This episode of Popping the Bubbl features an agricultural biotechnology company developing nontoxic solutions for plant protection. The founders Fatma Kaplan and Cameron Schiller call their company Pheronym.
When Sandra and I started our Popping the Bubbl adventure, I never imagined we’d be neck deep in learning about nematodes. Yet, here we are, constantly amazed at the breadth and depth of new scientific advances and the impact on our lives.
This episode continues our chronicle of cohorts from the biotech incubator, IndieBio. The potential being unlocked at the accelerator is going to leave a long legacy of changes that improve our lives in a myriad of ways.
Fatma, from Istanbul Turkey, is a self-proclaimed small-town girl from a big town. She earned her PhD at the University of Florida. While at Florida, where she was both a lecturer and student, she met and fell in love with her eventual business partner Cameron Schiller.
This is a powerhouse couple. Pheronym isn’t the first company they’ve founded together. Kaplan Schiller Research is the educational exploration branch that feeds the Pheronym brand.
At this point, I must stop and share how much I love Fatma’s passion for nematodes. I trust when you listen to the show, you hear how her face lights up as we talk about nematodes. She has truly found her life’s work.
Wait, what's a nematode?
She and Cameron have partnered for years now with Cameron handling the COO role, freeing up Fatma to work the science side of the business. While Fatma has the PhD, Cameron also holds a post baccalaureate degree and is ABD in his doctoral studies in Health Sciences Research and Pharmacoeconomics.
So, what does Pheronym do?
Fatma started working on the federal side at the USDA, hoping that someone with a passion for harnessing the crop saving power of “good” nematodes — Yes, there are baddies in the Nematode universe, hello ringworm — would step forward and advance the sciences. One day Fatma realized that she was that person — the one most qualified to end our dependence on chemical-based pesticides.
How did she do that?
Their work uses natural methods in a way that makes nematode behavior beneficial to farmers. Fatma targeted specific nematodes that feed on crop-killing insects. These nematodes respond wonderfully when nature tells them to feed. However, the process is unreliable and ineffective against bugs without the external stimulation created by Fatma’s research.
Fatma and Cameron are building a company that will use completely natural means of protecting crops.
Who are the target customers? How does Pheronym make money?
Farmers are an obvious choice. At scale though, it’s the large copmanies like Monsanto that are going to define the market. It’s easy to dismiss companies like Monsanto, but I learned from an episode of the Break It Down Show when we interviewed Ty Vaughn, who works with Monsanto that pesticide companies are always after a better means of helping farmers.
This certainly includes companies like Pheronym who, per their website, “Specialize in the development and manufacture of pheromones that direct nematodes towards insects and away from plants. Pheronym A natural solution such as what Pheronym is developing for pest control is a product most consumers would prefer and purchase.”
The wonderful work being done at Pheronym will certainly change the world. Soon, we are going to see commercially viable, all-natural, organic pest control products. We should all smile like Fatma when we think about the power of nematodes.