Comstock's magazine 0319 - March 2019 - Page 112

n SEED ROUND: MEET THE FOUNDER FATMA KAPLAN PHERONYM Nematodes are everywhere, infecting plants and destroying crops, but you’ve probably never seen them. These worm-like creatures are microscop- ic — and they’re not all parasitic. Some types of nematodes attack insect pests. Is there a way to keep the “bad” ones away while boosting the “good” ones to protect plants? That’s the mission at Pheronym, a Davis-based agriculture biotech startup cofounded by Fatma Kaplan. Pheronym has created two nontoxic solutions that use pheromones — chemical substances produced by animals (including hu- mans) and some plants — to control nematode behavior. Kaplan, who is the com- pany’s CEO, explains that putting beneficial nematodes in a field can kill insects in 24 to 48 hours. But after about a week, these creatures lose their pheromone signal to find insects, so they stop hunting as vigorously. NemaStim, Pheronym’s first product, essentially keeps good nematodes “in the mood” to keep searching and destroying pests. (A second product is under development.) As an alternative to pesticides, Kaplan believes these pheromone solutions can greatly benefit farmers. Pheronym has raised about $900,000, mostly from grants, and is in a seed round to raise $1 million for scaling up production. university professor If I could have any other job, I’d be a . . ....................................................... optimism A startup can’t be successful without........................................................... The movie that best represents my approach to business would be............... Jerry Maguire . . .................................................................................................... not to be able to My biggest fear about launching was ...................................................... raise funds to pursue our technology .. .......................................................................................................... persevere If I could give my younger self one word of advice, that word would be........................ HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR PHEROMONE-BASED SOLUTIONS WILL IMPACT FARMERS AND GAR- DENERS? “Annually, farmers lose about 20 percent of their crops to insects and another 12 percent to plant-parasitic nematodes, losses worth $620 billion. Farmers have to control pests to grow enough food to feed the world and con- sumers demand safe, eco-friendly solutions for the food they eat. Pheromone- based solutions provide exactly what the farmers need and demand: cost-ef- fective, nontoxic, eco-friendly, effective solutions for pest control.” WHAT MAKES THIS REGION AN IDEAL LOCATION FOR PHERONYM? “It is a hub for agricul- ture in the biggest agricultural state in the U.S. There are a number of global seed companies operating nearby and farms are everywhere, which means we have close contact with our customers.” For more on Pheronym, read Russell Nichols’ “Startup of the Month” column at comstocksmag.com. 114 comstocksmag.com | March 2019