January 27, 2005
BBI TURNS 10
By Dave Nilles
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One look at today's ethanol industry proves the strength of this old axiom. Oftentimes all it takes is two people coming together with similar ideas and working for a cause they believe in to accomplish great things.
The seeds for such an evolution can be found at the beginning of BBI International. The company, which now has four offices in North America, is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2005. However, the company that has become a leading resource for the biofuels industry had modest beginnings.
BBI's start can be traced to the mid-1990s. Mike Bryan was the ethanol program manager for the National Corn Growers Association. Previously, he worked in the ethanol industry as assitant general plant manager for Alchem LLP, a 10.5-mmgy ethanol plant in Grafton, N.D.
Kathy Bryan had a deeper ethanol production background. She had been a partner in running a small-scale plant on her Minnesota farm. Kathy then worked as a consultant for enzyme company Gist-Brocades.
Thanks to a shared bond in ethanol, the two crossed paths, and in 1995 in St. Louis, Mo., they started Bryan & Bryan Inc. They simultaneously picked up the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop, launched the Energy Independent newsletter—the precursor of Ethanol Producer Magazine—and offered their services as consultants to a fledgling industry. Together, those three things have helped to shape one of the ethanol industry's leading resources. "I think through the conferences and publications BBI has developed, we've helped provide substance and credibility to the industry, plus the opportunity for people to network and learn from each other," Kathy said.
Of course, in 1995 the ethanol industry was a much smaller circle of producers, suppliers and supporters. Larger groups threatened the industry's very existence. "The domestic oil industry was quite opposed to ethanol in the beginning," Mike said. Ten years ago the price of ethanol fluctuated between $1.06 and $1.21. Meanwhile gasoline prices averaged around $1.14.
Despite an uphill battle, Mike and Kathy Bryan and their staff of 27 are celebrating BBI's 10th anniversary. The Bryans have seen their company—and an industry—continue to evolve and become more significant in the United States and the world. "We hope to continue this tradition of growth," Mike said, "as BBI presents itself as a valuable resource in the biofuels industry."
Conference Division brings industry together
"The FEW has been our flagship," said Kathy, referring to the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo. She said 10 years ago they almost had to "beg exhibitors to bring a booth to the FEW." In 1995, attendance reached 188 with 13 exhibitors. Every year since, the Bryans have been amazed at the growth of the conference. Now in 2005, the FEW will be attended by more than 1,600 people from over 30 countries and have a full-fledged exposition with more than 260 industry companies exhibiting. Representatives from nearly every ethanol plant in the United States and Canada attend the event.
BBI uses its years of experience in the industry when organizing both its own conferences and their clients' events. BBI's first conference for a client was the National Ethanol Conference: Policy & Marketing for the U.S. ethanol industry's national trade association, the Renewable Fuels Association.
"We've also had the honor of working with organizations such as the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, Natural Resources Canada, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and many distinguished private organizations," said Vice President of Conference Services Angela Damman. "Our strength lies in helping the industry bring people together to disseminate their knowledge and share their expertise."
BBI's Conference Services division has administered close to 70 conferences and workshops over the past decade, including large conferences in China, India and Canada. BBI also worked on a grassroots level with state energy offices to host educational ethanol workshops in 25 states in five years. A series of renewable diesel workshops pushed BBI to branch out into the growing biofuels interests around the country. In October 2004 in Sacramento, Calif., BBI offered the first in an annual series of Regional Biofuel Workshop & Trade Shows.
Project development from concept to construction
BBI employs a team of engineers and project managers to assist clients in moving projects from concept to construction. The BBI project development team is a leading resource for ethanol, biodiesel, cellulosic and renewable energy projects throughout North America. The company's project development services include feasibility studies, business plans, project financing, market analyses, site and resource assessments, economic impact studies, business plans, and industry benchmarking and surveys. Clients include investors, future producers, existing producers, lenders, state and federal agencies, and independent research groups.
"We really provide the most complete package of anyone in the industry when it comes to project development," said Mark Yancey, vice president of Project Development.
Recently BBI has shifted its focus to complete project development services by working with clients through the entire project development process. "Many times we would do a feasibility study or business plan and the client would be left with the plan in hand wondering what to do now," Yancey said. "We've decided to focus on project development and bring these projects all the way to the point of actually starting construction. There is a lot more continuity when one company handles the entire process."
The division will also begin providing the option of financial management advice for plants that come on line.
Objectivity plays an important role to the project development division. BBI's team is not involved in the designing or building of plants. This objectivity is a valuable asset in securing financing for projects. The BBI project development team is also often called upon to speak at renewable energy events.
Publishing division continues to expand
The publishing division of BBI International has seen excellent growth in the past few years. But its success wouldn't have occurred without the meager beginnings of the ethanol industry's largest—and longest running—publication.
Ethanol Producer Magazine (EPM), was originally called the Energy Independent (EI), which began as a 12-page, six-issues-per-year newsletter. Mike recalled the first issues being put together in a spare bedroom. However, EI quickly grew. "As the industry matured it became apparent that it needed a true trade publication," Kathy said.
Joe Bryan took over EI in 1998 and turned it into a monthly two-color newsletter, reaching about 20 pages in length. Current Managing Editor Tom Bryan joined the team in 2000, and the planning stages for EPM were underway. The first edition was released in February 2002 at the National Ethanol Conference in San Diego, Calif.
"The industry hadn't had a trade publication that represented—and was written for—the industry," Joe said. "That's what EPM provided. It helps to bring the industry together and provide a little bit of common ground." EPM has grown from 32 pages in its first issue to over 100. The magazine reaches more than 2,500 people in 57 countries in both print and online versions.
The publishing division itself continues to grow, now putting out Biodiesel Magazine, the Fuel Ethanol Industry Directory, an Ethanol Plant Development Handbook and the Biodiesel Industry Directory.
"Right now there is a lot of new construction in the industry," Joe said. "Everyone accepts that won't go on forever. We're positioning ourselves to serve ethanol producers after the ethanol construction boom is over."
Recruiting service staffs the industry
BBI also serves the biofuels industry through its recruiting service. BBI Biofuels Recruiting delivers high-quality staffing services that will save customers time and provide the resources required to achieve companies' staffing goals within budget and on schedule.
"As far as we know, we are the first biofuels company to offer a recruiting service exclusively in the ethanol and biodiesel industry," Joe said.
One of the unique features of BBI Biofuels Recruiting is how it lands potential employees. BBI looks to parallel industries such as chemical processing or the brewing industries for potential ethanol job applicants. The goal is to grow the potential pool of qualified candidates within the biofuels industry.
BBI also offers a performance management system, which creates job descriptions and performance appraisals for each position in an existing plant. Turnkey staffing is another service in which a BBI employee serves on site prior to start-up in order to screen applicants for plant operations.
The company plans on developing a Web-based service with job postings and résumé searches in the near future.
BBI goes international
BBI has lived up to the "International" part of its name. The company announced the opening of its permanent office in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, in October 2004. BBI Biofuels Canada is a fully incorporated entity under the management of Sigrid Villeneuve. The office played a role in the first Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit. BBI's Conferences Division hosted the event in Toronto, Ontario, on Dec. 7. More than 300 participants attended.
The international office is just another continuation of BBI's influence outside the United States. Mike and Kathy have visited other countries on trade missions through the U.S. Grains Council. Mike recently returned from Pakistan, aiding that country in its bid to develop a renewable fuels industry. Working overseas has helped make BBI become a more trusted source in the industry, Mike said.
Looking to the future
After 10 years serving the ever-advancing biofuels industry, Mike Bryan sees BBI as being the premier renewable energy resource in the world. "BBI is the largest singly-focused renewable fuels company in the world right now," he said. "We employ 27 people strictly focused on ethanol and biodiesel."
That growth says something about the potential of a company that got its start in an industry with an unclear future. "Ten years ago there was such an anti-ethanol sentiment out there," Kathy said. "We believed in the product, but we didn't know if the product could overcome the opposition."
More than 3 billion gallons per year later, it's obvious ethanol is overcoming that opposition, helping to create a cleaner environment and reduce dependence on petroleum. That is something BBI employees don't take lightly. "Philosophically, it fits into the company's beliefs renewable fuels," Kathy said. "Everyone in the company works very long and hard hours. We're very excited about the higher purpose of actually helping grow the presence of renewable energy in the world."
Mike explains that success hinges on two things. The first is realizing a need for something. The second is fulfilling that need in a professional and effective way. BBI International has been filling that need for 10 years.
"If you get involved in ethanol, you can't ever walk away from it," Kathy said. "It's part of your system. Very few people leave the industry when you're committed to it like we are." EP
Dave Nilles is an Ethanol Producer Magazine staff writer. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (701) 746-8385.