Mentoring Pheronym to bring the world’s first nematode pheromones to the market

They say “It takes a village to raise a child”. The same is true for startups. It takes the whole business ecosystem to make a startup succeed; incubators, accelerators, marketing, law firms, advisory/mentorship programs, and more. Accelerators and incubators provided us with infrastructure, funding, and mentorship. As we have been developing the world’s first nematode pheromones for pest control, we learned that you can never have enough mentors.

The business mentorship programs we participated in provided unique value to us. Just like the incubators and accelerators, each business mentorship program is very unique. Our first mentorship program was the Fellows of All-Star Team (FAST) Advisory program by California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI) in San Francisco, CA.

It was a 12-week structured mentorship program with two-hour bi-weekly meetings and a pitch presentation at the end of the program. Our mentors provided advice on every aspect of our business. They helped us formulate our business plan, financial projections, and pitch decks. They coached us on the most effective ways to communicate with investors. Since some of our mentors were both entrepreneurs and investors, they reviewed term sheets when we got them and gave us valuable feedback. Most importantly, our mentors introduced us to the California agribusiness network, which has given us the support we need to grow and thrive. The FAST Advisory Program created a strong mentor-mentee relationship which we really liked. Even though the program ended in December 2017, we are still in touch with our mentors.

The FAST Advisory Program came with unexpected benefits. CLSI is an affiliate of the California Life Sciences Association (CLSA), the largest life sciences industry association in California with members over 750 organizations. The FAST advisory program was associated with CLSA Fellows program which provides deeply discounted membership and discounts from other CLSA partners. For example, VWR provides discounts on consumables with free shipping and a line of credit. This allows us to accomplish more with our limited resources. Another favorite benefit is the discount on shipping because it is one of our major costs. We are also exploring other benefits CLSA has for their members such as health insurance etc.

Currently, we are participating in the Tech Futures Group (TFG) Business Advisory Program. TFG mentorship program is quite different from FAST Advisory program. It is a virtual program with a single mentor. It does not have regular meetings or a formal start date. However, this program has its own advantage. As soon as we were accepted to the program, an advisor was assigned to us and we started receiving advise. Our mentor was an experienced angel investor. She, along with our FAST mentors, gave us very insightful advice when we were evaluating deals and term sheets. Furthermore, TFG has multiple advisors in the program, if our needs require different business expertise, the program can provide additional advisors.

All of our mentors have given us invaluable advice and support. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the ones who will help us in the future.

Author: Dr. Fatma Kaplan is the CEO/CSO of Pheronym, an entrepreneur, and an accomplished scientist with experience in both biology and chemistry. She 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. Dr. Kaplan discovered the first sex pheromone of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and published in Nature. Then she discovered that pheromones regulate other behaviors in both parasitic and beneficial nematodes. She has very high impact publications and her dissertation was cited in textbooks within 5 years of publication. Dr. Kaplan worked as a scientist at NASA, the National Magnetic Field Laboratory and the US Department of Agriculture — Agricultural Research Service. Dr. Kaplan co-founded Pheronym to bring nematode pheromone technology to the market and to provide effective, non-toxic pest control for farmers and gardeners.