When Will Crimmins came to Solugen, he didn’t know much about biotech but he did know chemicals and how to sell them. Will joined the company with a rolodex of prospective customers and immediately got to work making calls and knocking on doors. Now, he’s spearheading strategic partnerships for Solugen with established chemical players like Sasol to support ambitious climate goals.

Will shares how through forging strategic partnerships, Solugen is spearheading sustainable innovation in chemical manufacturing

What’s your Solugen origin story? 

About five years ago, I was in a leadership role at a chemical distributor in Oklahoma when I got a LinkedIn message from a recruiter for Solugen. At the time, I was getting tons of messages from recruiters but this one stuck out to me. I was intrigued by the idea of a gutsy young doctor and chemical engineer building a new company in an industry with so many incumbent players. Honestly, I didn’t know what the hell biotech even meant at the time. All I knew was that they were developing a product for a space I knew pretty well. I was excited about being on the frontlines of something new and innovative. 

What did your day to day look like when you first joined Solugen and how has that changed over time? 

I came in as a seasoned sales person to help grow the business, so I immediately got to work just hammer calling customers. There were no processes or structure at all, we were just trying to make a name for ourselves in a market that didn’t really know us. I worked my connections and knocked on doors trying to build trust in the marketplace, and Gaurab was directly involved in the day to day of that work. Things were incredibly bootstrapped and entrepreneurial. Today, I have a team of six. Half or more of my time is spent coaching and mentoring really smart people. The other half of my time is spent working directly with large strategic partners. 

Do you remember the first customer you acquired? How did you sell them on Solugen, and do you still use the same pitch today? 

My first customer was a big chemical solutions company in Midland, Texas, and there was nothing about sustainability or climate in that engagement, it was about delivering value in the form of price and reliability. They knew and trusted me from a past life so there was already a good rapport. That company just became one of our largest customers by revenue last year. The pitch is different today because we’ve built a brand and attract tier 1 and tier 2 stakeholders in a way we simply couldn’t at first. We get a lot more inbound requests than we used to. 

One of Solugen’s recent big wins was securing a partnership with Sasol, which is one of the world’s largest producers of surfactants. What’s the backstory, there, and how did this partnership come to life? 

I started talking to Sasol in 2022. Last year, we aligned around one of our organic acid products being something that could drive value in their home care and industrial cleaning products paired with their surfactants. They’re trying to lower emissions, and the way for them to do so is to partner with Solugen and leverage our technology to bring down the carbon cost of theirs. It took a long time to figure out the details, and it took trust building on both our sides. Solugen had to prove that our product worked, that it was scalable, and that everything we were saying in meetings was true in practice. We signed an MOU last year to combine our expertise and take on the industry together. It’s great because it’s hard for us to gain the trust of major brands like Unilever and Procter & Gamble. Sasol has done that over decades and delivered on having great chemistry. So we can kind of ride those coattails, now, as we grow. 

There’s a stigma around sustainable products having a green premium. That is, costing more. When you’re talking to customers and strategic partners, how do you navigate that stigma? 

The beauty of our technology is that we go from feedstock to final product more efficiently than any other process. So the foundation of what we do is de-risked, which is different from other biotechnologies or fermentation platforms, even those under the umbrella of “climate tech.” We really are competing head to head on price and performance. The sustainability piece, from my perspective, is a bonus sprinkle on top. And we’ve proven that at scale. The green premium doesn’t exist at Solugen. Price is never the thing stopping us from getting business. 

How do you decide what to tackle first in the new molecule pipeline? What’s the relationship between commercial and R&D? 

R&D tells us what is most viable and interesting in terms of new product development. Then it’s my job to go out and find partners whose needs sync up with what we can offer. We’re R&D first, and business development isn’t forcing scientists in any particular direction. I often have companies coming to me who want to ideate together around pain points. They say, hey, we have X problem in home care or Y problem in ag. Or maybe they’re trying to create a new portfolio or business inside of their company. And we often have technology that can help. It’s about being plugged in with R&D and bringing them in as technical experts early in the process. We’ve reached a point where there are so many directions we can go in. The team has so many great ideas AND the ability to execute on them. So we’re starting to say no, and think strategically about where we may have the best chance of success, triangulating between technology, product, and partners.

Where do you see Solugen going in the next five years? 

We’re about to achieve massive economies of scale. Once we get Bioforge Marshall up and running, which is our commercial asset, I see us selling and operating at high profit margins, probably somewhere in the 50 KT range. I see us breaking into new markets, especially food and beverage, industrial water treatment, and home and personal care. I’d also expect for us to have identified and started the process on an international plant. Lofty goals, for sure, but the team is going to grow and we’ll have breakthroughs I couldn’t even predict today. 

What would you tell someone thinking of joining Solugen? 

Get ready to buckle up. This is a rocket ship, and you’ll never have another opportunity to be around so many intelligent people committed to getting stuff done. It’s an idea meritocracy over here and your voice really matters. Somewhere else, it can take years to turn the ship. At Solugen, it happens every day. 

To learn more about how Solugen is partnering with industry leaders to drive sustinable business, visit https://solugen.com/partnerships.