Laurie Jugan, Independent Consultant at Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MSET) at Stennis Space Center, is a leading innovator in the commercialization community.  Hank Torbert, founder of The Frontier Conference, interviews her about how an innovation economy helps create jobs.

Laurie, you are a proven leader in the innovation and commercialization community. Can you share your background and current activities?

I have both a technical and a business background, the combination of the two has served me surprisingly well in my current, second career. I have a Masters degrees in Oceanography and Business Management. I worked for a small technology company for 25 years – as you know, in a small company, people have many hats. My hats ranged from conducting research to running a cost center and writing proposals. I’ve held almost every position there is in a small company (never was an owner or President), so I can relate to the issues companies face. Currently, I am an independent consultant mainly supporting the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MSET), located at Stennis Space Center. I help companies navigate through the nuances of federal contracting, tech transfer, and working with other companies.

The Gulf region has some strategic advantages in terms of aerospace and manufacturing technology development, universities, corporations and organizations (such as those that make up our innovation ecosystem). Can you give a quick overview of the Gulf’s regional strengths?

Yes, these are traditional industries in the Gulf region that have developed mainly as a result of strong leaders in the area. In aerospace, that leader is NASA. When you have a big name like that, it attracts others in that sector. In manufacturing, innovation has been more university-led, with universities like Mississippi State taking on education/training roles to support these industries.

Can you share some of Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MSET) initiatives? What are the key areas for innovation? What are the focus sectors?

MSET is currently entrenched in a whole new look at the Gulf coast economy that focuses on the water asset. This “new” industry, which we are calling the Blue Economy, might even be an addition to the Frontier Conference in years to come! Key innovations in this sector include the use of autonomous unmanned systems. Initially affordable by the Navy and Oil & Gas industries, we are now seeing smaller, more agile systems being developed for entirely new applications.

I firmly believe that an innovation economy can help to create jobs. This is also part of the MIST Industry Cluster’s core mission. As this is very important to New Orleans, can you elaborate on how jobs can be created through innovation?

First, we are seeing more new start-ups that focus on advancing a technology. These range from the one-person operation to those that skyrocket to 250+ employees. In this case, inventors are coming up with new designs that take a capability to a whole new level. Second, technology insertion creates new jobs – for example, the Navy at Stennis will be looking for perhaps hundreds of new employees to support their fleet of underwater gliders in the next 3-5 years.

What are some of the key partnerships in the Gulf region that are focused on innovation and technology transfer?

Collaboration is really key in innovation and technology transfer. It’s not easy to identify a technology and then find a company that can take it to market, then find buyers. That’s why conferences like The Frontier Conference are so important – you never know when the next key partnership will present itself. We partner with federal and state agencies, other tech transfer offices, companies, investors, you name it.

What companies and products have emerged from these efforts?

There are several – I’ll give you two examples. We have a client company that is about to go into production of a small, towed acoustic array that can localize marine mammals in an area. This helps others, whose work makes really loud sounds underwater, know when they can continue or need to temporarily stop their work. Another client is working on using available databases and models to determine if damage to a property was from wind or water following a severe storm.

Several entrepreneurs have tried to commercialize technology. While some were successful, others were not. What is the best advice you have for someone who wants to develop and commercialize intellectual property or a research-driven idea?

Understand the uses of your technology. Many technologists focus on the amazing thing they’ve created. They talk all about its functionality, but do not translate that to what it means to a potential customer. The customer is looking for a solution to his or her problem and needs to know how this new technology will help.

The Frontier was created to bring key industry participants together and highlight Louisiana and the Gulf Region’s key innovation assets. With this said, as a region, what improvements can be made to foster greater cooperation among innovation economy participants (e.g. universities, entrepreneurs, research institutions, corporations, economic development organizations, etc.)?

I think your reference to the area as a ‘region’ says it all. We have to proactively support the region. Many times, we are concerned with boundaries and competition. We have to find ways to work better together and know that any success is the region’s success. Again, opportunities like The Frontier Conference allow us to share information and success stories in other sectors that might be applicable to sectors needing similar solutions.



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Original Post By: CityBusiness Guest Perspective, March 12, 2018

Alex Reed, co-founder and CEO of Fluence Analytics, is a leading entrepreneur and technology innovator in the advanced manufacturing and chemicals industry. Hank Torbert, a founder of The Frontier Conference, interviews him about how his New Orleans-based company has sustained itself in a changing sector.


Alex, you are the founder one of, in my opinion, the most impressive industrial emerging company in our area. Can you tell me a little about Fluence Analytics, your team and how it was started in New Orleans?

Fluence Analytics is a spin-out from Tulane University that delivers hardware and software products for the measurement and control of polymer and biopharmaceutical processes. The foundational technologies were invented at Tulane University by  Wayne Reed, a longtime physics faculty member. Over the years, federal, state and corporate sources funded his work which positioned us to spin out in 2012 and commercialize these pioneering technologies. We have 12 issued patents and 35 pending applications to date and are very focused on innovation and technology. (Reed) is also my father, so I grew up hearing about his research and worked with him in the lab. Later, after graduating from Tulane, I took on the role of the entrepreneur leading the business. We co-founded the business with Mike Drenski, our chief technical officer, and Bill Bottoms, our chairman. Since then, we have continued to grow and build out an incredible team of very talented scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds. We truly have an exceptional group of people and are very excited about the opportunities ahead.

The chemicals industry is rapidly transforming through mergers, increased research and development, etc. What is driving innovation in the chemicals sector? Who is leading the development of new technologies?

There are many factors driving innovation in the chemicals space. Many of these come from the ever-expanding opportunities for materials in advanced applications such as lightweight materials, energy storage, 3-D printing, etc. As material properties are improved through new types of chemistry and improving advancements in enabling manufacturing technologies, their applications are expanded into more and more complex areas. On the other side, there is much M&A activity, which constantly changes the industry and the players. Sometimes it also provides opportunities for cultural and technological cross-pollination. However, it is much harder to understand the impact on innovation from M&A in general.

In your view, where will we see the greatest disruption in the chemicals sector?

Operationally, once a solid foundation of use cases can be built, automation, data analytics and connected technologies (what many are calling Industrial Internet of Things) will have a significant impact on efficiency, quality and end product composition. Hyper-specialized applications and unique business models to take advantage of smaller (modular), higher value production will be developed in certain markets. Even transformation of performance properties for commodity products will drive further innovation on the chemistry. We have also seen a wave of new synthesis pathways for chemical feedstocks and computer models in the lab capable of running ‘experiments’ without requiring physical experiments.

Fluence Analytics is a great example of when an innovation eco-system works optimally and keystakeholders (universities, angel investors, advisors) develop and support the emergence of a company. How did these efforts help you to form and grow Fluence?

We were very fortunate to have a base of multinational chemical and pharma companies supporting original R&D efforts while at the university. We also benefited tremendously from the networks at Tulane and in the local ecosystem. From Tulane, we had support and introductions from the Office of Technology Transfer, and I gained access to mentorship from our chairman and many others. Locally, participating in the Idea Village accelerator and working for many years with the New Orleans BioInnnovation Center, including financial support from the BioFund, have also been very helpful to our growth. Additionally, there were several beneficial tax credits and state programs from Louisiana Economic Development that helped, including SBIR R&D, Technology Commercialization and Software Development Tax Credits as well Economic Gardening and CEO Roundtables. We also benefitted from competitive federal grants for technology development from the U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation. Finally, some of the early financing, prior to our institutional round, was primarily a group of local investors. Overall, we have received a lot of support and assistance from many sources.

As we seek to create and industrial innovation eco-system in New Orleans, how important is it for us to support the commercialization and tech transfer efforts our universities? What can we do better?

University tech transfer and talent development is critical for this type of activity.  Universities, if presented with the appropriate problem sets, can produce highly impactful technology for many industrial areas. Linking faculty, and especially students, to real world problems that need to be solved would be a big support of this effort. This requires industry interaction and experts defining critical need areas. Overall, the ecosystem is very supportive and receptive of viable business ideas, so more of these is the logical place to start.

You have deep knowledge of chemicals and manufacturing sectors We all talk about expanding advanced manufacturing sector in Louisiana. Is that viable? What types of companies would benefit?

Yes, it is possible with the right focus areas and investments. Some of the areas that have seen major success in similar or parallel industries were often catalyzed by a major state or federal investment in partnership with key stakeholders. It is no secret that Louisiana has a lot of manufacturing and related industries, and pulling it all together to find common areas through a coordinated effort would drive a lot of this. With the right environment, as seen in other innovation focused metro areas, the entire value chain would benefit from small manufacturers and technical service providers all the way through large, established manufacturers adopting new technology.

What’s the future for Fluence Analytics? The company has grown rapidly, and you have an amazing team.

We have launched new generations of our products and have now focused on several key markets to drive growth. We will be very focused on those efforts in the near term to grow the business while continuing to advance our technologies.



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February 23, 2018


Kirk Coburn is member of Shell Technology Ventures, Shell’s corporate venture capital fund and a successful serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and early-stage angel investor. Hank Torbert, a founder of The Frontier Conference, interviews Coburn about the energy industry’s ongoing transformation.

You have been an active investor and leader in the energy innovation space for decades. Tell me a little about why you focused on the space?

I feel called to be here. My grandfather and father were both in the energy industry. It is in my blood and something that captured my imagination since being a small child. I used to look at gigantic jackup rigs leaving port and be in awe at the engineering and mastery. As a child, my grandfather would show me photographs of the ancient and modern world depicting an industry that literally enables human development. I also live and play in the outside world and know that we have a great opportunity and responsibility to manage the energy transition. There has never been a better time to be in this space.

What are the key drivers of innovation in the oil and gas sector now?

In oil and gas, the two key motivational drivers are lowering costs and making existing operations more sustainable. There so many macro issues driving innovation right now including: advances in software, massive changes in generational makeup, the change in mindset from peak oil to abundance, the rise of unconventional resources and society’s ambition to move to a low carbon future. As a result, entrepreneurs are leveraging the macro trends to deliver solutions that are cheaper, cleaner and safer.

The oil and gas industry is built in innovation – from onshore and offshore drilling methods, use of AUVs/UAVs, transport, etc. What technologies and ideas will be the most disruptive for the sector?

This deserves a much longer discussion. In a nutshell, the large problems that we are trying to solve include reducing the number of people onsite (robotics, automation, IOT) both onshore and offshore, adapting to a hyper cyclical industry that rises and falls with the commodity price (new business models including on-demand labor) and increasing the efficacy of production (technologies that improve completions and maximize production which include better chemistry, software and downhole tools).

As major oil and gas companies focus on becoming “energy” with a broad range of solutions for their customers, how willing are they to adopt new technologies?

Shell is a global leader in embracing the energy transition as we have recently announced huge acquisitions in solar, wind and electric vehicle charging solutions. More to come!

If I were an entrepreneur seeking to provide innovative solutions to the energy sector, what should I be focused on now?

The future of energy is a land grab, and the elephant in the room is the utility. Electrification is coming. Not only is the world trying to replace hydrocarbon-based power generation with electricity coming from renewables, 16 percent of the world is still living without any power at all.

What’s the most impressive technology you have seen this year?

I believe in the power of the platform. I was at Dell when the internet took off, and we are only touching the surface. Uber was launched in 2009 and is now a household word. Alibaba features almost a billion products on its platform and does not own a single item of inventory. Airbnb is the larger than any hotel chain and does not own a single property. Facebook is the world’s largest media company and does not produce a single piece of content. The platform is coming to oil and gas and will soon change how we do business.

I get a lot of questions about capital availability for emerging companies in the industrials sector, including energy.  What can you tell us about the VCs and corporate venture capital firms’ appetite for new technologies? Is this the right time, given the changes in the energy sector?

The right time is NOW. There is so much happening across the entire energy value chain, the capital is available. Due to the market dynamics of large customers that require high protection of our people, we are careful in selecting the right teams that have a capability and history of being able to execute. We do invest in first-time entrepreneurs, but they must understand the risks and be able to answer why they should be trusted. We are not any different than most endeavors.



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Original Post By:, February 9, 2018


Will Sarni is a leading innovator and investor in the global water industry. He has authored numerous books and articles and presented on the value of water, innovations in digital water technology, the circular economy and the energy-water-food nexus. He has been a water strategy advisor to private and public-sector enterprises and NGOs, working with multinational companies across a range of industry sectors in evaluating the technical viability and market potential of innovative water technologies, market entry strategies and M&A programs.

Hank Torbert, a founder of The Frontier Conference, interviews Sarni about the industry’s ongoing transformation.

Will, you have deep experience in the water industry. Can you tell me a little about you and your background?

I started my career as a hydrogeologist working on water supply and large contaminant hydrology (e.g., Superfund) projects throughout the US. Around 1999, I became aware of, and ultimately hooked, on sustainability and pivoted my environmental consulting firm to be a leading sustainability strategy firm. We focused on water, renewable energy, climate change and green building programs. Over the past 10 years I have focused exclusively on providing water strategy and technology innovation advisory services primarily to private sector companies.

In my opinion, the water industry is experiencing its own “industrial revolution.” Why is the industry so important now? Is the industry positioned to grow? Why is water referred to as the new “oil” globally?

I agree with your view of the water sector and trends. The water sector is undergoing a transformation as the reality of water scarcity and poor water quality impacts the private and public sectors. These private and public sector actors include water and wastewater utilities, companies, governments and civil society. As a result, there is a movement to develop innovative solutions in technology, financing, business models and partnerships. In particular, digital technology solutions are gaining interest and scale with utilities and industrial companies and also a move by the public sector to better understand water data to inform public policy.

With regards to water as the new oil – we can do without oil, but not water.

Who are the major players in the sector and what is the total market size?

Major players in the water sector include private and public utilities (e.g., American Water, Severn Trent, DC Water), solution providers (e.g., SUEZ, Veolia, Ecolab), technology providers (e.g., Xylem, Badger Meter), water technology accelerators (e.g., ImagineH2O, WaterStart), consulting and engineering firms (e.g., MWH/Stantec, Arup) and multinationals (The Coca Cola Company, Nestle SA).

The market size is difficult to estimate as it can include all of the stakeholder categories mentioned above. However, to give you a sense of one aspect of the market, the global water treatment market is estimated at $600bn – $800bn pa).

What are the key drivers transforming the water industry? And what are new technologies and innovations that we should be focused on?

The major drivers transforming the industry include: water scarcity, poor water quality, Sustainable Development Goals – SDG 6 (universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene), climate change impacts and costs to repair and replace aging water infrastructure. My view is that the major innovation trends are in digital solutions (e.g., remote sensing, IoT and AI), real time water quality monitoring, decentralized and distributed water treatment, alternative water supplies (e.g., Zero Mass Water), innovative business models (e.g., water as a service), innovative financing (e.g., green bonds and blended finance) and partnerships (e.g., water funds).

Are there recent occurrences that underscore why the industry and proliferation of new technologies are so important?

Flint, Michigan was an eye-opener in the U.S. and has catalyzed technology innovation in water quality monitoring and alternative sources of water. Other issues such as water scarcity (the “drought”) in California and the western U.S., overextraction of groundwater in the Central Valley of California and the Ogallala Aquifer, saltwater intrusion, urban stormwater management and the energy – water – food nexus stress (no water no food, etc.).

What are other industries whose growth is tied to the water management sector? For instance, energy.

We need water for agricultural production and for thermoelectric power generation. In the U.S. we use about 41 percent for thermoelectric power generation (non-consumptive use) and the same amount for agricultural production. We also need water for other industrial uses such as heavy manufacturing and semiconductor manufacturing. AS a client of mine says, no water – no beer.

Louisiana and other areas are well positioned to have robust water management eco-systems and be hotbeds for innovation in the sector. What can we do better to bring more companies here and expand our base in the water management sector?

I agree. We need to mobilize industry, academic institutions, public sector leaders, non-governmental organizations and the entrepreneurial community to build a water technology hub/accelerator. This would be similar to Water Start in Las Vegas, Current in Chicago along with ImagineH2O in San Francisco. These hubs/accelerators have a global reach.

What is your vision for the water industry?

Greater adoption of innovative technologies, financing, business models and partnerships. Also, changes in public policy (e.g., western water law, water trading) need to catch up to the realities of water scarcity – essentially the new normal. Finally, we need to do a much better job of bringing in outsiders into the sector to provide a fresh view of innovative solutions. Organizations such as ImagineH2O, and prize competitions have proven successful in accelerating innovation by engaging entrepreneurs from outside the water sector.


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  January 30, 2018