Biotech expert speaks at entrepreneurship event

Thursday, February 23, 2012

After starting his own biotechnology businesses, Southeast Missouri native Dr. Jerry Caulder now helps transform the tech ideas of others into successful companies.

This week, Caulder, originally from Gideon, Mo., is serving as an entrepreneur in residence at Southeast Missouri State University in honor of National Entrepreneurship Week. Caulder graduated from Southeast in 1964 and is now managing director at Finistere Ventures in San Diego.

Caulder, who began his career as a research biologist, told students during a keynote address Wednesday that he got into business by accident. Over the years, he's been involved with several biotechnology businesses creating agricultural, medical or medical equipment products.

"Being an entrepreneur isn't one of those things most of us start out to do. You kind of evolve into it," he said.

While working for Monsanto in Colombia, South America, Caulder went from doing scientific research in a lab to negotiating loans for working capital in Spanish. He oversaw Monsanto's investments and the launch of new agricultural products globally, including Roundup.

"I'd never had a business course," Caulder said. "But I realized the basic education I got prepared me to learn those things I needed."

He was intrigued by the process of taking technology and marketing that product to someone who had a need for it.

In the mid-1980s, Caulder wanted to address the fear people had of pesticide residues on food by creating plants that were naturally resistant to insects. With his first start up company Mycogen Inc., he developed plants that contained the naturally occurring bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, which are toxic to plant-damaging insects. The company was later acquired by Dow Agro Sciences in 1998. At that time it had a market capitalization of more than $1.2 billion.

Caulder moved to California to start his business because he was unable to find anyone in the Midwest willing to invest in his idea, he said.

"Not a single venture investor in the Midwest would invest a single nickel in my idea," he said. "One of the problems we have in Missouri and in the Midwest generally is a cultural problem. Failure in the Midwest has a particular stigma to it. On both coasts they don't care if you fail. If you fail, you just move on to something else."

Caulder said failure is, in fact, good because people learn a lot from failure.

Businesses are more dependent on venture capital than ever before, he said, because of increasing regulatory pressures.

"The biggest enemy of business startups are government regulations," Caulder said.

Since the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, it is more difficult for startup companies to go through an initial public stock offering because of the legal costs associated with the process, he said.

"Large companies love regulations because it keeps competition of the market," he said. "They have teams of lawyers small businesses don't have."

Many of these regulations add nothing but cost, especially in the area of pharmaceuticals, he said.

Caulder is involved with a company developing a new drug for diabetic neuropathy. He recently learned it would cost $200 million to conduct a clinical trial for the drug.

"With any new drug now you're looking at regulatory costs of a billion dollars," he said.

Dr. Gerald S. McDougall, dean of the Donald L. Harrison College of Business said Caulder is often referred to as the father of agricultural biotechnology and that his reach is both international and substantial. He hoped Caulder would be a role model for students.

"We want others to learn you too have the whole world open to you," he said.

As an entrepreneur in residence, Caulder is speaking to several classes this week including agriculture, biotechnology and business courses. He also visited the university's David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center.

Caulder's talk Wednesday was the first of two public events put on by the Douglas C. Greene Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Southeast to celebrate National Entrepreneurship Week. The second event, Coffee With the Entrepreneurs, will be held at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Shuck Recital Hall on the River Campus. It will feature John Buckner, owner of the Broadway Esquire Entertainment Group, as the guest speaker.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

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