Jeff Roskam is taking his 18 years of experience in the bioenergy business to advance that industry in Kansas.
This month, Roskam, 52, was named the founding CEO of the Kansas Alliance for Biorefining and Bioenergy, which is based in Wichita.
The KABB is a center of innovation created last year by the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
With $4.1 million in seed investment from the KBA, the Wichita-based alliance is charged with developing a partnership between the bioenergy companies and Kansas universities.
The idea is to use that partnership to solve "near-commercial technology roadblocks" that Roskam said will help the two industries advance their work and efforts.
That partnership includes an investment fund that will be used to overcome the technology roadblocks and commercialize technology that will benefit the biorefining and bioenergy industries and create more jobs.
Roskam plans to use his connections in the industry, and the knowledge he's developed over his career to accomplish those goals.
Roskam graduated from Iowa State University in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
Since 1992, his bioenergy and biorefining career has taken him to several companies, including Poet Ethanol (formerly Broin and Associates), ICM in Colwich and United BioEnergy, which merged into US BioEnergy.
He most recently was CEO of CAP CO2, a CO2 enhanced oil recovery firm, of which he remains a director.
What did you do before you got into the bioenergy industry?
After college "I moved to California and worked in finance, making loans for just about two years.... Then a man who became a mentor of mine who was also from Iowa — I met him in San Diego — he was an inventor. He invented the... drainage tile you buy in like Lowe's.... Since we grew up 30 miles and 30 years apart he just took an interest in me and invited me to join a company he had started up in the Stockton-Sacramento, Calif., area.
"That was really my first big entrepreneurial job and so he mentored me in new companies and that kind of thing. That business was involved in drinking water, bottled-water like deliveries to offices like this. I stayed with that company until 1990 and then I took another position with another company in the water industry in Columbus, Ohio."
How did you get involved in the ethanol industry?
"I literally sat down and wrote out a plan. I'm a big believer in writing out your career plan, taking the time to think it out. My job in Ohio came to a quick end because of partnership issues so I had time to figure out my career.
"Basically what I did is I had some training in San Francisco while I was out there on how to prepare for your career, how to network and that kind of thing. I filled out an inventory of things that I had done in my life, the things I enjoyed the most, the environments that I like to work in and encapsulated it in a 14-page plan.
"I listed really three potential positions and industries that I would find interesting. And then I just really started knocking on doors. One of the top positions I had listed — in all cases the management level of a smaller company — was being involved with an engineering company. And that's what I got.
"So defining goals up front, to me, is a big thing. I'm a big believer that written goals get achieved."
What do you want the alliance to look like 12 months from now?
"One is that we have a good investment policy. Two is I think we'll have an intellectual property agreement that our industrial and university partners will like. And I think we'll have our available funds invested in areas that are going to provide a good return in terms of advancing the bioenergy and biorefining business. Fourth, I would hope we get a significant base of industrial partners. And that we're able to attract federal funds."
How will the alliance define its success?
"That is something I am going to be working on pretty hard. Some of the things might be if industry partners are able to take that technology (that the alliance helped finance in the later stages) and make a profit with it. That would be the simplest form."
You're really trying to establish a collaborative effort here, aren't you?
"I would like to engage folks all the way around, how people can get involved with it and how we can solve problems for people."