4 Minutes with…Tim Burns, Co-Founder, Board Member, bioprocess Algae

January 4, 2015 |

BurnsTell us about your company and it’s role in the Advanced Bioeconomy.

BPA is one of the pioneers in biofilm-based algae production and we are currently operating one of the longest-standing biological carbon capture and re-use facilities in the country. Our co-located facility utilizes waste heat and CO2 from a corn-ethanol plant to produce high quality feedstocks for nutritionals, animal feeds, biochemical and fuel.

Tell us about your role and what you are focused on in the next 12 months.

Everyones role within bioprocess Algae from the partners to the board to the staff is focused on making the transition from a ~burner’ to an ~earner’. That is the holy grail in the Advanced Bioeconomy. All eyes are on commercialization. We are recipients of an Integrated Biorefinery Award from the Department of Energy, and although fuels will not be the first market that we enter, we will continue to support those efforts as long as we can demonstrate long-term profitability in fuels while accelerating parallel efforts for commercialization in the near term. We expect a product launch as well as additional capacity expansion in the next 12 months.

What do you feel are the most important milestones the industry must achieve in the next 5 years?  

Transition to ~earners’ in each of the markets that algae can address. This includes animal feeds, biochemicals, as well as fuels. Good examples of algae companies excelling at niche nutritional markets exist today, but ” as an industry ” we need to show that algae production can be profitable in mid- and large-volume markets as well.

If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the Advanced Bioeconomy, what would you change? 

The perceived lack of stability for the RFS. Stability of the RFS is critical for continued development of the advanced bioeconomy, both for fuels and non-fuel applications. We need “earner” as in fortune 500 companies who need algae production for sustainable inputs to invest in its commercialization.

Of all the reasons that influenced you to join the Advanced Bioeconomy industry, what single reason stands out for you as still being compelling and important to you?  

Having Children. I see the world ahead built around solving problems of needs not wants. Needs are sustainable food, feed, fuel and water. Wants are conveniences. Wants scale easily, whilst needs are solved through commitment of time, ingenuity, focus and capital. I continue to believe that algae can play a vital profitable role with great jobs.

Where are you from? 

Newport, Rhode Island – the city by sea.

What was your undergraduate major in college, and where did you attend? Why did you choose that school and that pathway?  

I went to Providence College to major in Mathematics and Accounting. My Dad was a mathematician so inherently numbers and formulas came easy. I worked for Ernst and Whiney on scaling systems my 1st year out, I had an idea to build a business in the environmental industry so I went to Brown University for a masters in Environmental Sciences.

Who do you consider your mentors – could be personal, business, or just people you have read about and admire. What have you learned from them?

I am privileged to have worked and continue to work over the great leaders in business, engineering, biology and environmental policy. However, my greatest fortune was to grow up in a family that valued education and its ability to improve things. My Dad taught me “that all you have when you enter and leave this world is your name and your word, so be true to both.” My mom taught me that if “you couldn’t sit down comfortable and tell your grandmother what you are up to then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.”

What’s the biggest lesson you ever learned during a period of adversity?  

Keep showing up, i remember it like yesterday we had bought a business out bankruptcy in 1993 it was losing $75,000 month had 1/2 million dollar imbalance in payables to receivables, i figured we had 6 months of time and capital to right the ship. After 3 months it looked like we wouldn’t make it – we kept showing up – after 6 months – making progress but we still needed 3 more months – we kept showing up – after 9 months we broke even — we kept showing up… from then on it became our most profitable group. It became evident to me how important it was to show-up, work it harder on the days it looked impossible keep building the team to overcome the pinch points. There is a lot to be said for what doesn’t kill you makes you strong.

What hobbies do you pursue, away from your work in the industry?  

Away from work it pretty much family, outdoors and watching my children compete and grow up. After that I love the ocean being on it or in it.

What books or articles are on your reading list right now, or you just completed and really enjoyed?  

Boys in the Boat

What’s your favorite city or place to visit, for a holiday?  

Botswana’s Okavango Delta, went in 1989 changed my life

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tags: ,

Category: Million Minds

Thank you for visting the Digest.