Apple Valley, Minn.-based Uponor North America, a manufacturer of cross-lined polyethylene (PEX) pipes for plumbing, heating and fire safety, is looking to incubate and integrate products and partners with a new business function.
Called New Venture Development, the business unit is headed by Doug Fulton, an Uponor vice president who also has held marketing and business development positions at Andersen Corp. and Walt Disney Co.
As head of the NVD business, Fulton will oversee a team to develop, launch and incubate new initiatives and strategic partnerships as well as take a lead on industry and regulatory affairs and project management.
"Both functions play essential roles in successfully evaluating and commercializing new business ventures," Fulton told Plastics News.
With $375 million in annual sales, Uponor North America is the No. 13 pipe, profile and tubing extruder in North America, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.
Uponor's partnership with Reno, Nev.-based Pestan North America in September 2019 helped solidify the need for a New Venture Development team, according to Fulton, who is overseeing the business incubation work to market and sell PNA's proprietary pipe and fittings made from polypropylene, random copolymer, with modified crystallinity and temperature resistance (PP-RCT).
Uponor will market more than 270 of PNA's products, which are used in commercial plumbing and hydronic projects, and become the only North American company to offer hybrid systems, including PEX and PP-RCT.
"While PP-RCT systems share some common ground with Uponor's PEX business, there are also many differences," Fulton said. "The formation of a cross-functional business team to incubate this new opportunity is a model for similar ventures. These businesses need both connectivity with the rest of the organization and specific focus to be optimally successful."
After a formal launch of the PP-RCT product offering, Uponor will serve as PNA's exclusive distributor throughout the United States and Canada.
Fulton's responsibilities also involve mergers and acquisitions, codes and standards, and Uponor Innovations LLC, which was established in 2013. Fulton said Uponor Innovations is the first filter for opportunities, many of them unsolicited, that may be of interest to Uponor North America.
Carl Moe, a business analyst at Uponor Innovations, vets the opportunities and suggests which ones may warrant closer evaluation.
"Once a prospective partnership has passed this initial evaluation, a business development team within Uponor leads the next steps, which often include entering a concept in our stage gate process," Fulton said.
The goal of NVD is to expand the company's growth opportunities by shepherding the top concepts through the new product development process and establishing strategic partnerships.
"Once a new product is brought to market, the NVD team incubates the business to ensure it has sufficient resourcing to gain traction," Fulton said. "When the business is sufficiently mature, it transitions to the core portfolio, and the NVD team shifts resources to another new venture."
Fulton reports to Uponor North America President Bill Gray, who said the name New Venture Development reflects the way company officials see the business world evolving in the month and years ahead.
"With the creation of our New Venture Development function, Uponor is doubling down on innovation," Gray said.
Fulton added: "It enables us to expand into new ways to meet customer needs without diverting resources from growing our core business."
Fulton most recently served as Uponor's vice president of product marketing and also was the senior director of corporate strategy and segment marketing. He holds an MBA from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Toledo.
Uponor North America is a subsidiary of Finland-based Uponor Oyj, which had sales of 1.1 billon euros in 2019. The subsidiary is marking its 30th year in North America., where it evolved from underfloor heating systems for residential projects to plumbing and heating.
"All the while, we've improved our customers' experiences through innovations like colored pipe to identify hot and cold water lines, an increased array of pipe diameters to meet more design needs," Fulton said. "Most recently, we launched a line of reducing tees to pare down the number of connections in a system — again saving contractors time and money. The launch of PP-RCT is among our more ambitious ventures, and with the NVD team established, we intend to build on this level of customer-focused innovation."