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Honing a Competitive Edge

By: Brian W. Budzynski and Jeff Falk
Posted: April 30, 2009, from the May 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Beiersdorf looked outward to consider the needs of the global market and the opportunities it afforded; then looked inward at its strength and the brand experiences it offered and exploited those to create a very bright story in a dark economic storm.

Elevance Renewable Sciences, Inc.

Elevance Renewable Sciences, formed in 2008 to institutionalize work begun in 2004 in collaboration between Cargill and Materia, is a technology organization leveraging patents from the California Institute of Technology to catalyze the commercial production of renewable chemicals. And though that bare-bones bio statement is intriguing in its own right—along with the leveraged technology itself—the continued focus on collaboration touches on or impacts the basic underlying facets of innovation already mentioned and, therefore, is the model and execution that is likely crucial to widespread success of companies in the business and economic environment in which everyone operates.

In Elevance’s case, it has built and executed innovation on top of innovation. The olefin metathesis chemistry it commercialized is driven by the Nobel Prize winning technology developed by Materia and Nobel Laureate Robert H. Grubbs, PhD, of the California Institute of Technology. The next generation catalyst technology allows the carbon atoms in natural oils to swap places, thereby enabling new chemical compounds and manufacturing processes once thought to be impossible.

But that was only the first step, and acts as the core around which the business model was built. The company was created on the premise that a high performance, renewable, asset-light, partnership-based business model will provide it with a unique market position with a defensible advantage in the $500 billion dollar specialty chemical market—of which the company aspires to achieve $1 billion in revenues by 2016.

“The next big step was able to be reached because companies were able to recognize the potential,” said K’Lynne Johnson, CEO, Elevance Renewable Sciences. “We believe we embrace innovation equally in two aspects of how we do business. One is about the product we create, and the second is the ability to create collaboration. We think that collaborators are critical because they enable new thinking and approaches, and products can be brought to market much more quickly.