NCFIL + N.C. PSI Partnership Creates Synergy in Plant-Based Food Industry
September 21, 2022
Building upon their previous professional relationship, Bill Aimutis and Adrian Percy see tremendous value in bringing together the best minds and expertise in the plant-based food industry to better agriculture for North Carolina and the global population.
As Executive Director of the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL), Aimutis oversees the cGMP pilot plant accelerating plant-based food research, ideation, development and commercialization. Percy, Executive Director of the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative (N.C. PSI), works with his team to approach agricultural challenges through interdisciplinary, team-based science in the pursuit of plant science innovation.
“Our two institutions are geographically close, and we’re connected by NC State University. It’s a perfect storm, in a good way. It would be irresponsible of us not to seek opportunities to work together,” says Percy.
An Influential Partnership
Aimutis and Percy have a strong desire to collaborate. “We’ve seen from our experiences in the industry that working in this manner can be very effective,” says Percy.
Both organizations have world-class facilities that offer unique opportunities, and very few academic institutions across the world have industry people running them. By leveraging each other’s expertise, they hope to accelerate development in both research and commercialization.
“I think we can make agriculture in North Carolina stronger, becoming a global center for agriculture and food technologies,” Aimutis says. “Other parts of the world are seeking to emulate what is happening in NC. We have an opportunity to change paradigms and thoughts along the way.”
Percy agrees: “This is an opportunity for the future. The diversity of agriculture in the state is impressive, and we can apply that to other areas.”
As the world’s demand for protein is expected to double by 2050, the need for alternative protein sources and the quality of plants from a nutrition perspective have become more important. “We can influence the protein content in grains we are producing, make the process better, minimize loss during harvest, and take waste and recycle it back in,” says Aimutis.
The Importance of Plant Science Innovation
N.C. PSI was set up to leverage the expertise both within and beyond the university walls. “Bringing all types of scientists to work on common issues is where innovation can really be effective. Complex problems will only be solved by applying different mindsets through an interdisciplinary approach of academic and industry experts,” Percy explains.
At NCFIL, Aimutis relies on the same team culture mindset. “Everything we do spells team,” he says. “We’re exposed to so many different things with our customer base; not any one of us can be an expert in everything. We utilize a team concept across the board, from product development to food safety to production.”
Building the Future
Both Aimutis and Percy moved from the private sector into the public sector later in their careers. Each explains that the opportunity to be involved in impactful positions was too good to pass up.
“We have the ability to influence some of the big challenges that are facing our environment and us as humans: food insecurity, climate change, fragile food systems. We can be on the forefront of these endeavors and deliver great things on a state and national scale,” Percy says.
Aimutis continues, “The opportunity to be innovative in food science is greater than at any time in my career. In the past two years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in food tech in North Carolina.”
Bringing an industry perspective into the academic space has proven to be valuable. “I am happy to share my past successes and mistakes to help others. At N.C. PSI, we are growing, learning and pushing boundaries in plant science research daily. It's been exciting to see students and faculty embrace this entrepreneurial spirit,” Percy says.
“I get to work with younger people early in their careers. It’s a sense of pride when you see where your people have risen,” Aimutis says. “My wife always said she could see me in a role like this. The opportunity with NCFIL looked like a good way to capstone my career.”
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