A technical founder’s journey: an ag-biotech startup CEO with a vision

Dr. Fatma Kaplan
5 min readNov 23, 2019

I often have to convince people that I am the right CEO for Pheronym, an ag-biotech startup.

Dr. Fatma Kaplan, CEO of Pheronym

Frequently I hear, “You would make a great CSO.” I know I would be a great CSO, but I am the only one who can be Pheronym’s CEO.

Let’s start with “What does a startup CEO do?” Everyone knows that the CEO is the person in charge, but what does that mean for a small startup? Startup CEO’s can play very different roles depending on the type, stage, and founding team. For example, digital healthcare, digital agriculture, biotechnology, consumer-facing and B2B startups all have different needs. Furthermore, a startup is expected to create something visionary that will transform the industry or create some new and novel technology. So the startup needs a CEO with a vision.

It’s always been my belief I had the vision required. In 2005, when I accepted the position to identify the model nematode’s (Caenorhabditis elegans) sex pheromone, I knew how these discoveries could revolutionize agricultural pest control for nematodes. Soon after we published the work in Nature (2008), the USDA-ARS recruited me to apply this discovery to control agriculturally important nematodes. After all, pheromones had been used to control insects successfully for decades. Why not for nematodes? When I was at the…