Crop protection, via biologicals and chemicals, continues to be active, with new companies RNAissance Ag(disclosure: TechAccel is part owner), Enko Chem, Pheronym, IBI-Ag, and Impetus Ag all on the scene, generally with focuses on insect pests. Keep reading.
The Beat-The-Odd-Boot Camp was part of our National Science Foundation (NSF) Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant with a focus on entrepreneurial training. Our first job in the Boot Camp was customer discovery for the innovation that we are commercializing. To do this, we needed to “get out of the building” and conduct in-person interviews with at least 30 potential customers, something that is pretty hard to do during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, we conducted video interviews. In 2017 and 2018, we undertook a broad customer discovery (a total of 50 interviews) with deep dives in 3 segments; greenhouse growers, stone fruit growers, and nut growers. When we started the Boot Camp in May 2020, we thought we already knew our customers, and we were not sure what we could learn. It turns out we learned quite a bit. Keep reading.
Focus is on scaling manufacturing for their patented bio-remediation approach
DAVIS, California – June 9, 2020– Pheronym, a bio-ag-tech pest control company, has received a National Science Foundation Grant (NSF) for its nematode pheromone focused pest control solution. The $225,000 award will help the company bring their patented approach to the market by developing advanced fermentation methods to manufacture its nematode dispersal and infectivity pheromones, which are used to enhance control of agricultural pests. Pheronym has now secured a total of $1,150,000 in research grants over the past two years. Learn more about the grant details here.
“We continue to move aggressively forward on the path of commercialization,” said Dr. Fatma Kaplan, CEO of Pheronym. “This grant will allow us to focus the necessary resources on a scalable manufacturing process.” Keep reading.
Two Davis agtech firms are breathing a little easier this week after receiving a grant of $25,000 each to help them reach commercialization milestones.
Pheronym and FloraPulse, both pre-commercial agtech companies, will use the funds to continue commercialization work which the COVID-19 health crisis had forced them to postpone or cancel.
Agtech is broadly defined as the application of technology — especially advanced biologics, software and hardware — to agriculture.
Pheronym is a pioneer in the use of nematode pheromones to control both beneficial and plant-parasitic nematodes, or microscopic roundworms, that can dramatically affect plant health. The $25,000 grant allows Pheronym to hire a technician to help prepare for the re-start of field trials for their first product as well as to start laboratory and greenhouse testing on a second line of new pheromone-based products. Keep Reading
Sustainable pest control using nematode pheromones for crop protection in the running for $100,000 prize.
DAVIS, CA, May 8, 2020 – Pheronym is pleased to announce that it has been recognized as a finalist in the Ray of Hope Prize®, a $100,000 prize competition presented by the Biomimicry Institute. Pheronym uses a new kind of pheromone for eco-friendly, agricultural pest control, increasing crop yield and food production. Pheronym’s first product, Nemastim, makes beneficial nematodes more effective for insect pest control in the soil.
Nemastim makes beneficial nematodes (Steinernema feltiae and Steinernema carpocapsae) better biocontrol agents and expands their effective temperature range down to 15℃, making them an even more effective solution today and in the future. The beneficial nematodes move faster, go deeper in the soil, and infect in 3X greater numbers. The benefits of this approach, including enhanced efficacy, reduced costs, and increased sustainability, are exactly the things that our agricultural customers are asking for and consumers of produce are demanding.
“As the world searches for more environmentally friendly crop protection solutions, Pheronym presents an elegant solution,” said Jared Yarnall-Schane, Entrepreneurship Director, Biomimicry Institute. “By emulating nematodes’ natural communication methods, pheromones, they increase efficiency and efficacy. This makes an organic form of pest control cost-competitive with synthetic alternatives.”
Pheronym is one of the nine companies, out of 190 applications spanning 42 countries, in the running for the $100,000 prize, which will help the winning company accelerate their path to commercial success. The Biomimicry Institute’s expert selection committee will decide which nature-inspired startup will take home the prize in the fall of 2020.
Pheronym’s founding team offers complimentary skill sets: Mr. Karl Schiller, COO, is an economist and Dr. Fatma Kaplan, CEO is a scientist, giving them the necessary breadth of knowledge to bring a novel biological technology like Nemastim to market. Mr. Schiller’s business expertise helps the team rapidly organize and achieve legal and regulatory milestones while Dr. Kaplan focuses on executing her vision to achieve technical milestones and raise funds.
Dr. Kaplan has a Ph.D. in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology and postdoctoral training in Natural Product Chemistry with a focus on isolating biologically active compounds. She discovered the first sex pheromone of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which was published in Nature in 2008. Then she discovered that pheromones regulate other behaviors in both plant parasitic and beneficial nematodes. Dr. Kaplan and Mr. Schiller conducted the first agricultural biocontrol experiment in Space at the International Space Station in 2020. Together they co-founded Pheronym to bring nematode pheromone technology to the market and believe that this technology will provide effective, pollinator/bee-friendly, non-toxic pest control for farmers and gardeners. Studies on nematode pheromones’ efficacy, infectivity and temperature range can be found here.
“The Ray of Hope prize committee’s recognition of our bio-inspired technology validates our belief that nature holds the keys to future agricultural innovations,” said Mr. Schiller founder of Pheronym.
To learn more about Pheronym, visit pheronym.com. For more information about the Biomimicry Institute and Ray of Hope Prize, visit biomimicry.org.
Award-winning Pheronym is an ag-biotech pest management company that enables sustainable farming through its novel platform of nematode pheromones. Based in Merritt Island, Florida and Davis, California, the company uses a new pheromone to control plant-parasitic nematodes (microscopic roundworms) in an eco-friendly way and enhances beneficial nematodes’ efficacy to eliminate pest insects.
ABOUT THE BIOMIMICRY INSTITUTE
The Biomimicry Institute is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization founded in 2006 that empowers people to seek nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet. To advance the solution process, the Institute offers AskNature.org, a free online tool that contains strategies found in nature and examples of ways they are used in design. It also hosts a Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and Youth Design Challenge to support project-based education; a Biomimicry Launchpad program and Ray of Hope Prize® for entrepreneurship to bring designs to market; and connects innovators through the Global Biomimicry Network.
Name: Karl C. Schiller Email; firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 352-283-6967
Q:What are some of the challenges you have faced as a female leader in agriculture and how have you overcome these challenges?
A: “I have been in agriculture all of my life. I work hard because agriculture requires hard work in every aspect. One thing I did see, when you’re a woman, people don’t see your accomplishments. When you’re a man, they immediately recognize them. But when women do the same accomplishment or more, most of the time it goes unnoticed. Even though we don’t do things for recognition, it is nice to be recognized from time to time that we know our efforts are appreciated.
“The way I overcame many challenges is I surrounded myself with very positive and supportive people. Keep reading.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike any disaster we have seen in our lives. Our first coping strategy was to understand the disaster as much as we can. The consequences of COVID-19 multiply the disaster’s effects. Unfortunately, our governments were not prepared for this pandemic. Our hospitals do not have enough beds or equipment to take care of the sick. We do not know when we get sick whether we will be taken care of or triaged to die alone or with family. We are very thankful for all the healthcare professionals who are working tirelessly to find a cure, develop diagnostic tests, create a vaccine, take care of the sick, and provide us with guidance on how to protect ourselves and others (CDC).
Due to COVID-19, all of the institutions that we rely on to function in our daily lives are gone overnight. For example, schools closed unexpectedly and everyone was told to work from home. We are all expected to have rooms ready for distance learning for our kids and home offices so we could work from home. Nevermind that in dual profession families, our partners are also expected to work at the same time from home. What about the daycare closures? Families with young children are miraculously expected to work from home while taking care of the kids at the same time. Closures of many businesses like restaurants and bakeries, bars, and the hospitality industry have left people without jobs and without health insurance at a time when health insurance is a necessity. Even simple things like buying toilet paper, paper towels, baking soda or flour at the grocery store became a major issue due to shortages. These are all that we count on and take for granted, and now they are gone.
Are these really important? Yes. Those things that make us productive so we can take care of responsibilities such as pay our rent, bills, or care for ourselves and our families. Even when we are told to self-quarantine at home, our responsibilities have not gone away. Because we are still expected to work and be as productive as before the pandemic. Plenty of people are sharing pictures of their Zoom meetings, going about business as usual and pretending that self-quarantine has not slowed them down. It is time to realize that the COVID-19 disaster disrupted our lives, our governments, and the entire world. We are not alone. This change is very different from everything we have experienced or could imagine. That is stressful by itself.
You may be wondering “What does this have to do with Pheronym’s work?” It has everything to do with developing a coping strategy to function. The disruption to our daily lives directly affects our founders’ and employees’ effectiveness. It creates additional stress that was not there before. This is not ordinary stress. It is a global crisis that is felt by everyone worldwide. Our first focus is how can we reduce the stress to a manageable level because the stress is not going to go away anytime soon. Every day there is more grim news; a rising death toll globally, more new cases every day, and we know it is just going to get worse. We are working very hard to keep the morale up by being supportive and positive and sharing whatever good news we have. There is still hope. Keep reading
Being a preseed/seed biotech startup in Agriculture is a challenge all by itself. The COVID-19 pandemic makes it even harder. Four weeks ago we were informed that the COVID-19 pandemic had arrived in the US and we needed to self-quarantine and start social distancing. This was an incomparable challenge to our resilience.
Pheronym’s founders (Dr. Fatma Kaplan and Mr. Karl Schiller) lived many years in Florida and were accustomed to dealing with natural disasters (hurricanes). We learned to continue to work without any disruption, take care of ourselves and families. The State of Florida had disaster plans and shelters already in place. We knew when the hurricanes were coming, what degree of damage to expect, how long we would stay at home (distance work), and whether we needed to go to a shelter/stop the work temporarily. All of this information helped us to plan and how to utilize our time efficiently during the many potential disruptions. If we needed to stop work for a period of time, we knew what to do.
I (Fatma) worked for the USDA-ARS. Many of my colleagues went through government shutdowns/furloughs where they were not allowed to work. During my time at the USDA, the government almost shutdown, so everyone got training for how to run a biotechnology research program during a government shutdown, where we would not be allowed to go to work and conduct experiments. I never thought this training would be useful, but here we are.
The first confirmed incidence of community spread COVID-19 in the US occurred in Solano County, California, not far from Davis where Pheronym operates R&D. I set up a temporary shutdown of laboratory work while maintaining the essential culture that would be ready to go when things come back to normal. My co-founder and I knew how to deal with unavoidable work disruptions, so we went about our usual disaster preparations. All disasters are bad, but nothing is like COVID-19.
I don’t think anyone was prepared for the kind of disruption caused by the COVID-19 disaster. The disruption was not just to Pheronym or businesses in our state, it was in all 50 states altogether. It was disrupting the entire world. It was like an alien invasion of our planet, disrupting our lives globally.
COVID-19 is worse than the deadliest hurricane in the US, Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, this time we are not trying to clean up some fallen trees or fix property damage caused by the winds and rain. This time we are worrying that our friends, family, and colleagues are getting sick and dying. Our hospitals do not have enough beds or equipment to take care of the sick.
In addition, all of the institutions that we rely on to function in our daily life are gone overnight. For example, the schools are closed, daycares are closed, eating out is no longer a possibility, getting together more than a group of two is not OK. We can’t find a simple toilet paper or flour at the grocery stores.
These are all things we have taken for granted, and they are gone. It is like living in a science fiction story where our planet is invaded and we lost everything except for our virtual world. We now realize that the virtual world is not enough. Now we have to figure out how to survive and thrive when everything is taken from us. We, humans, are very resilient, I believe we can do it together.