By Nathan Rubbelke, St. Louis Business Journal | St. Louis Inno | June 16, 2022
As CEO of agtech startup Plastomics, Martha Schlicher says she has a “brain trust” that’s likely rare at most early stage companies.
Creve Coeur-based Plastomics has created a new method of delivering traits into a plant that it says will increase yield and stave off pests and diseases better. Aiding that effort is a scientific advisory board that Schlicher says includes people who played a role in Monsanto's efforts to create the first generation of biotech traits in corn, cotton and soybeans.
“There could be no better group of individuals to guide the science and to keep the board in tune with Plastomics’ technical accomplishments, the needs of the industry, and how to ensure their advancements align with industries needs,” Schlicher said. “It is like hand-picking the best and the brightest for their knowledge, experience and accomplishments and getting their help to do it a second time.”
Plastomics offers an example of the role that individuals with experience at some of St. Louis' largest companies can have in elevating local startups, including through holding C-suite roles and seats on company boards. Schlicher herself held leadership roles at Monsanto and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals in St. Louis.
While St. Louis has its serial entrepreneurs, CoverCress CEO Mike DeCamp, another former Monsanto executive, said the region's big companies have produced a cohort of startup leaders.
“I think in St. Louis, the startup scene is really more populated with people that have been W-2, corporate types for a period of their career, learned a lot and then taken the risk to go the entrepreneurial route and leverage their experience and training,” DeCamp said.
Schlicher said she’s replicated the approach of Plastomics’ scientific advisory board at Impetus Ag, another St. Louis startup she leads that is creating insect control products. Both Plastomics and Impetus Ag have been backed by BioGenerator, the startup investment and creation arm of local innovation hub BioSTL. BioGenerator has placed a focus on supporting companies that have talent sourced from major companies, with 50% of its portfolio companies having executive leaders with experience at regional corporations.
Some of BioGenerator’s biggest portfolio exits have had ties to local corporations.
Confluence Life Sciences, which sold in 2017 In a $100 million deal, was launched by former local Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) executives. Canopy Biosciences, which was acquired in 2021 by publicly traded Bruker Corp. (NASDAQ: BRKR), included co-founders who were formerly of life sciences firm Sigma-Aldrich.
Dilip Vishwanat | Martha Schlicher, BioGenerator Executive in Residence and CEO of Plastomics and Impetus Agriculture, speaks at St. Louis Inno's Ecosystem101 event in May.