Succeeding together

Our growing collaborative ecosystem

In the last 15 years, as the breadth of technology expertise needed and the urgency to address global challenges has increased, Bühler has driven an ecosystem-based approach to innovation. Today, our growing global network of academic partners, start-ups, NGOs, customers, and suppliers contribute to delivering pioneering technology and business solutions that tackle issues such as climate change, food, and energy security, and accelerate the transition to more sustainable mobility. In this interview, CTO Ian Roberts explains how Bühler customers can benefit from this broad ecosystem.


How extensive is Bühler’s ecosystem today?

We have direct contact with thousands of start-ups and hundreds of academic partners, a sophisticated supplier base, and customers who are entrepreneurial and eager to have the latest solutions with which to accelerate their business growth and, more frequently, their net-zero journeys. We have spent the last years building up not just a map of network partners, but a close relationship with those partners. 

We spent a lot of time building up our ecosystem and we are not alone in this; many other companies are doing similar things. What makes our approach unique is our culture of innovation, experimentation and openness, and our willingness to share our ecosystem with our customers. 

Why did this collaboration journey start?

Bühler has always worked in partnership, be it with suppliers or with customers. New solutions had usually been launched with leading customers where together we ensure that solutions are running efficiently and can be optimized. However, 15 years ago we realized that the world is changing extremely fast, and technologies are developing at such a rate that it becomes extremely difficult and costly to hold expertise in all topics. If you just look at the examples of technologies around digitalization, be it IOT (Internet of Things), data science, AI (artificial intelligence) or new transaction and transparency systems, additive manufacturing, battery technology, sustainable proteins, or climate-friendly solutions. The tipping point in our journey was really when we

 understood the urgency with which we must transition industry to mitigate challenges such as climate change. Tackling these global issues calls for new business models and novel solutions requiring diverse skills and capabilities, and it is unrealistic that a single company could master all of this and bring solutions to market in a reasonable period. Therefore, we started building stronger partnerships with academic institutes and our suppliers and customers, but we also began to look in earnest at the world of start-ups.

For the past 15 years, we’ve been building our global ecosystem with the goal of contributing to solving some of the big burning issues of our time.

Ian Roberts, Chief Technology Officer at Bühler


How is value captured from this ecosystem? 

It is far from straightforward and, like all innovation projects, it does not always lead to the desired outcomes. The magic really happens when we can connect our ecosystem partners with the process and technology know-how and experience of Bühler employees. The key to unlocking the value of the external ecosystem is the openness and capability of our internal employees. 



And how far have we come today?

In terms of capabilities, we are becoming quite mature. Today, we are partnering with start-ups where we have about 25 proof of concepts running at any time across all our businesses. We have strong engagement from the business and R&D leaders in finding solutions faster in partnership. 

We also have a fantastic network of Application & Training Centers in 24 countries around the world that enable us not only to support our customers better, but also partner with companies such as Givaudan to bring better solutions to our customers in the plant-based meat world and to support start-ups in different ecosystems around the world.

What have we learnt on this journey about how to make collaboration work?

One of the key learnings from our years of building partnerships and collaborations is the importance of trust and respect between the partners. I cannot overstate how crucial this is. Obviously, there needs to be a technical and strategic fit. But the whole construction stands or falls on the way in which the partners deal with each other. I’m not just talking about the chemistry. Every collaboration is exciting at the beginning, but how do you handle the bumps in the road? These are a part of every collaboration journey, so it is essential to feel confident from the beginning that both sides will be open and constructive, and always respectful toward each other. If you do not have this as a foundation, the collaboration is unlikely to succeed over the long term, no matter how good the technical and strategic fit is. 

We have built many joint ventures and partnership programs including one of the biggest early-stage startup accelerators in Europe, and I can honestly say, trust, respect, and culture are my first screening criteria whenever someone approaches me.  


What are some examples of how Bühler connects with and fosters start-ups?

Three examples come to mind. The first is MassChallenge Switzerland, a cross-industry start-up accelerator that we joined as a founding partner in 2016. The non-profit accelerator attracts applications from over 1,000 start-ups a year for the early-stage accelerator program and another 500 later stage start-ups working on food system solutions each spring. These start-ups are not all local; in fact, in 2022 only 12 percent of applicants are Swiss-based. We have become attractive globally. This is possible because we have a great set of world-leading partners who support the program and bring a high value experience to the start-ups. 

A second interesting example is the Scale It Up! platform that we created in the US. Givaudan, Cargill, Puris, and Bühler got together and asked: “What if we could combine our know-how and capabilities to accelerate start-ups?” We agreed to start in Minneapolis, Minnesota where we all have strong R&D capabilities. 

We work together, providing start-ups access to our R&D and know-how, while ensuring that the start-ups keep their IP (intellectual property).  The 2021 winner – Nowadays – nailed their product scale-up and technology pathway. Nowadays creates an alternative protein resembling the taste, appearance, and mouth feel of poultry when rehydrated. As first place finisher, Nowadays received six months of mentoring and access to the state-of-the-art testing facilities of the four partners. The Scale It Up! program is now running with the same partners and formats in Europe and will go live across Asia soon. 

And the third example?

The third one is our extrusion lines, where we support plant-based meat start-ups around the world with our global network, be it our partnership with DIL (Deutsches Institut für Lebensmitteltechnik) in Germany, or our partnership with the ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). Among other things, this has given rise to the very successful start-up Planted Foods AG, which is now a scale-up company supplying their products to major grocery chains across Switzerland. We also offer start-ups the use of our labs in China, at several sites in the US, and in Singapore. 

In the US, one example is the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL). It is a pilot plant accelerating plant-based food research, development, and commercialization. We are also part of the Protein Industry Alliance in China, where a group of companies drive the transition to more sustainable protein sources working with Jiangnan University facilities and technology provided by Bühler. In Singapore, we run the Protein Innovation Centre with Givaudan, where we welcome food processing companies, start-ups, and university researchers looking to develop novel plant-based food products.


What business partnerships help Bühler support its customers?

On the business side, we have built great partnerships with companies such as Belgian technology supplier Vyncke, who frequently served the same customers as us, but we had worked independently. Vyncke builds and designs energy plants that produce thermal energy or electricity using biomass, waste, or other solid fuels that substitute fossil fuels. Now we work closely together to create optimized solutions for our customers, balancing thermal energy, side streams, and process efficiency. 

Our partnership with Hosokawa Alpine Group in Germany is another example. They have the key technology in the dry fine-grinding process for pulses. We decided that it is much faster to partner with a world leader and develop a total solution than it is to try and reinvent the wheel and lose five years, for example, in developing it on our own. 

What are the most drastic changes you see in how the different partners collaborate?

What we have seen is that if we look at collaboration around areas such as digitalization 5 or 10 years ago, people were deeply concerned about who owns what and how to work together. What we see now is a laser focus on the benefit. What is the value created? Can this accelerate my business success and my sustainability commitments? This new focus has changed partnerships today because of strong goal alignment. So, many of our customers, like us, are fighting to make major steps in contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and be responsible in their business activities, yet safeguard the incomes of their employees, suppliers, and customers. 

How do you drop greenhouse gas emissions and grow your company? As you reduce your land footprints, how do you make sure that land is reused in a way that supports nature and biodiversity? We see more companies are open to partners on this journey as we all realize that it is too big a challenge for one company to tackle alone. 


In what ways have these challenges impacted Bühler’s network?

We have started to work with more non-profits that address exactly these questions. Today we have partners such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a CEO-led community of over 200 of the world’s leading sustainable businesses working collectively to accelerate the system transformations needed for a net-zero, nature positive, and more equitable future. We also partnered with Climeworks, which has developed a direct air capture technology that permanently removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and Restor, an organization that increases the transparency and connectivity of ecosystem restoration efforts worldwide. We’ve also been sending Bühler delegates to One Young World (OYW) since 2016 and have been a partner since then. This organization gathers young leaders from around the world to develop solutions to pressing issues. We’ve built on this partnership, hosting summits in Switzerland in 2019 and 2021. The next will take place in June 2022.

Non-profits provide deep knowledge and guidance on how to progress and bring huge networks to support the mission to tackle climate change.


What is an exciting example of a project within the Bühler network that is already running to tackle climate change?

A great example is bioprocessing. What is challenging our food system today is that we need to feed 10 billion people by 2050, but utilize 30 percent less agricultural land. One of the levers that we can find is the ability to produce protein through bioprocessing. We are looking into how fermentation and cell cultivation will influence our diets in the future and how we can use the full potential of that to help feed the growing population sustainably.

What makes our approach unique is our culture of innovation, experimentation, and openness, and our willingness to share our ecosystem with our customers.

Ian Roberts, Chief Technology Officer at Bühler

How does Bühler’s collaborative ecosystem address the topic of food security?

For the past 15 years, we’ve been building our global ecosystems with the goal of contributing to solving some of the big burning issues of our time, be that mitigating climate change by reducing energy, waste, water and CO2 emissions, transitioning to a sustainable food system that will feed 10 billion people, or accelerating the transition to a more sustainable mobility system. We want to evolve our industries and ourselves such that every human being can enjoy a good life, and have access to affordable, healthy food, and clean mobility within the boundaries of our planet. One of our key targets is to improve access to affordable, nutritious food. 


What are some partnership examples aimed at improving food security? 

We have many examples, including Africa Improved Foods (AIF) in Rwanda, which is producing relief foods and foods to address malnutrition in Rwanda and sub-Saharan Africa. AIF’s premise is to support African countries so they reach a level where they no longer need international support and can be economically self-sustaining using local capacities. Improving food security requires efficient food production at an industrial scale. And if I look at the food parks that we have built around the world in the past few years, they hugely contribute to that. Food parks, such as those we developed with customers such as Carrinho in Angola, or NSPO in Egypt produce in high volume, dropping costs of food and increasing accessibility. Carrinho’s vision is to be the driving force for Angola’s food and nutrition self-sufficiency, and with its current food park, they produce food to cover the needs of 15 million people, that’s nearly half of the population. That’s an incredible impact on driving food security at scale. 

Through our long-standing collaboration with Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), a non-profit aiming to strengthen food security, improve nutrition, and increase overall economic development across Africa, we support food entrepreneurs in African countries with the expertise of our employees, who volunteer to work on PFS initiatives. 

We have also joined forces with several Swiss industrial companies, ETH Zurich, and Ashesi University in Ghana to develop a Master’s program for engineering students from sub-Saharan Africa. The partner companies, including Bühler, support with funds and scholarships, and build relationships with students who will later be highly-skilled local engineers.


What partnerships address energy security?

Our partnership with Vyncke to offer low-carbon-emission food plants is a key element of our strategy to reduce CO2 emissions in the value chains of our customers. Vyncke designs and builds clean energy systems that combust biomass and waste to produce thermal process energy. Whether it’s grain, rice, corn, or cocoa; Vyncke’s solutions turn food and feed manufacturers’ biomass by-products into a climate-neutral form of energy. This creates a neutral CO2 cycle and enables customers to save energy costs. 

Improving food security requires efficient food production at an industrial scale. Food parks hugely contribute to that.

Ian Roberts, Chief Technology Officer at Bühler

In 2019, Bühler committed to have solutions ready to multiply by 2025 that will reduce energy, waste, and water by 50 percent in the value chains of its customers. How is this progressing?

We are focusing our R&D on these targets, we can track our investments, we are starting to track impact from the solutions we install, and we are learning how to track the impact of services on the global installed base. We have notable examples of success, but it is not yet enough, and we will continue to drive towards these targets for 2025. This target has accelerated our need for strong and meaningful partnerships to enable us to achieve these goals. 


What are Bühler’s plans for its ecosystem?

We have so many challenges ahead of us, but three seem critical. How will we contribute to tackling climate change? Can we restore and protect nature and biodiversity? Can we close the wealth gap? We will continue with much more energy to build and engage with innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems with the goal of creating and supporting businesses that will tackle these challenges. 

Content Block

How can we help?

Gupfenstrasse 5