Bio-on: Italy’s Maginificent Green Unicorn

The presence of an entrepreneurial reality like Bio-on is extremely meaningful to prove that, even in Italy, new green industries are absolutely capable of creating welfare

By Luca Ceroni

A unicorn enterprise

Bio-on is considered by many one of the few Italian “unicorn enterprises”, namely those companies that have been able to shake up an entire industry thanks to their innovation-oriented approach. Since it established its headquarters in Bologna in 2007, the company has experienced a dramatic growth.

The reference industry is bioplastic. To be more precise, Bio-on is not directly engaged in the manufacturing process. Rather, it can be defined as an intellectual property company, namely an organization whose core activity is based on the research and development function. In other words, Bio-on generates the needed high-skills and knowledge to create a biodegradable type of polyester potentially applicable to a variety of different industrial sectors, providing them through licensing agreements.

Talking about the consequences of a potential large-scale diffusion of such a polyester, the main result would be declaring war to plastic pollution worldwide. Mainly the oceans could hugely benefit from seeing hydrocarbon micro beads replaced by this kind of biodegradable polyester.

Some figure

The assumption according to which this business represents a great potential is also supported by the turnover realized by Bio-on in the last few years. Specifically speaking, revenues doubled to 11 million in 2017 compared to the previous year, while the expected linear growth trend foresees a further increase up to 50 million in 2018 and still to 100 million in 2019.

Naturally, such huge growth rates are mainly due to the news of this material, for which the vast majority of the financial returns are all absorbed by Bio-on, since the competitive pressure is still almost null.

How pioneering

There might be several diverse answers to this assertion. Despite this, the firm should first continue on the already undertaken pathway of consistent investments on R&D activities, to stay one step ahead of the market. This approach allowed Bio-on to give rise to a very complex and differentiated set of technologies, making particularly complicated for rivals to replicate them.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that, instead of developing akin technologies internally, many international giants of the chemical and cosmetics industry are ever more interested in partnering with Bio-on.

Some practical instance in this sense is provided by the dual case of Kering, the luxury holding of Gucci and other globally famous brands, and Maire Tecnimont, a group engaged in the energy and infrastructure sector.

To put it simply, the main purpose of these partnerships is thought to start long-oriented and capital-intensive collaboration with Bio-on, so as to develop new applicable high-tech solutions.

The challenge

However, the main challenge that Bio-on is expected to cope with is not only that of finding new technologies in an apparently yet unexplored business segment, but it’s more about becoming a “moral pioneer” in driving a needed transition towards new sustainable businesses.

Especially in a country like Italy, where the sensitivity towards environmental matters is not so spread and there is always a kind of rejection to completely accept the climate task that our era is facing, the presence of an entrepreneurial reality like Bio-on is extremely meaningful to prove that even new green industries are absolutely capable of creating welfare.

What should we learn?

As mentioned above, the uppermost benefit coming from this specific case is referred to the way in which the Italian industry, regardless the specific sectorial specialization, will react to what the world is now asking for: that is, promoting a gradual but steady shift towards new models of doing business.

We are proceeding towards one of the biggest tasks humanity has ever faced and, from an industrial standpoint, Italy has nothing to envy to other countries. We are full of technical competences, entrepreneurial initiatives and strong resilience to difficult situations.

We should only be more aware of this and try to move our strengths in that direction, to become a leading country in the “big green” transition. Bio-on is a witness of such an evolutionary pattern.