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Micromidas Wins $3.6 Million – An Interview with CEO John Bissell

Posted by at 3:15 PM, 05/03/2010

Micromidas, the 2009 Air Water & Waste category winner and a runner-up for the national prize, recently scored $3.6 million in a Series A funding round. The Davis, California-based company converts carbon from wastewater into strong bioplastics. While the company participated in the 2009 competition, they steadily progressed with their technology and building out their company. With this new funding from Alex Millar and other angel investors that represent the plastics and packaging industry, the company is keeping very busy. I caught a few moments with CEO John Bissell to ask him about how things are going.

Katie Roberts: How did this funding opportunity come about?

John Bissell: We were approached by our investors out of the blue. It wasn’t through our extended network. It was basically a marketing driven find -- they found us through various articles written about us and by talking to people. They heard about what we do and contacted me directly. I’ve put in a lot of work to build a network in Silicon Valley and it surprised me that they weren’t part of our network. That’s rare though; obviously the network still matters.

KR: What's the biggest thing you've learned about trying to get funding, as a startup?

JB: Every investor is different. Frequently investors are thought of as just the venture capitalist side, taking an equity slice. They’re thought of as having all the same expectations. If you have a pitch, then you create it to be whatever a generic VC would want to see. But individual VCs have different strategies for their 5 and 10 year funds. They have different expectations, different domain expertise, [and] different ways of working with their partners. So you need to have an understanding of the strategy of the investor. You can hone the pitch perfectly for what they’re looking for. It’s all about that one conversation. Getting that hook really matters.

KR: What advice would you offer to other companies that are startups looking for funding?

JB: It’s really easy to forget about everything else when you’re raising money. My family always says that having money is like breathing -- when you have it you don’t notice it, but when it starts to get short, it’s the only thing you ever think about. When you’re a startup raising money it feels like that’s the only thing that matters. In reality it’s not. I was personally raising money full time for six months. I didn’t do anything else. If my team had frozen for any time during that period then we wouldn’t have made it. We wouldn’t have been able to keep going as a company. But we would be way behind if we hadn’t been able to raise money. So having at least one a partner [beyond yourself] is critical. You need one person to run and develop the business with the technology. And you need one person raising money, because it’s a full time job.

KR: What's next for Micromidas, with this funding? Any interesting plans for the next few months?

JB: We just put a kilo scale unit online that’s 50 to 100 liter. It demonstrated the process, which was exciting and we got really good results. In the next two months we should have a pilot scale unit up and operating. That’s our core focus right now.

KR: Are you hiring anyone with that new funding?

JB: We are hiring! We just gave out and signed five offer letters in the last two weeks, and we’re going to sign three more in the next month. We’re hiring at a relatively rapid pace. We were looking at our headcount and determining that we had to fill 8-12 slots, and that meant we had to find seven people not currently in our network. That just sounded so brutal. It takes time to find talent. And it matters not just how good the person is and what their experience is, but how they fit into the team. We were really lucky because four [people] popped up with exactly [the skills] we were looking for, so that was really great.

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