Because nature has proven so successful in her engineering over the last 3.8 billion years, "asking nature" and mining her expertise has become a smart tactic for innovative businesses.   A critical part of that business innovation will be to sort out how to translate Nature's skill and know-how into solutions to the myriad challenges and opportunities we face.


Tom McKeag, author of “The Biomimicry Column” at, explains the challenges of bringing biomimetic products to market. Mother Nature does not typically provide us whole-cloth solutions, but instead “structure, process or system emulations that are embedded in everyday items.”   It is left up to us to mimic those properties, apply them into meaningful products and solutions, and get them taken up into the market.  Tom describes the challenge further: “Not only must we translate an idea into tangible material, but we must also abstract an alien worldview into the methods and materials we are familiar with.” **

To that end, several incubation models have emerged in recent years, all aiming to nurture technologies which have thrived in Nature’s laboratories.   Today’s SMART innovation interview, the last in a series of innovation stories from GreenBiz’ 2013 San Francisco Forum, represents a new one to watch closely.   In this model, corporations are invited to bring their industrial challenges to the [San Diego] zoo.   There, in the first of a two-workshop process, biologists match animal and plant species’ natural adaptations to the functional requirements of the specific industrial challenge brought to bear.  Once the biologists have gathered the myriad options, the engineers and designers get to work.


Other Bio-incubators have started up in recent years, applying diverse models in their quest. StartUpNectar, for example, is a biomimicry incubator spawned by the Bay Area Biomimicry Network.  Currently in Beta, StartUpNectar’s incubation service and organization is itself informed by the core biomimetic Principles of Life. Meanwhile in NY State, NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) has "embraced biomimicry as one avenue to innovation", matching "clean tech companies with academics doing cutting edge research in natural systems and programs."


As with all living systems, survival of the fittest (incubator) will certainly be at play in the years to come.   But forgive us at InnovatingSMART for hoping they all succeed!


** Follow Tom McKeag at GreenBiz for great stories at The Biomimicry Column.  For a deeper dive, check out the Zygote Quarterly, a gorgeous online publication which Tom co-edits.

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