Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog
- Posted byon November 26, 2013 at 8:37 PM EDT
John Bissell (left) and Ryan Smith (right) inspect a pilot reactor. Bissell, Smith, and Casey McGrath (not pictured) co-founded the biotechnology company Micromidas soon after graduating from the University of California, Davis.
I spoke with John Bissell to find out how he turned his lab research into a growing company. To date, Micromidas has built a pilot plant and raised more than $20 million in venture capital.
What was your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?
We were encouraged by UC Davis Professor Frank Loge to submit an interesting research project for evaluation. We started out as a team of engineers (I am a chemical engineer), and expanded the team to include a microbiologist. We ended up at the EPA P3 event in Washington, DC, as college seniors. At the time, we were converting sewer water into biodegradable plastics through microbial fermentation. After we won the competition, we sat at the Metro Center subway stop thinking the same thing: “Are we going to do more?”
After returning home to UC Davis, Professor Andrew Hargadon welcomed us to an entrepreneurship boot camp called the Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy. Its aim was to help scientists and engineers become entrepreneurs. We were some of the only undergraduates at the camp. We wanted to know what it looks like to start a company. By the end of 2008, we had formed Micromidas and an angel investor had provided $200,000 in seed funding.
How did you go from the R&D stage to a demonstration project?
I would say things got really interesting in 2010. Micromidas received $3.5 million from a high net worth investor. This helped us with our necessary research and development. We started with microbial fermentation and realized that one of the residual products—after undergoing a chemical conversion—could be transformed into para-xylene. We thought that para-xylene was more interesting than the polyhydroxylalkanoate from microbial fermentation. It turns out that the global para-xylene market is significant--approximately $40 billion annually. After developing and proving out the para-xylene technology, we raised an additional round of capital.
- Posted byon November 26, 2013 at 11:50 AM EDT
Ed. note: This event has concluded. Watch the full hangout below.
As we prepare for Thanksgiving here at the White House, you’re invited to join me and a lineup of top food experts as we “talk turkey” and dive into our dinner plates to explore the science of cooking. We’ll be drilling down into the science behind what makes turkey so tasty, why we feel compelled to nap after eating it, and the secret science sauce behind brining and marinating.
Please join us this Wednesday at 12pm ET for a We the Geeks on the Science of Cooking! The episode will air on www.WhiteHouse.gov/wethegeeks in the run-up to President Obama’s annual turkey pardoning at the White House.
Join Food Network Chef Anne Burrell, former NASA astronaut Ron Garan, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's Kumar Garg, and me as we discuss the raw science behind turkey, stuffing, and other fixins’ on our Thanksgiving tables like breads, whole grains, flour, and gluten. We’ll also shed light on the exciting chemistry behind cooking and eating: How much carbon dioxide do we consume when eat a meal? And what exactly is fermentation anyway?
We'll also explore how cooking can be used to get more kids excited about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.
“We the Geeks" is a series of Google+ Hangouts to discuss science, technology, and innovation here in the United States. Join the conversation on Twitter and be sure to sign up for email updates about future "We the Geeks" hangouts.
Bill Yosses is the White House Executive Pastry Chef
(Editor's note: Check out the Public Service Announcement from Food Network Chef Anne Burrell and Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds on getting kids excited about STEM through cooking.)
- Posted byon November 25, 2013 at 4:39 PM EDT
Epicenter – a national hub for entrepreneurship and engineering education funded by the National Science Foundation – is training young undergraduate engineering students to become entrepreneurial leaders. Epicenter is accomplishing this goal in part through its University Innovation Fellows program, which unites student leaders from schools across the country to work with their peers to catalyze innovation and startup activity on their own campuses. Epicenter teaches students to conduct analyses of their campus ecosystems; provides them with resources and mentorship; and connects them with one another digitally and at live events to promote creative collaboration.
Recently, the Fellows launched a new online University Innovation platform through which students can share information about on-campus entrepreneurship programs and resources. This public, wiki-editable platform allows students to highlight what works, what doesn’t, and what’s needed in terms of entrepreneurial initiatives and models on college campuses.
We asked these three University Innovation Fellows to share a bit of advice for young entrepreneurs everywhere.
- Posted byon November 25, 2013 at 3:58 PM EDT
Last Monday, in the midst of National Entrepreneurship Month and as countries around the world celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Government of Sweden rolled out a new $15 million competition to support entrepreneurs who are strengthening global food security and alleviating poverty through market-based solutions that reduce water scarcity in the food supply chain.
The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development offers catalytic financial support and acceleration services – such as business development services, investment facilitation, and market linkages – for entrepreneurs at either of two stages of project development. Stage 1 is for entrepreneurs with a successful prototype and pilot under their belt now looking to demonstrate the viability of their innovation and business model in an emerging market. Stage 2 is for entrepreneurs who have already demonstrated technical feasibility, market acceptance, and revenue generation in developing country markets and who need help overcoming barriers for further commercial growth.
The Securing Water for Food call for proposals is the latest milestone in the Administration’s National Impact Initiative that was launched around the 2013 G8 meeting to grow the community of investors, companies, and social entrepreneurs tackling significant national and global challenges through commercially viable, market-based solutions that intentionally generate both economic return and social impact. The President believes that social enterprise has a critical role to play as part of a holistic approach to accelerate economic recovery and boost job creation in the United States. In addition, social enterprise can leverage new capital, skills, and pathways to scale in support of the Administration’s global development commitments, including Power Africa, Feed the Future, and the Global Health Initiative. The Administration has already taken a number of steps to realize the full potential of impact investing and social enterprise, including creating the Small Business Investment Company Impact Investment Fund, clarifying the rules that allow foundations to invest in social enterprises, and increasing impact investments made by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which committed $333 million to impact investing in 2012 in sectors including healthcare, education, renewable resources, and water.
- Posted byon November 21, 2013 at 10:22 AM EDT
From left to right, Google Science Fair 2013 Winners: Viney Kumar (14, Australia), Ann Makosinski (15, Canada), Elif Bilgin (16, Turkey), and Eric Chen (17, USA). (Photo by Andrew Federman)
- Posted byon November 20, 2013 at 4:08 PM EDT
Ed. note: This event has concluded. Watch the full hangout below.
“Let us come together and help aspiring entrepreneurs take a chance on themselves and their visions for a brighter future.” —President Obama on National Entrepreneurship Month, November 2013
For generations, Americans have turned innovative ideas into small businesses, large companies, and entire industries that have revolutionized the economy, created millions of jobs, and transformed life as we know it—here at home and around the globe. That entrepreneurial spirit is the foundation of America’s story and is critical to ensuring future successes for generations to come. We know from experience that potentially game-changing innovative ideas are born in all corners of the Nation—in every state and region, at laboratory benches and on factory floors, in boardrooms and city halls, at community meetings, in classrooms, and on college campuses.
That’s why, on November 22, which the President has designated National Entrepreneurs’ Day, we’re celebrating the extraordinary stories of young entrepreneurs—students who, along with all the usual demands of pursuing a high school, college, or a graduate degree, are building companies today that are spreading homegrown ideas all over the world. Two proven entrepreneurs featured on the popular TV show Shark Tank will join these student innovators to share lessons from their own entrepreneurial journeys.
Join us this Friday November 22, at 2:00 pm EST for a “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout, called “Student Startups” – where leading student entrepreneurs and business moguls will talk about how anyone can cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship in his or her own community.
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