BIOPOLIS – A success story in the bio-based market

Last September 2019, we interviewed Dr. Daniel Ramón, founder of Biopolis, a provider of microbial technologies for food companies, pharma, chemical manufacturers, cosmetic industry and energy & renewables. 
During their business endeavor, they had to face challenges related with lack of an enabling context for innovation transfer, difficulties for finding suitable partnerships and legislative bottlenecks, among other.

The beginnings of the company

Biopolis was founded in Valencia, Spain as a spin−off company of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), together with three industrial partners: CAPSA, Talde Private Equity and Naturex España S.A.
The founder (Dr. Ramón) had worked at CSIC for 23 years. He was Professor at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology of CSIC and coordinator of the Food Science and Technology CSIC area. They were very good at publishing and participating in European projects, but they had a very low score of technology transfer to the sector. A new paradigm was needed, where scientists had contact with industry. With that purpose, CSIC boosted the foundation of Biopolis. Today, the company is 90% ADM and 10% CSIC.

Facing the challenges: Innovation transfer, networking, legislation and harmonization

The challenges detected for the company were:

  • Innovation transfer: The biggest challenge for Biopolis was the lack of an enabling business environment for innovation and technology transfer. There were not structures or political leaders boosting the creation of such environment.
  • Collaboration, networking and knowledge exchange: despite being a spin-off of a public company, it was difficult to find proper partners to develop the business and attract investments (funding, incentives and investors).
  • Legislation stability, harmonisation and labeling, standards and certification: The company has found barriers in the legislation regarding the quality of the production plant and the process of bio-based products. They dedicated a lot of time, money and effort to learn how to adapt to the legislation (self-training). For instance, they certified all their products with the highest quality certification, as it is better to exceed rather than than falling short of quality standards.
  • Feedstock: They haven´t had any difficulties with the feedstock availability because they are their own producers, and their client is responsible of the transportation cost.

The solution: business model, growth and funding strategy

In 2003, Biopolis board of directors conducted a study of the Spanish biotechnology industry, which concluded that many Biotech companies were sustained fundamentally by autonomic public funds. According to Daniel Ramón, the founders were forbidden to seek for public funds and received €56.000, with the condition that in 2 years they must earn profits.
The founders visited food, chemical and pharma companies, offering them their services. In 2 years, they made profit and in 5 years they had enough to create the “Lifesequencing” division.
According to Daniel Ramón “our philosophy is to always put the client first. This has not changed with ADM acquisition”. He also explained that it was not easy to find the first clients. They rented a car and visited several companies with the following offer: “Hello, we know how to do R&D, how can we help you?”. But most of the companies refused to give them a chance to prove themselves.
However, things changed when they arrived at Ordesa, an infant nutrition company of Barcelona, and met Montse Rivero (who was at that time, the scientific director).
“She trusted us. I have asked her many times why and she always says that she saw such curiosity and passion in us, that she was touched by us”, said Daniel. Since then, more clients arrived, and in 2 years Biopolis was achieving profits.

Conclusion with three recommendation for other companies who are starting:

  • Know your entities of reference be proactive, speak with such entities and learn about their journey in the business. After that, you will have to knock many doors before entering in the first one, which will be, obviously, the most difficult. Try to keep at least 2-3 clients that cover most of the activities of the company, which can support you in different situations.
  • Emulate success cases happening in other countries, such as The Netherlands and their matured technology transfer system or USA and their open regulation, where you can ask for advice before delivering anything.
  • Know your market and consumers (in their case it is stratified like this): early adopters characterised by being a small market of consumers who like being surprised, and can be considered the drivers of the future whom are willing to pay more; Selective market represented by senior people interested in special products; and low income market comprised by elderly lean towards cheap products things.

Author: Beatriz Palomo (ASEBIO)

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