Episode 23 – Joining the dots and the secret sauce with Cameron Hibbert

Jul 27, 2023

In this episode we had the chance to catch up with Cameron Hibbert, a long-standing colleague and friend, who has been in global licensing roles at LyondellBassell Industries and Genomatica. We talk about when I first met Cameron at Montell and his journey to Germany through carrying responsibility for technology transfer at the Geelong polypropylene production plant. We explore his experiences moving from licensee to licensor in his role with LyondellBassell Industries, taking responsibility for polyolefin licensing activities.

Cameron had somewhat of a biobased epiphany around 15 years ago as the early foundations were being poured for the global industrial biobased economy. We discuss what drew him towards Genomatica and the different licensing perspectives, from working with well-established technologies to being present for the first few licenses of the 1,4 BDO technology licensed to Novamont and, more recently, Cargill. We wrap up our chat with some reflections on why transactions don’t work out sometimes, and the importance of competencies and relationships.


CB: Hello everyone, and welcome to Tech Transfer Talk. My name is Cameron Begley, Managing Director of Spiegare. And joining me today is a long-standing friend and colleague, Cameron Hibbert. Cameron, welcome.

CH: Thanks, Cameron. Great to, great to be here. Very excited about your podcasts, a big fan. So very happy that you’ve invited me along.

CB: Oh no thrilled to have you. Cameron. And you know, when you think back to running metal alkyl safety trials down in Geelong, which is a little bit out of Melbourne for international listeners in Australia to this conversation, it’s been a bit of a bit of an interesting journey for both of us.

CH: Yes, yes, yes, some years have passed, that’s for sure, since those good old Shell refinery days down in Geelong, where we met up, but a lot of exciting things have happened as well in those, in those, in those years for both of us.

CB: And just maybe to set the scene a bit, Cameron, what’s that journey been for you? Well, we both, we both did chem eng and of course, we met when you were at the Shell refinery there, working the polypropylene side of things. What’s that journey been for you to take you from notionally a production engineer to now a licensing guru at Genomatica?

CH: We’ll see about guru later perhaps, but yeah, okay, I can give you the quick rundown. So yes, about 25 plus years’ experience in the chemical industry broadly. But indeed, my first job was with Shell at the Geelong refinery, right at the very beginnings of being a Monash graduate, chemical engineering graduate with typical process engineering beginnings, working in a polypropylene plant. I had various roles in that sort of seven-, eight-year period down at the refinery from process engineering, but also major capital projects and then also operations management. So really getting into the typical management chain.

CB: Good experiences to doing capital responsibility operating and management, that’s a nice combo there.

CH: Yeah, yeah indeed. The most exciting element I’d say about that phase in my career where I got really exposed to technology transfer, I have to say, is when Shell formed a joint venture with Montedison, creating a joint venture company called Montell. So, you can see where the name came from. And that’s because of fantastic technology that Montedison in Italy had. And they wanted to upgrade all this old crappy Shell technology with this fantastic Italian stuff. So, a big part of my role was bringing that technology into Shell assets.

CB: And that that might be where the bug got caught, it sounds.

CH: Yeah, yeah, no, exactly, exactly. And so that was the real start to my next sort of transition. Yeah, and that was definitely a really exciting part. I mean, I was living in the Shell refinery in Rotterdam and also the Montedison R&D facility in a place called Ferrara in northern Italy, learning about these, the weed catalysts that they were using and figuring out how to adapt that into the hardware, into these old Shell hardware. And that was really exciting stuff. That was really, the really fun days.

CB: Right. And did you get into deep conversations about isotactic and atactic polypropylene or…

CH: Yes. Oh yes.

CB: Good. Very good. I’ll leave that for our listeners to discover what that is. But then if I recall mate, there was a move to Germany where the first big leap of faith into outbound licensing took place.

CH: Yeah, yeah. No, indeed. So, I was taking a track of, you know, staying in the operations and production environment and like many good chemical engineers before me, I decided to do an MBA, which is the classical transition into a commercial environment. And so I did that and was keen to transition into a more commercially focused area. But I was very interested in these broad fields of IP and technology transfer and this sort of stuff. And I was able to land a job with a company based in Frankfurt, LyondellBasell it’s now known as, their technology licensing business. So outwardly licensing technology and creating joint ventures in the polyolefins sector. So had the technology background that didn’t fit.

CB: So, this sort of brings the moment where you described earlier that role where you were the inward bound licensee effectively, trying to adapt technology from Montedison into the refinery at Geelong. And suddenly you find yourself on the other side of that transaction. Now you’ve become the licensor and saw the learnings from being on the other end of that conversation into the role of licensor. What were some of the immediate things that struck you about going to the other side of the table?

CH: A couple of elements. I mean, just really, there’s really a customer facing dynamic here, about sort of the sales and marketing effort and business development effort, about building that sort of customer relationship and I mean ultimately, nice buzzword, but building that trust. So, I mean, these are I mean, these investments, these capital assets last for decades, and so they’re going, ‘Okay, do we really want to, you know, trust this technology provider?’…that’s a critical component to the overall investment case…’And know that it’s going to work?’ and, in fact, work really well. ‘Are we going to get our return on investment because of the technology we select?’ So that sort of dynamic of, ‘Are you the right partner for us?’ And being on the sell side, on the licensor side, that’s it. That, was a unique skill for me to develop.

CB: Yeah. Okay. Did the fact that you had some experience on the buy side, do you think that helped you in forming those relationships? You know, I sort of, ‘I know what you’re about to go through here, guys, so trust me, I’ll be nice.’

CH: I mean, there is, you know, some magic associated with IP, you know, how does this work? Why does it work? How do I know that it works? And going through that diligence – do I dare use that word, that process of appreciating the ins and outs of the technology so you get comfortable with it. So, I was certainly on the side of like, how the hell does this work? How do I know that it’s going to work in this old Shell asset? Or how do I get that to transfer well, and the enormous headaches actually that occurred associated with that technology transfer process, that was really quite challenging. So, understanding that, you know, it’s not an easy road for the licensee, the user, and being able to structure it in a way that you’re going along that journey together.

CB: Yeah, I think that I think that’s a really telling comment, there, Cameron, that you know, the headaches coming with technology transfer, and you were doing a retrofit which is a little bit different to maybe a greenfield or a brand-new facility. But nonetheless, it’s interesting, even with a technology which is substantially developed, like it’s not like you’re taking technology to market for the first or the second plant, you are bringing technology that is proven at scale multiple times. And yet, as the buyer in that role in Geelong, you were still having tech transfer headaches and trying to solve problems on the way through. It was not a plug and play scenario.

CH: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I mean there are always sort of variations of challenges. You know, technology transfer is, sort of, does vary and it certainly varies in terms of first of its kind and scaling up and those sort of topics versus the other end of scale. Well, this is our 120th licence. And they were those cases. So, you can imagine you’re offering something from a proveness standpoint, very different. Yeah.

CB: Sorry mate, I think that’s the really interesting counterpoint between your time at LyondellBassell and the role you find yourself at Genomatic, which we haven’t got into yet, and I’m looking forward to doing so, but you’ve gone from selling the nth license, as in your role at LyondellBasell to, I think maybe the second or third, I think maybe the first was already done when you arrived, but the second and third and fourth. But the numbers are down closer to one than they are to n. Is that just point? And I’m going to be interested to pull apart the contrast between the nthlicence and those early licences and what you’ve been finding. Before we get there, a bio-based epiphany occurred sometime on the journey. And I remember us actually having, you know, when I got across to Europe and we had many a chat just over a beer or a meal when we did things around Germany together. I remember many a chat where you were wrestling with, well, you know, ‘What’s this whole bio-based thing and is there a place for me in, in, in this emerging universe?’ I’m interested, why were you drawn to it? What was it about the bio-based stuff from your vantage point that started to get curious?

CH: Yes, yes. So, this is, this is about 8 to 10 years ago, I guess I started at, I’ve been at Genomatica now for eight years. So that’s sort of when that transaction, that transition happened. But yeah, some years before then, indeed that initial curiosity and then that, that interest was really developing. And I think it was accumulation of two things. I mean, on one side, I was really recognising a passion that I had for technology commercialisation and that whole process, and across a range of, sort of maturities of technologies, I was getting that sort of exposure as well, but that, I mean, I’ve always really loved that. So, I really, really thought that was my secret sauce, if you like it. My strength and my capability, and I really wanted to be able to strengthen that and develop in that area. But also at that time, I mean, the biotech industry was going really quite berserk I would have to say…from a financing standpoint, startups happening, you know, all the way through US and Europe and elsewhere as well. That was really, I found extremely intriguing, curious about new technologies under development and seeing that, bringing, commercialising fantastic R&D into the real world was where I thought I could probably, you know, sort of offer something that would be a unique offering. And so that’s where those discussions sort of started, and I was getting some interesting traction on. Yeah, that’s sort of, perhaps you’re the right sort of profile, what a lot of these companies were trying to do at the time.

CB: And it’s that industrial experience. and then bringing that into an R and…, I’d perhaps more correctly describe as, development and demonstration environment. Having people that actually know how the chemical industry thinks, how it ticks, what drives its decision making, I can see how that would be, and would remain to be, a rather valuable skill for the bio-based economy or the bio-based industry, whether they’re material science or enzymes or whatever they happen to be. It’s that translation from development and demonstration across into these sort of large scale realities, which I can see you would be bringing in spades from your time at LyondellBassell. So, the journey sort of then began at Genomatica.

CH: Yes, indeed. Yeah. So, I joined Genomatica eight years ago and indeed, a big part of their business strategy then, and it still is, is technology licensing.

CB: Yep.

CH: So, I got to know Christoph Schilling, at that time, through a mutual contact. And we had a number of discussions. I remember in Frankfurt, as I was exploring sort of opportunities, and very fortunate for me, he was able to offer me a position after meeting the rest of the team and all the rest of it, which prompted, which resulted in me accepting a position and moving to San Diego here in California.

CB: Yeah, fantastic. And I guess, you know, to come back to that conversation from a little bit earlier about, so you now find yourself in Genomatica where, I think it’s fair to say, they were in the ones of licences when you would have arrived. Not sure whether it’s one or two or three but very early stage in their licensing journey, and you’ve just come from a reasonably big multinational on their nth licence in established markets – because like everyone knows polypropylene, polyethylene, like we kind of all get that at least in place from an industry perspective, we get it. And I suspect almost everyone that’s listening has used those materials sometime in the last six hours. So, you’ve moved from this very different established culture and established product to an emerging startup with an unestablished or very early stage established product. I’m very interested to hear about the contrast and compare. And what were the differences that struck you and how you sort of work your way through them?

CH: Yeah. So, I guess a quick clarification or positioning on the differences. So indeed, I mean, in LyondellBasell, I was responsible for the sort of polyolefin portfolio as opposed to the chemicals’ portfolio. And there, you know, you’re sort of licensing 3 to 10 plants, licence transactions a year. And these, these plants are, you know, 2 or 300,000 tons to a million tons per transaction. So, these are massive volumes and quite a number of licence deals per year. So, there’s quite some cadence in that regard. Of course, from a global standpoint when I joined Genomatica, I guess the contrast here is that, as you pointed out, they did have one licence but the plants had not started up. It was in the early stages of construction, but indeed there was a licensee.

CB: There was a license that was in construction, not yet producing.

CH: Yes, yes. So, there was a certain risk profile of that still remaining at that point, of course, on how the technology would perform. So, I remember those early days and those first few years, I was working there going, ‘This plant has to work.’

CB: Yes. So, no pressure there, Cameron. If it doesn’t work it well, fortunately I think it did, but if it hadn’t have worked, your product offering would have been somewhat diminished.

CH: Yeah, yeah. So indeed, at least in the sector that I’ve focused on, these chemicals and materials industry, very conservative bunch. Yeah. I think you can very safely say that knowing the reputational dimension and weight on how that plant performed from startup. Yeah, I certainly spent a lot of my time in those early years in ensuring that technology transfer process, and the robustness of the plant startup aspect and performance guarantees, and all those good things that…does, was done in a very robust way. Yeah, that was one of those jobs.

CB: It’s an interesting perspective you’ve added there around the reputational side of it. Because there are there are two reputations at stake here. There’s not only Genomatica, if I could just referrto the organisation momentarily, there’s Genomatica’s reputation first licence. This thing’s got to work. If it doesn’t work, what does that mean for Genomatica’s standing in this technology area and this industry? But then there’s your licensee’s reputation, not only in that they’ve potentially, it didn’t work out this way but potentially made a misjudgment, but they’ve got some interesting conversations with their banks to have. Because their reputation as a fundable business, you know, a credit worthy business then gets into a bit of, it gets a little bit of a cloud cast over it.

CH: Yeah. I mean, there was a lot of momentum within Genomatica in that purpose. Making sure the plant works. So, you can imagine the focused resources and the expertise that went into that, from engineering to biocatalysts to pump experts, you sort of, you name it. So really, channelling that effort. But how we organise that, and how we ensure, and how we collaborate with the licensee because we don’t own the plant. How that’s done is part of the licence rules role. But absolutely. A lot was at stake for Novamont, ‘Is the licence okay?’

CB: Yeah, ok, thanks. That’s right.

CH: Yeah, yeah, Italian company and they’re a rare breed in the respect that they took that licence before the technology, I would also say, was fully developed. So, it’s extremely unique transaction in that regard. So, we didn’t even prove it out from a laboratory standpoint, like or a pilot plant standpoint yet they took a licence for a full commercial plant.

CB: So that’s, that’s that is a very unusual circumstance, I think it’s fair to fair to say.

CH: Absolutely.

CB: And for a chemical company, materials companies such as Novamont, or indeed any of them to take that sort of risk. I’d be interested in your thoughts. Why did this work? So, let’s accept the technology worked for a minute. But there’s going to be a hell of a lot of bumps and moments of friction as you try and sort through all of this, a little bit of building the plant as you go moment, I suspect. Why did this relationship work and mature rather than get fractious and didn’t deliver? I’d be interested in your thoughts there.

CH: Yeah, I mean it definitely, there’s no doubt extremely unique scenario. So, it’s a nice case, there’s no doubt. Very hard to duplicate, I can tell you that. But a very beautiful case, very elegant commercialisation case. I mean, first thing to say I think is that Novamont, with roots from Montedison, interestingly enough, had a, has a very innovation mindset. It was born out of very unique intellectual property around compostable polymers. Montedison days and essentially a fantastic IT portfolio as opposed to perhaps, you know, a fantastic asset portfolio. So, it really had at innovation route. And also, you know, the CEO and the entire sort of management team very, very driven by innovation, commercialisation and sort of IP development, in that perspective. So, there’s a certain risk profile or risk tolerance, I would say in that mindset, which is hard to come by. That’s the, so unique partner that we found.

CB: Yeah. Yeah.

CH: And then the reason for doing it, I would say, you know, the why take this venture on this risky venture on was also a big driver. There was a very strong match in sustainability here. So, Novamont is a sustainability champion in Europe, in terms of, even talking about circular economy and sustainability, there are a real champion. Even from a Brussels EU policy forming type perspective, they’re really a poster child, a real champion in that space. So, they had that mindset of, ‘Look, we want to develop this sustainability orientated business model.’ And we had the technology to enable that.

CB: It does sound like you had a very receptive partner in Novamont who understood intellectual property risk and intellectual property commercialisation in a way that perhaps is not, I’d say is not native to the to all of the chemical industry. You know, the I would contend most of the industry is driven by pounds per cubic foot per annum. You know, operational efficiency is the key. And that’s great. You know, that is a perfectly legitimate thing to be doing. And we all benefit from those from that drive in some respect. But that’s a different scenario to the first licence into what was still a pretty nascent industry I’d suggest to you around these biodegradable polymers, it was still a very emergent space markets and policy and those things. And you could argue it’s still emerging 8 or 10 years later. So very fortunate set of circumstances with that with that first partnership.

CH: Yep, yep. And it’s still extremely I guess, just to build on that. I mean, it’s still a very important and strategic, very close cooperation orientated partnership that we have with Novamont. And that’s the journey that we’ve been on together. Yeah. And there’s been bumps in the road. There always is. But I think we’ve got the partnership and the philosophy to really drive through those aspects.

CB: Maybe a bit of an odd question, Cameron, but when you’re doing more established licences, back in LyondellBasell and, whilst there will be performance guarantees and service obligations and things, how would you categorise those relationships with your 3 to 10 licensees per annum? How would you categorise those say or discuss them in the contrast with Novamont, which sounds like it’s a deeper, richerrelationship because, I anticipate the learnings from production and scaleup are really key to both parties ultimately succeeding.

CH: Yeah. So certainly special from a contractual standpoint. I mean, being a first of its kind, there were elements like exclusivity, which is, it’s a nice mechanism to demonstrate that full commitment towards each other but I guess that’s just a nice contractual clause. I think the way the collaboration was structured in terms of, develop, finalising the technology development. So, I talked about how the licence was actually granted and taken at a point when the technology was not fully developed, it had to be fully developed, particularly the strain, the organism while the plant was being built. Um, So that journey, you know, was certainly mapped out, really solid orientation on being on that journey together, in preparation for completion of construction and starting up the plant and then operating the plant for years to come.

CB: Which I’m inferring, Cameron, is in a bit of contrast to polyolefin technology licensing, which will never be exclusive. Just simply there are just too many polyolefin manufacturers out there and so there’ll be no exclusivity and that development as you build. Well, it’s all developed, and here are all the plans and here’s all the chemistry set, and here’s all the specifications for the pipes, pumps, reactor design. Off you go.

CH: Yeah. So indeed, massively different. So, I mean here it’s more about in LyondellBasell, you know, 3 to 6 licences per year sort of cadence. I mean, here it’s about, you know, optimisation efficiency, you know. You know, squeezing every dollar out of the cost. From a capital standpoint and from an operating standpoint, you know, every, getting every inch out of the business case that you possibly can and relative to their alternatives, the competitors to us. And how you absolutely optimise your business case from fine details.

CB: Yeah, absolutely. And yeah. And trying to make CapEx and OpeE. Yeah. That’s the business ultimately when you’re hitting big scales, right.

CH: It’s in a risless way as well. Riskless, you know, a reduced risk way. So, I think that’s the,kperhaps the way to sort of sum it up. This is about I mean, when you think about these conservative chemical companies and the executive that’s signing off on this $300 million project, the last thing he wants is for, sort of, have trouble working. Yeah, that’s not a real career booster. So that’s perhaps another way of thinking about it, is that, I mean, you want something super rock solid before you sign off on that deal. So know that there is this risk is absolutely reduced from their own return on investment sort of thinking.

CB: With Novamont being the first one, not necessarily in the rear vision mirror, that wouldn’t characterise the relationship you described, but up, running, you know, producing on spec product at the right cost points, etcetera, etcetera. That’s the first one. I’d be interested in your sort of reflections then on the second and subsequent licences, because one of the challenges that we’re certainly discussing in Australia at the moment, Cameron, is this idea of the first in the end or the startup product versus the scaleup product. So now you from a licensing perspective, this might sound a little bit odd, but you’re now starting to scale your licences right. You’ve done you’ve got the first one out the door. Terrific. Now you’re scaling your licensing business. And it would be interesting in that journey of the scaling of the licensing business that you’ve experienced at Genomatica, in contrast to that really deep relationship and deep sort of execution mode you’re in to make sure the first one did everything that it promised.

CH: Scaling from a licensing perspective, I think it’s just sort of two dimensions here as well. So I mean, the first thing is that the world changed after the plant operated by Novamont using our technology, worked. Yeah. And here we had the dream story. After a lot of stress in making sure that we could have the dream story, you know, with going out with a press release, you know, with, from both parties. Yeah. Corman’s guarantees achieved. Plant’s running beautifully. Oh, my goodness. It’s just fantastic. And then the subsequent, would also have to say you know, product orientated stories, their downstream business and how it’s revolutionising their business case and their sustainability proposition for their specific products, these compostable biodegradable polymers that they were, that they are selling. Yeah. So, so that story, I mean we catalysed a lot of success. Told the world about it. And the world changed from a licensing perspective. Doors were opening,

CB: The phone started ringing, which is always nice.

CH: And so here also in terms of that other dimension that I was talking about. So here, indeed, were we’ve concluded our third licence in this particular molecule with BDO that Novamont took. So, we’re up to our third, but there’s a portfolio of technologies that we’re developing. And so now we have a reputation and competency that we can demonstrate whereby we can commercialise and scale up technology. Look we did it for Novamont. This is how we did it. We can do it again for these other molecules in the chemicals.

CB: Oh, so the two dimensions here are, on the one hand demonstrating you can do BDO which was the molecule that the technology was making. So, you could demonstrate you could do BDO. So, sort of stamp out more BDO licences. But it’s also saying to the market, ‘Well we know how to scale up these sorts of processes. And now we’re going to make other molecules.’ And because we’ve done it with Novamont, we can not only do more of those sorts of BDO plants, but we can now do other sorts of molecules in, you know, notionally similar industrial biotech settings.

CH: Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, there’s roughly speaking, say eight molecules or ten molecules. I mean, it can be actually quite big within our total portfolio. And they’re all at various stages of development, of course. There’s two now that are fully commercialised: C4 molecules, and there’s a very interesting set of C6 molecules in the nylon space, that is very near commercial, very near final. You know, we’ve got products out the door. So, it’s very, it’s scaled up. And then there’s a whole range of others you could like. So, so indeed the plant, the anticipation is, is that I think there’s a huge market out there for BDO. There will be more plants, the demand for these products. So, there is a standalone BDO licensing business that will continue. But clearly, we have demonstrated our ability to scale up and license technologies in terms of the whole comprehensive licensing model process. From a technology scale up perspective, and this applies also to these other processes and chemicals.

CB: Yeah, okay. So, you know, in sort of answer matrix terms, you’ve got your current customers and your current market with your current product. And you’ve now got your current market, being the chemicals industry, with new products. I grabbed from that there, Cameron, that, you know, the organisation that you’re working for, Genomatica, they see themselves as a technology licensor. Not necessarily a builder of plants, not just a developer of microorganisms and new molecules, but as a licensor of technologies for others to then go off and manufacture these molecules.

CH: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So, a full technology provider, from a comprehensive technology transfer perspective, all the way through to what you say, sort of, technical technology services, technical services through the operations of the plant all the way through that perspective. But just as a clarification, I guess we also, for some specific molecules, also see the opportunity and the rationale for producing those products themselves. So, there are two business models in that regard; licensing, particularly into large markets where you can’t build enough plants yourself. Yeah, the licensing model fits. And then there’s smaller markets, which, where it makes sense that perhaps you’re the only player.

CB: Yeah okay. No, no. Understood. In terms of the licensing journey you’ve been on, you know we’ve talked a lot about what makes it work. And you know, you’ve talked earlier about the trust that you have to build with those larger clients in the polyolefin space. You talked about the depth of engagement with Novamont in doing this first plan for BDO and all of the complexity that came with that, both, you know, the relationship, the technology, particularly when you’re sort of building it as you go…or just to set the counter point a little bit. Just curious as to why it doesn’t work out sometimes. What are your experiences? Not every, notwithstanding, Cameron. You know, you’re good at what you do. Sometimes these things don’t end up as we expect. We all set out with the best of intentions, but sometimes we just don’t get to the end of the transaction. Why? Why doesn’t it work out sometimes in these licensing tech transfer environments?

CH: Yeah, I think in short, a lot of pieces have to fit together. And of course, the licensor is not necessarily, you know, he’s not in control of everything. So, from one end of the scale, if you talk about perhaps a scale of profiles here from a putting the pieces together perspective. You’ve got licensees out there in the LyondellBasell days that, you know, okay, we have 35 of these plants from various licensors. We know propylene, we know polypropylene, we know construction, we know operations. We know how to do this. Yeah, we just need a technology provider to give us the blueprints to build the plant and help us start it up. And those sort of, I’d say, more rudimentary sort of technology transfer transactions. Yeah, a lot simpler. On the other end of the spectrum, when you look at Novamont, for example, they never operated a chemical process, they certainly never operated a biochemical process. The whole concept of using sugar or agricultural feedstocks as the input into that process. These are all extremely foreign things, and they’re very foreign for the majority of chemical companies out there. So, I think here, the challenge for getting all these pieces for a comprehensive business case from the licensee’s perspective to get them all to work, and driving that also from a licensor’s perspective, we’re certainly motivated to try to help that process out in all sorts of ways. That’s where there’s more risk of a failure, you know, in a transaction, the business case not really falling into place and overall, a heavier lift.

CB: And I take it there, Cameron, you’re really talking about this transition into biogenic carbon, where you’ve got classical petrochem type actors who just can’t quite bend their head around that the carbon is no longer coming from somewhere underground. It’s now actually coming from somewhere above ground. So, so that’s almost like a cultural…Is that a is that a licensee cultural issue or is it that the techno economics aren’t lining up as much as they should, or just to unpick that a little bit more? What is it? The business case that’s not hanging the other, is just a bit of everything sometimes.

CH: Well, no, I can certainly point to something in particular. It’s certainly not the techno economics, if you like. It’s really to do with competencies. So, if you go to a major oil company and you talk about agriculture, though, there’s no one that knows what you’re talking about. It’s just in there. It’s just not in their DNA, if you like. It’s not in their competency set. This is changing, there’s no doubt. So, you know, biofuels have been around a bit. So, you know, dabbling in that. So, there are pockets of this, but it still makes a big difference. We know what we know. You know, stick to your knitting is sort of that MBA speak to do.

CB: Yeah. So, that’s a really interesting insight Cameron. It’s the competencies of the licensee that can to, I’m guessing a notable extent, influence the chances of a licence being consummated because if they don’t actually get it from that agro industrial switch over in their supply chain, the ability to build the business case, to sell it internally, etcetera, etcetera, is almost automatically constrained.

CH: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah, yeah. And it’s not just the petrochemical majors. I shouldn’t just point the finger at them, although there’s certainly a case, but a case that I am proud of, which was our last licence transaction for BDO was with a company called Cargill, the largest private company in the US and the largest fermentation company in the world. Yeah. So, they certainly have somecompetencies about them in that sector. So, they’re of course a massive ag player. Yeah. But they don’t know anything about chemicals.

CB: Yeah. Okay. So, so, what was it about that deal that you’re proud of? Is it the fact that you were able to bring them into the chemical conversation, or…

CH: Yeah. So, this is joining the dots. Working up and down the value chain and joining the dots. So, at the same time of those sort of discussions with Cargill when they were extremely intrigued with what we’re doing and, wondering about outlets for their sugar production, I was getting to know a large chemicals distributor in Hamburg called Helm.

CB: Yeah, heard of them.

CH: Yeah, yeah. So big chemicals distributor and this is sort of, this is the old, old area that I used to work in, these large companies that move chemicals, you know, for petrochemical companies, that’s their competency. They don’t have assets themselves, but they certainly know how to sell large volumes of product. And they have these customer lists. So, we made an introduction. And these are two private companies, privately owned companies, and they obviously hit it off. There was some chemistry. They ultimately formed a joint venture, took the licence. And are currently building this large BDO plant in Iowa.

CB: Right. What a terrific story. And you’ve managed to bring two parties together, that’s your secret sauce. Through all your experience, you can pull together the partnerships that seem to make sense, get those parties talking. And that in turn drives your business because now you have a third? Did you say third licence, Cameron?

CH: Yes.

CB: So, there’s a third licenc,e as a consequence of an agribusiness looking to add value to its raw materials or its traded products, in this case, sugar and a company in Helm, who are in the business of trading a whole bunch of different chemicals and polymers, who are, I suspect, reacting to the changes in demand for biobased molecules.

CH: Yeah. Yeah. So very independently, I mean, Helm was very keen in what we were doing. ‘How do we get access to this? But we don’t want to build a plant. We’re not your licence. We’re not your licensee.’ So, they were extremely eager because of course, they’re on the front end of customers that wanted a sustainable solution in the sector and things like this, all this trend. So then it was a nice, a nice joining the dots exercise.

CB: Absolutely. And the question I have for you off the back of this Cameron, is how long have you and Genomatica known Cargill for?

CH: Yeah, a long while. So before my time. Yeah. Before going, in fact, there’s, there’s employees that are still with the company, they’re ex-Cargill. Yeah. So, there has been connections for a long time.

CB: And the connections with Helm, I assume were sort of connections from LyondellBasell and…

CH: Yeah. Essentially.

CB: Yeah, yeah. And so the reason I ask that Cameron, is a little bit leading and some of our listeners will know where I’m heading here, yet again, reinforces this notion that relationships endure and you build transactions on top of them. You’re not chasing transactions. The relationships allow transactions to manifest themselves at the right time. And then there’s a timing component to this. You would never have had a phone call from Helm ten years ago on this subject, I imagine. But you, because of that relationship, it all came together.

CH: Yeah, precisely. Yeah. Yeah. So, indeed. Yeah, it’s having that experience in the chemical industry that enables that sort of trust transfer, if you like, to occur with other business opportunities and then some the stars aligning and the dots joining in the right sort of way, whereby you can really create some magic from a business case standpoint.

CB: Yeah. Yeah. No, no, that’s a terrific example of the role of relationships, that the role of how the technology is obviously maturing within Genomatica. But also, that idea of timing and, you know, you called the stars aligning where everything just comes into place and the timing is right. And things start to happen. Now that that’s a really terrific example. Cameron, just as we bring things to a close, just interested in your final thoughts and insights, you know, particularly given the journey from Geelong to Genomatica, are there particular things that strike you that you want to leave our listeners with?

CH: It’s an exciting space. And I think, you know, biotechnology within this vertical, of sustainable chemicals and materials. I’m totally convinced after, okay, eight years now in Genomatica and longer in licensing is, is a real, sort of, a massively massive space with massive growth potential and really trajectorying in the right direction. So, I mean, if you’re if you’re in this area, then I think you’re in the right spot. In terms of being able to implementsome desperately needed, sustainability solutions. Yeah, from a scale perspective, you know, a climate change perspective. And also, just doing some of the very exciting technology transfer type projects. If you’re there, it’s a really fantastic space.

CB: Yeah. Fantastic, Cameron. No, that’s a great thought to finish off with. Well, like you, I’m a card-carrying believer in the role of bio-based products and the bio-based economy to meet some of these chemicals industry challenges. So, I’m with you on that journey for sure. It’s been terrific having you join us today, Cameron. Really appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

CH: Great to be part of it. Yeah. Look forward to subsequent episodes in your podcast. And thanks for having me.

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