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August 15, 2018 | Tom Ballard

PART 4: Adam McCall shares lessons learned during his nearly six-year journey with Prisma

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a series describing the five and one-half year technology commercialization journey that resulted in the recent announcement that Domtar had taken a major interest in Prisma Renewable Composites.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Adam McCall’s entrepreneurial journey is far from complete, but the recent investment by Domtar Corporation (see our recent article) in Prisma Renewable Composites has provided much-needed fuel to propel the company forward.

When milestones like this are reached, we like to ask the principals for their thoughts on lessons learned along the way. We did the same with Prisma’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

His first was the difference between the private sector where decisions are made quickly and higher education that is governed in many respects by a different set of drivers.

“My biggest challenge was understanding the academic mission . . . the real meaning of academic freedom, publishing, and innovation without expectations of market execution,” McCall says. “It’s taken me awhile to grasp it, but I now have an appreciation for it and would like to think I have struck a balance to work in and around it.”

Another area was patience and confidence.

“There have been plenty of times I’ve had to fight with concerns that this entire ‘Big Idea’ simply might not be successful,” McCall says. “The original concept, ultimately, was borne out of academia without a clear understanding for the market demands. Luckily, by being given a lot of leeway, we have been able to pair the ‘good idea’ with an executable business model. There’s a sense of professional loneliness at times because on one hand you’ve convinced yourself this will work, yet any logical person gets occasional reminders that nothing is guaranteed. You might have been wrong.”

One of those times came when oil prices tanked, and Prisma made a drastic pivot, ultimately back towards a focus on lignin materials. There have been at least two others during the journey.

When McCall asked himself if the lignin-based technology could be successfully commercialized, he answered the same way. “It’s always been yes.”

Now, Prisma is poised to move forward even as it continues to fund research and development on products that will benefit society.

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