A.I.M. Interview: Heliae’s Dan Simon
by David Schwartz (Algae Industry Magazine) Heliae is the 9th startup for CEO Dan Simon, and the company is finally at his favorite stage. “We are completing our charge through the Valley of Death,” he says. Indeed. In 2012, Heliae grew their team to over 75 people, sold their first barrel of jet fuel, completed over $30 million in private placements—$18 million of which came from outside investors – and broke ground on their 20-acre production site in Gilbert, Arizona, on the outskirts of Phoenix.
Most people in the industry know that Heliae was founded by members of the Mars family, owners of Mars, Inc. “Mars is a hallmark private family business and they understand that new industries require a long vision,” said Simon. “That said, we needed to diversify our ownership and, in May, we brought in our first outside investor, the Salim Group of companies. They are an exceptional investor for the same reasons as Mars, but with the added benefit of an immediate entry into Southeast Asia and Asia Pacific.”
…We picked Indonesia as the next location for strategic reasons. We are comfortable with precision farming in a dry Southwestern climate, it is now time to validate a tropical precision farming platform. We will utilize this facility as a regional R&D hub and regional headquarter for sales, product development, and as a technical service center for our customers.
…We have plans to install an extraction unit in Indonesia as well. No hydrotreating or fuels in the short term. In Indonesia it’s purely a food, feed, health science, and chemical play. This said, we are talking to potential fuel processing partners, as there will be a neutral lipid fraction from most co-product streams.
… Biggest learning over the last twelve months has been contamination management. It is the reality of all farming, learning how to manage it is the difference between life and death, literally. Just on the strains alone, we’ve had to completely adjust the types of strains and the adaptation methods utilized as we bring them outside. Many times strains that grow fantastically in a small unit, are complete duds in a large scale unit.
In terms of crop protection, I think you have the risk anywhere. You just need to be able to manage it. What we are doing is precision farming, so we’ve developed specific methods and procedures to protect the crop and maximize production. While we’ve learned methods and procedures that work in Arizona, I’m sure we will need to adapt them for each new location.
Heliae’s differentiator, as I look at all this coming together, is that our long term focus is to integrate technologies and deliver turn-key algae production systems, not to be a producer of algae-based products. We are currently in phase 1 of the business plan – build it and prove it. Long-term we aim to be the go-to source for algae technology worldwide and that’s the space we will lead. READ MORE