microbes in a dish in upper left and a shadow border of crops along top.

Kathryn C. Hach Award for Entrepreneurial Success: Perspective from a recipient, Dr. Pam Marrone

Written by: Kate Gardner and Pam Marrone

This week, for our Researcher Perspectives series, we spoke with Dr. Pam Marrone, CEO and Founder of Chestnut Bio Advisors. Pam received the 2022 Kathryn C. Hach Award for Entrepreneurial Success from the American Chemical Society. This award was established “to recognize outstanding entrepreneurs who have created a commercially viable business within the chemical enterprise” [1]. We hope her story inspires you!

Dr. Pam Marrone, 2022 Kathryn C. Hach Award Winner.

Could you please briefly summarize your research career? Tell us your story about your path from researcher to entrepreneur.

I received a Bachelor’s in Entomology from Cornell followed by a PhD in Entomology from North Carolina State University. I was hired by Monsanto to head up a new unit looking for ways to control pests without chemicals. My group screened 100,000 microbes looking for natural products to control pests. Then, I was asked to screen microbes for pesticidal proteins to engineer into plants. After seven years at Monsanto, I was recruited by Novo Nordisk to start a new company in Davis, California to screen microbes looking for pesticidal natural products. We screened over 50,000 microbes. The company was sold to our largest competitor (now Valent Biosciences), and I started AgraQuest.  

I raised $60 million in venture capital, almost took it public but 9-11-2001 terrorist attack intervened and foiled that. We screened over 30,000 microbes and developed Serenade and Sonata Bacillus-based biofungicides. Serenade became the first breakout biofungicide and is now a standard in the industry. The company was sold to Bayer Crop Science in 2012. Serenade is now a $100 million global product. I left AgraQuest in 2006 to start Marrone Bio Innovations and screened another 18,000 microbes. I took it public in 2013 and am one of only 32 women founders to have taken her company public. We developed a broad range of biopesticide and plant health products based on microbial and plant natural products that are growing globally, including a seed treatment product on 20 million US acres. In 2019, we acquired Finland-based ProFarm to expand into bionutrients and biostimulants. I retired as CEO in August 2020. We sold the company to Bioceres Crop Solutions in July this year; I remain an advisor. 

What is one discovery or idea you have come across in your work that you would like the world to know? 

That you can find a microorganism to control just about any pest and we have barely scratched the surface of tapping into the world’s microbial biodiversity and the natural products they produce. 

What was the nomination process like in advance of receiving this award? Any tips? 

My university friend, Dr. Steve Duke, nominated me and sent me a list of questions to answer and a blueprint for a script to write so he made it easy for me. It just felt weird writing down all my accomplishments for it! 

What advice would you give to prospective candidates interested in receiving this award from ACS (American Chemical Society)? 

Go for it! Do not be shy about listing your entrepreneurial accomplishments. Especially women – as I was the first woman to receive this award. We need more! 

How has this award changed your year?  

It is a real honor, but I am not one to rest on my laurels. I will continue to look for ways to have impact and to give back by helping entrepreneurs, especially first-time founders with PhDs and women. 

Acknowledgment

We thank Dr. Pam Marrone for taking the time to speak with us and for approving the content of this blog post.

References

[1] ACS Website: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/funding/awards/kathryn-hach-award-for-entrepreneurial-success.html