Renewables Aren’t Just for Biofuels: Microbia Makes Industrial Chemicals a Bit Greener

2/23/09Follow @xconomy

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decided to split the company into two separate entities. Microbia Precision Engineering (later shortened to the original name Microbia) would take care of the industrial applications, including carotenoid chemicals, and Ironwood Pharmaceuticals would continue to work on the drugs. (Ironwood went on to raise $50 million from Morgan Stanley last October for tests of its experimental drug for constipation, bringing its total financing since inception to $281 million.)

That same year, Microbia partnered with Tate & Lyle, the London-based maker of Splenda sweetener and other food and industrial ingredients. Tate & Lyle invested $7 million to acquire a 15 percent stake in the newly spun off company and agreed to provide $13.75 million more over five years. Tate & Lyle hopes to get new products on the market faster through the deal, and in return, Microbia gets a share of the profits of any products it helps develop for the British firm. The deal has enabled Microbia to grow from about 15 to 50 employees and get the two carotenoid products primed for the marketplace next year, Bailey says.

A lot of things obviously still need to happen before Microbia will start making a big impact in the market with its own products. But it’s clearly not a science project anymore. In the past few months the company hired three people with experience on the business side of the specialty-chemical industry to fill top commercialization roles.

“These people really add to our credibility, our knowledge of the distribution channel, our customers, and the competitive aspects,” Bailey says. “We now are in pretty good shape.”

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