How innovation turns shrimp waste into chitin – Back End News

Dr. Xie Qiam Lin, IPI Chief Technology Officer

The innovator has figured out how to turn shrimp waste into chitosan and chitin, which can be used in anything from cosmetics to environmentally friendly packaging. The IPI Intelligence Service then made his method commercially viable by introducing it to Mitsui.

In 2018, someone approached us at IPI with a serious problem. Robin Lowe, CEO of ARB Technologies, has been researching and developing innovative solutions in biotechnology and life sciences for more than two decades. One such antimicrobial composition could turn marine litter into higher value products, and Lowe was confident it could lead to commercially viable products if he could find the right like-minded strategic partners.

We at IPI agreed with him, and during TechInnovation 2018 we organized a meeting between Lowe and Innovation Scout from Mitsui, one of the largest corporate groups in the world. This would be the first time the CEO would have presented his company to such a large MNC.

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Luckily, Lowe got the chance. Mitsui has sought to turn the waste of shrimp from its farm and processing plants in Vietnam into a product of higher value – chitin. ARB’s core technology could do this better by turning this waste into chitosan, a biopolymer of even higher value with many applications.


Both sides began negotiations on an investment agreement for the project, with IPI offering ARB-related consultations to the ARB. In July 2020, an agreement on research cooperation was signed between ARB and Mitsui.

Although it took one simple agreement between a technology provider and a technology seeker to create a valuable product, innovation is no accident.

In fact, the ambition and drive to innovate will bear more fruit now that we are out of COVID-19. The management consulting firm McKinsey and Company found that companies investing in innovation during the crisis are likely to benefit during the difficult period and years thereafter. Those who did so during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 surpassed their counterparts in normalized market capitalization by 10% during the recession and up to 30% for several years thereafter.

To maximize their innovation capabilities, firms need to look externally to keep abreast of trends, identify useful new technologies, and identify opportunities for partnerships. But how can we start doing that?

Businesses can start by promoting a culture open to outside ideas. Leadership plays an important role and must initiate cultural change through leadership by example and by allowing these changes to occur from a top-down approach. They need to support these changes and all the risks associated with open innovation to achieve tangible results.

Innovative startups

It is worth introducing the concept of a technology roadmap to support organizations in their business and innovation transformation. Road mapping technology helps companies understand the external and internal factors that affect business.

Knowledge and understanding of these factors helps a company anticipate where to locate its business, as well as how to produce or improve products and services to increase market share.

At this point, they can identify the technological gaps that need to be filled, and whether they have their own capacity to address them, or whether they need to get them out.

This includes the search for IPI technologies. We can help companies looking for new technologies to help close gaps as well as assess their suitability. To do this, we review a number of sources, including universities, startups and venture communities, as well as third-party data sources such as patents or market reports.

Trade conferences and technology sessions are another valuable resource that can be used to track the latest technical developments and identify innovative startups.


Meanwhile, most universities and research institutes have dedicated departments and programs to publish their research to facilitate technology transfer (e.g., Nanyang University of Technology has an innovative and corporate company called NTUlive).

It is supported by a global network of solution providers, a team of proven technical experts, a program of innovation consultants to senior industry veterans, and technology and innovation managers who know what it takes to commercialize technology.

Part of this work can be automated with technology exploration software that analyzes data from online sources to identify research, patents, and technologies that meet a company’s needs, although this may only be practical for large corporations that have the resources.

More importantly, the final decision still has to be made by a person who understands the context of the technology to be obtained and can make judgments as to whether it is suitable for commercialization.

Over the years, we have helped companies as diverse as those looking for technology solutions to address sustainability, automate agricultural production, improve waste management and valorization, or diagnose infectious diseases at relief sites.

Revenue flows

During this time, we learned that it is not just about finding innovative technological solutions, but also about the fact that your company needs the culture to make the best use of them. Any discoveries you find need to be shared with all levels of your company, from management to field staff, so that the organization as a whole is involved in the innovation process.

The great thing is that once a company has introduced innovation into its culture, it is on the path to transformation. After signing a partnership agreement with Mitsui in 2018, ARB realized it could include chitosan produced in its final products. Thus, work in this area has offered many licensing opportunities and potential new revenue streams.

The experience of combining with a major MNC from research and development to commercialization has also given ARB an important insight into the requirements, thinking and culture of the company’s clients.

In the future, ARB intends to become a leading global player in the field of sustainable natural biomaterials upstream, while producing quality finished products downstream. Their goal: to become a vertical complex for sustainable living.

This ambition means that the team has once again collaborated with IPI to pursue technology search, seek new cutting-edge solutions and more like-minded people to collaborate, continuing the cycle of innovation.

Thanks to its interdisciplinary expertise and global network, IPI gives businesses access to innovative ideas and technologies. It also promotes and supports innovation processes of enterprises, including commercialization and market entry strategies.

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