Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Tiny Micromidas takes a big step, builds biorefinery in West Sacramento

Published: Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Chemical engineer John Bissell has done it. He's built a tiny biorefinery in West Sacramento where he's begun to test out whether he can use cardboard to create bioplastics.

"For any technologist, whether you're a chemist or a biologist or an engineer, getting to see the work that you're doing be put into use is absolutely one of the most exciting things that can happen," said Bissell, chief executive of West Sac-based Micromidas Inc. "I imagine it's akin to an author getting to publish a book or you getting to see how your articles are received."

Bissell, as you may recall, is keen to supply consumer products companies such as Coca-Cola and Kimberly-Clark with an alternative to the petrochemical they use to make plastic containers. The price of that chemical, known as paraxylene, swings wildly depending on the availability of oil stocks. Companies are looking to reduce the impact of these price fluctuations on their bottom lines, and an alternative biochemical would help stabilize inventories.

Bissell hopes to have the pilot producing the bio-alternative by December, though not at full capacity. If the pilot is successful, it will give Micromidas a boost in attracting companies that want to brew up commercial-size stocks.

It won't sell itself

Kraig Clark and Andrew Battistessa, friends since their days at Lodi High School, figured out together how to transform a tiny startup into a valuable takeover target.

Clark founded CoreLogic Systems with Steve Schroeder, a buddy from business school at Sacramento State. Battistessa was their first hire. CoreLogic, a pioneer in mortgage risk analysis, was sold to First American in 2007 in a deal made up of stock and $100 million in cash.

Clark and Battistessa believe that success story bears repeating, so they formed a company called Auqeo four years ago. The two friends show young and midstage companies how to expand sales and handle the mounting workload that comes with it.

"Since CoreLogic, I've actually been in investor presentations where the founders are saying … 'This thing is so cool it's going to sell itself,' " Clark said. "Then 12 months later, it's gone because it didn't sell itself. So you start going, 'There's a gap missing in the entrepreneurial world.' I don't think they focus enough on sales."

Auqeo, which means "to grow" in Latin, is a sales organization with a twist. Clark and Battistessa actually recruit, hire, train, coach and mentor sales teams for each of their clients. Their office, located in an office park near Mather Airport, is essentially an incubator.

"We're helping to scale and drive revenue while we're helping to create a sustainable sales team that understands the market, their company culture, product and then at the end of our engagement … we actually transition that sales team over to our customer," Battistessa explained.

That process can take years to complete, Battistessa and Clark said, because it takes time to understand the sales cycle, develop cohesive bonds and teach executives how to motivate their sales teams. They said a transition that comes too early can actually hurt sales goals and retention.

Claims, payments united

United Healthcare is now offering an online service where its 92,000 Sacramento-area members can not only check claims and track medical expenses but also pay medical providers.

United's new online bill payment service, known as myClaims Manager, launched July 25 at and has processed more than $2.3 million in payments so far.

"The online bill payment capability … is linked to a trend in which people more and more are moving to high-deductible health plans or have health savings accounts or spending plans," said Victoria Bogatyrenko, vice president of product development and innovation for United Healthcare, based in its New York office. "The tools that we're building like this one allow you to make a payment through your health savings account online directly to your health provider."

Consumers can also pay with a credit card or with an electronic check from their bank, Bogatyrenko said. United Healthcare is offering online bill payment to more than 21 million of its members nationwide.

Call The Bee's Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter: @CathieA_SacBee.

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