Sapphire Energy CEO Jason Pyle’s Parting Thoughts on Big Biofuel
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himself as a technology developer and entrepreneur who is focused primarily on transferring breakthroughs in academic research to industry. He says he specializes in such things that are critical to companies in the startup phase—research management, technical project planning, organizational development, intellectual property development, and R&D timeline and resource planning. Before starting Sapphire in 2007, Pyle was a co-founder and chief technical officer at Epoc, a medial technology company in Houston, TX.
Recruiting key people like Warner and others to the company’s board is one of the accomplishments that Pyle says he’s proud of. The new recruits are “exactly the kind of people the company needs,” he says.
Before leaving, Pyle says he wanted to make sure the company was “essentially on track for strategic purposes” and to complete the final tranche of a $144 million Series C round of investment funding, which Sapphire disclosed earlier this month. Pyle says the total for all three rounds of Sapphire’s financing is close to $350 million, which he says has translated into building “a billion dollars worth of value in the company.”
Sapphire’s investors include Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, Arch Venture Partners, Venrock, Arrowpoint Partners, Monsanto, and the Wellcome Trust. The company also has established several partnerships, including collaborations with Monsanto and Seattle’s Institute for Systems Biology.
The ultimate goal, Pyle says, “is to produce green crude at volumes that are consistent with reducing the nation’s need for imported oil. That’s an enormous goal that really is a 10-year endeavor.”
Pyle says the fundamental importance of attaining this goal is something that he has emphasized at the highest levels of the federal government. “Energy, in general, is a national interest,” Pyle says. “So things that improve the energy mix are unquestionably a national interest,” especially in terms of reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil. Over the past two years, Pyle says he worked to deliver that message at the highest levels in Congress, federal agencies, and at the Pentagon.
“We’re not really talking about commercial ideology of what should be subsidized or what shouldn’t, or why there should be programs, but making sure that everyone—Republicans and Democrats understand that energy is a national interest and that new forms of energy [like biofuels] are absolutely critical for a country that is dependent on foreign oil. It is the responsibility of our government to support, nurture, and create new forms of energy that we can use,” Pyle says.
As Sapphire’s CEO, Pyle says his focus was on policy over regulatory matters.
“Being from biotech, we’re accustomed to interacting with some form or fashion of government,” Pyle says. “I would say in your average biotech, the regulatory burden takes up significantly more time of the senior executives than the policy initiatives at Sapphire.