Pheronym’s journey: 2017 and beyond

Dr. Fatma Kaplan
Jan 5, 2018 · 5 min read
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2017 was an exciting year for Pheronym with so many good things to come. However, we started out in a dire situation with no income and running out of money. We looked at the bright side, we had a bank loan, a functioning R&D lab full of interns who had their own funding, 3 pending grants, and most importantly hope. The first week of January, our IP lawyer, Gerard Bencen, helped us file a PCT using the bank loan. Three weeks later we heard that one of our grants was scored very well but did not get funding. Even though we were very optimistic, like most entrepreneurs, we had to start making some tough decisions. At the end of January we decided that if we did not get any funding by the end of May, we were going to close our doors. Between February and May, our plan was to work as if we had funding, look for investment and write grants for funding to accomplish our goals and milestones.

Our lucky break came in March. We were accepted into the IndieBio seed biotech accelerator with a $250K investment. However, it required us to move to San Francisco, CA, for the duration of the 4.5 month-accelerator program. Of course we didn’t think twice about it. We packed up and moved to San Francisco in late April. Then another lucky break came. Our SBIR Phase I grant was recommended for funding! With the Phase I grant and the investment from IndieBio, we were able to hire Abigail Perret-Gentil as our lab manager. Abigail ran the experiments for the SBIR phase I grant in Gainesville, FL, while we produced pheromone at the accelerator in San Francisco, CA. We sent the pheromone samples to our R&D lab in FL and our SBIR partners, who conducted the biological tests, proof of concept trials.

The IndieBio seed biotech accelerator exceeded our expectations. First, we were able produce a working prototype, which we named Nemastim. Then we were able to scale up Nemastim production to treat enough beneficial nematodes to cover 1–2 acres. Furthermore, we developed a second product, Pherocoat. We were able to recruit two corporate partners; one for Nemastim and the other for Pherocoat. We also defined our platform, which sets the stage for future growth.

Being in San Francisco gave us access to many other resources to make Pheronym successful. We entered the California Life Science Institute Fellows of All Star Team (FAST) program and Tech Future Group for business mentoring. Our SBIR Phase I grant gave us access to the LARTA Institute for commercialization, and our LARTA advisor was located in nearby Davis, CA. We were able to tell our story through the IndieBio blog, IndieBio Demo Day, Popping The Bubbl, The New Context Conference, Synbiobeta, and Medium. This experience made us realize the importance of having a supportive ecosystem and infrastructure for startups to thrive. We decided to move to California and were accepted into the HM.Clause Innovation Center, an agricultural biotech incubator space in Davis, CA.

Our interns were also lucky in 2017. We hired Abigail Perret-Gentil as our full-time lab manager. After two years of hard work, Julie Giurintano was accepted by the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University to be a medical doctor, Dr. Edith Sampson became the Scientific Director at the Monoclonal Antibody Core at the University of Florida, and Cedric Torres decided to go to graduate school because of the science experience with us.

In 2018, we plan to scale-up production, complete US registration for Nemastim and bring it to the market. We will complete greenhouse efficacy trials and enter the greenhouse growers’ market. We plan to conduct preliminary field trials for efficacy in orchards to expand to fruit and nut orchards. We also plan to conduct proof of concept tests for Pherocoat. We have plans and are full of hope for the new year!

We are already making progress toward our 2018 goals and milestones. We are starting out 2018 at the HM.Clause Innovation Center in Davis, CA, where we will continue to develop new products and establish contacts with the agriculture community. We are scaling up Nemastim at the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator, which has the equipment we need to succeed. Our lab manager has already produced the first batch of Nemastim to supply our greenhouse trials in Georgia and Idaho.We have established agreements to conduct field trials in both Georgia and Israel, pending funding. Finally, we have a corporate partner for Pherocoat proof of concept tests.

We have very ambitious goals, and in order to achieve them, we need money. We are currently raising our seed round, writing grants (SBIR Phase II and other industry related grants) and pitching to investors. We would like you to be our partners to bring safe and eco-friendly pest control to farmers to feed the growing population and to help solve the world hunger crises.

As we are raising funds, check our website for positions. We will be building a sales and marketing team, hiring a fermentation chemist, a synthetic chemist and a seed biologist.

Pheronym is an agricultural biotech company that uses pheromones from microscopic worms, nematodes, to control agricultural pests.

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Pheronym founders

Dr. Fatma Kaplan is the CEO/CSO of Pheronym 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.

Mr. Cameron Schiller is the co-founder and COO of Pheronym. He is an experienced entrepreneur with BA in economics and MS in pharmacy healthcare management. Prior to Pheronym, he co-founded Kaplan Schiller research LLC. and volunteered as president of a not for profit organization where he managed 5 people team. In addition, he was a freelance consultant in pharmaceutical product development, cost-effectiveness analysis, modeling, and statistical analysis. His clients include the University of Florida, the University of Alabama, Florida Medicaid, and Pfizer.

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