American Type Culture Collection

Situation

American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), which is based in Manassas, Virginia, is a global biological materials resource and standards organization with a long and storied history. At its inception in the 1920s and for several decades, it was a nonprofit organization regarded as simply a microbe collection, which depended primarily on government funding to stay afloat. As federal spending priorities shifted during the 20th century, the organization languished, suffering from a siloed organizational structure, outdated facilities, and the absence of standardized handling practices. These challenges had grave repercussions for the future of scientific inquiry.

Raymond Cypess took the helm of the organization in 1993 with a clear purpose: To reinvigorate the organization, raise its profile in the biological sciences, and serve as a strong advocate for standards in biological research. Cypess, whose background included a number of federal government and scholarly positions, sought to adopt a business model to ensure ATCC could become and remain self-sustaining as its collection grew and bioresources were circulated more widely for research purposes.

By the 2010s, Cypess’ efforts had paid off: He had transformed ATCC from a nonprofit repository into a vital resource for those pursuing advances in the biological sciences, with ATCC serving as a pioneer of global enterprise in the sciences. Cypess sought to preserve the story of ATCC’s transformation to educate and inspire business leaders, nonprofit professionals and policymakers, as well as peers in the scientific community and ATCC’s own leadership.

Solution

ATCC approached The History Factory in the spring of 2015 to help produce a lasting legacy of the organization’s transformation to a self-sustaining entity. The History Factory worked closely with Cypess and other key stakeholders at ATCC to connect the organization’s current and future business goals with its past accomplishments and create a compelling narrative that would capture ATCC’s unique evolution to a self-sustaining bioresource center.

The History Factory started by conducting a Clear Line of Sight session, a facilitated workshop that maps out key connections between the proposed publication and the organization’s business imperatives, and confirms the strategic direction of the publication. Its creative team proceeded to conduct a series of interviews with vital ATCC stakeholders, in order to shape the chronology and organize important insights into the organization’s culture and progress. Using the information and insights gathered during a number of sessions and oral histories in this initial phase, The History Factory produced a detailed creative brief and publication outline that served as a blueprint for the project’s path.

Results

In December 2016, Transformation of an Icon: ATCC and the New Business Model for Science, a richly illustrated 135-page book, was published in hardcover and in paperback. By keeping its sights set on ATCC’s strategic goals, and by systematically planning the content and design of the book to align with these goals, The History Factory was able to amplify the success story of ATCC’s transformation in a format that will serve as a valuable resource for businesses, policymakers, scientists and nonprofits for generations to come.

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