I recently read Andrew Grooves' Only the Paranoid Survive - while it was published in 1996, the discussion of inflection points in an industry are even more relevant today in times of rapid technical changes, international market forces, and customers having access to more options and product information. The book describes the Intel experience of being acted upon during an inflection point related to Japanese competition in memory chips (Intel was on the wrong end of this inflection point) and then the microprocessor (PC) infection point that Intel helped drive. His point was simply, it is better to drive the change rather than be unaware or acted upon by the changes in your market.
My experience in inflection points comes from my career in the wastewater bioaugmentation market - we help people biologically treat wastewater via tools for adjusting the microbial populations in the target system. Prior to the late 1990s, advanced biological wastewater treatment was still fairly new to most industrial customers. Most of the business was triggered by spills, mechanical failure, or increased treatment requirements. Increased use of monitoring, diversion, flow equilization, and even tighter control in production areas, began making emergency response less common.
Being Acted Upon by the MarketThe bioaugmentation industry tried to market the same core technology to new markets but did not engage in primary R&D to identify innovation opportunities and drive truly new technologies. When Aster Bio was founded in 2003, we realized that new technology was key if we were not going to be a "me too" player in the industry. We started with new production techniques to identify and add new organisms to bioaugmentation products. The early work was the first significant changes in marketed products since the early 1980s. The more sophisticated user and increased regulation of microbial products was a "blip" indicating that market changes were occurring. In creating new products and searching for new markets, we were being acted upon by changes in the market.
Opportunity to Drive the Next Inflection PointWith the advent of equipment for high throughput DNA (NGS) sequencing - we finally had a tool for evaluating mixed cultures samples and determining how mixed groups of organisms were treating the waste. At first NGS testing required high dollar equipment, long reaction times, and database/bioinformatics were still being created. Only in the last three years has NGS technology development led to a potential inflection point or a disruptive technology. The challenge is taking output from novelty information to actionable steps at the operator level.
At Aster Bio, we decided to not just use the technology for bioprospecting new strains. We see molecular diagnostics and screens - technologies we call Environmental Genomics - as a new tool for directly observing the organisms inside a biological waste treatment unit. Once observed, we can determine how any change - including new influent compounds, operational changes, or biomass optimization - work at a microbial level. Discovering the best microbial makeup for waste treatment allows operators to establish better controls. Aster Bio plans to navigate this technological inflection point by building new molecular testing protocols, wastewater specific microbial bioinformatic databases, and drive improvements in our bioaugmentation products. With the new technologies working in tandem, Aster Bio plans to make biological wastewater treatment units more predictable when faced with challenges with the end goal being lowering overall treatment costs.