I’ve been told Benson Hill sounds like a winery or a cigarette company. In a more literal query someone asked what about a hill in Benson (a small town in North Carolina) was so inspiring…
When we founded Benson Hill Biosystems, we wanted a company name that would reflect our purpose and values. Our initial focus – photosynthesis – has a riddled history of discovery and research that required a name worthy of both. At the time, I was reading a book called “Eating the Sun” by Oliver Morton. It’s in part about the early discovery work on photosynthesis, a biography of sorts and the field’s earliest pioneers. This is how I was introduced to Andrew Benson and Robin Hill.
In school we learn of an important process in plants called the Calvin Cycle, which over time has been shorted from the Calvin-Benson Cycle for convenience. In reality, it was in Melvin Calvin’s laboratory at UC Berkeley where Andy Benson was behind this seminal discovery of the cycle of carbon fixation, which is at the heart of photosynthesis and, by virtue, responsible for all living organisms.
Much of Andy Benson’s significant work was unfairly misattributed, resulting in the lost opportunity for him to receive a much deserved Nobel Prize. Though this had been understood in pockets of the academic community, only later in life did Benson openly share some of his feelings on the matter.
Before he passed away last year, I had the honor of meeting with Dr. Benson at his home outside of San Diego. We spoke about his career and some of his work. I was taken by his open, welcoming demeanor and, despite being 95, his detailed recall of decades past events.
We had the chance to discuss the name Benson Hill Biosystems, and while he seemed pleased at this, he was also baffled. “Why me?” he inquired. When I asked him what he thought about improving photosynthesis, he responded “I think that might be the craziest thing I ever heard.” His humility and candor exemplified two of the core values we strive to emulate and continues to underscore the reasoning behind our namesake.
Robin Hill was another brilliant scientist. He played a critical role in understanding photosynthesis through his discovery of the reaction in which oxygen is produced from the splitting of water, and the Z-Scheme, the process by which electrons are transferred from one molecule to another to capture solar energy in photosynthesis.
United as Benson Hill
These two pioneers of foundational scientific knowledge did not receive due credit for their contributions. Our work builds on theirs, and in naming ourselves after Andrew Benson and Robin Hill, we pay homage to their work and dedicate ourselves to bold thinking like those that came before us. We further dedicate ourselves to empowering others with our work to make the world a better place, and we dedicate ourselves to the values these men embodied, which makes innovation possible.