybean Association, whose mission is to provide leadership for Ohio's soybean producers in promoting effective policies and legislation to ensure a growing and profitable soybean industry. The Ohio Soybean Association focuses on representing all Ohio soybean producers; encouraging membership of all Ohio soybean producers; generating legislative effectiveness; focusing and uniting producer interests; educating and promoting the soybean industry; and representing Ohio soybean farmers' interests at the national level on the American Soybean Association board.