By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“We are filling a niche in this very broad bio economy” Genera Energy’s Kelly Tiller says of the now three-year old private company that traces its roots to the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative.
For many local individuals, the perception is that Genera is about biofuels only. Tiller quickly notes that, in this case, perception is not reality. In fact, biofuels is just one segment of Genera’s customer focus that also includes biochemicals, bioproducts, biopower, and biomaterials.
The company, founded in March 2012, has positioned itself as a bridge ensuring the biomass crops grown on farms reach those who need biomass, not as a “crop” but as a uniform industrial feedstock. Genera’s secret sauce is its knowledge of the agricultural sector coupled with its expertise in designing and implementing systems to provide a sustainable, high-quality and low-variability biomass source.
We sat down with the always smiling and very articulate President and Chief Executive Officer of Genera Energy, Inc., on the eve of the company’s third anniversary. As is always the case when we talk with Tiller, we walked away excited by the progress that the start-up has made and the impact that it is having.
“We have a different perception locally than we do nationally,” Tiller explained in underscoring the much broader geographic reach the Vonore-based company has achieved than many people realize. Many think of its work with local farmers growing switchgrass locally.
That early work has certainly made a difference, but Genera is now playing on a much larger stage. Nothing underscores the point more than several recent announcements.
In mid-December, Genera secured a growth capital investment of $4 million from Boston-based WindSail Capital to help expand its geographic reach and operations.
“We are the first ag biomass supply company in the nation to receive institutional capital,” Tiller says with justified pride.
Just a month earlier, Biofuels Digest had placed Genera in the 22nd spot on its “Hot 40” small companies in the advanced bioeconomy. And, in February, the same publication had ranked Tiller number 69 on its “Top 125 People in the Advanced Bioeconomy.”
“Seventy percent of the companies on the list need biomass,” Tiller noted, adding that Genera is the only company focused on providing a biomass supply solution.
The bioeconomy is clearly evolving in this country and abroad as new technologies are proven and their ability to scale effectively is confirmed. When both boxes are checked, the market requires a reliable, sustainable source of biomass feedstock. That’s where Genera plays.
“We’re an agricultural supply company,” Tiller says, but quickly notes that it is not a cookie-cutter business.
She talks about soils having their own properties and the importance of understanding the differences, even within a single farm, to maximize the production of biomass. Tiller also notes that each locality has its own culture. Some communities have small farms that produce biomass; others have farms with thousands of acres.
“Every system has to be designed to fit that local culture,” she says. That reality makes the knowhow the Genera team has gained over the past few years significantly important to the company’s ability to design systems for very diverse communities, climates and customers.