Dr. Jerry Caulder, the managing director of Finistere Ventures, a leading life science venture capital firm based in San Diego, has an unparalleled record of success in the life sciences industry. Many people refer to him as the “father of agricultural biotechnology,” so it was an honor to welcome him recently in the Memphis Bioworks Conference Center.
The crowd, hosted by the Memphis Bioworks Business Association in conjunction with the Mid-South Biobased Trade Association, was treated to a level of insight and honesty that few other professionals could offer. He began his career at Monsanto, where he held numerous management positions, including responsibility for overseeing Monsanto’s early venture investments and also the launch of new agricultural products globally. From there he launched a start-up plant sciences company that had a successful IPO and was ultimately acquired by Dow Agro Science. His most recent success was as the Chairman of Athenix, Inc., a venture backed plant sciences company located in Research Triangle Park, NC, and sold to Bayer Crop Science.
Dr. Caulder made it clear that new CEOs of companies being launched need a thick skin, lots of tenacity, and a dedication to money raising, in addition to a great idea or a revolutionary new product or process. He also is living proof that it can be done both from personal experience and his investments in many start-ups.
The timing for our local entrepreneurs to hear from someone of Dr. Caulder’s stature was perfect, because the venture environment here is gaining national awareness. Recently, The Wall Street Journal published its latest map showing “The United States of Venture Capital.” Memphis is one of the dots on that map, which depicts the distribution of venture capital funding across the nation in the first six months of 2011.
While Memphis’ inclusion may not seem like much to some people, it is actually a strong indication that all the work being done in our community to promote entrepreneurism and new business development is paying off. Five years ago, Memphis didn’t appear on national maps of venture capital deals. While the dot on this particular map is due specifically to $3.2 million raised for two deals done by Innova, it could just as easily have come from a number of other sources.
Many people and organizations in our community have played a role in achieving a dot on that map. Over the last five years, we have worked together to create an ecosystem that is now paying dividends in terms of national attention and local entrepreneurial success. Let’s look at the landscape.
Access to capital is a key measure of a region’s potential. Innova is one of three organizations that have taken the lead in this area, along with MB Ventures and SSM Partners. Each targets segments of the biosciences or technology. And then rounding out the venture story is our active “angel investment” community. Angels bring extra value and leverage to the table. Typically, Innova’s deals, for example, involve an angel investment of two to three times the amount invested by Innova.
But it takes more than money to build an ecosystem for new company development. It also takes ideas, collaboration, mentoring, incubating and technology transfer. Today in Memphis, we have a vibrant collection of new business incubators serving a wide variety of categories. They offer not only space, but mentorship, connections, training and access to the marketplace that would not otherwise be possible for many businesses.
Feeding the incubation and tech-transfer pipeline is research taking place in laboratories across our community, at the university level and at major employers in the medical device, technology and clinical care fields. In addition to this there is considerable activity being led by Memphis Agbioworks to bring new plant technology and know-how to our region with the goal of using renewable resources to make products that are now made with petroleum. This, as identified in a 2009 Battelle study, is a great way to take advantage of the area’s know-how in farming, industry and logistics, to the benefit of the rural mid-south and the idled urban manufacturing centers.
So many individuals — venture capitalists, mentors, researchers and supporters — and their respective organizations and initiatives have worked tirelessly to ensure that the Memphis heritage for creativity and business development continues. Collectively, we have created an environment in which new business can thrive. That new business is the future of our local economy.
Appearing on The Wall Street Journal map is a milestone that Memphis should take pride in, something we can expand upon with guidance of experts like Dr. Caulder.