Science - April 24, 2008

From researcher to entrepreneur

In the last two years about ten new Wageningen UR spin-offs have seen the light of day, with the help of the Wageningen Business Generator. One of them is Ceradis, headed by former researcher Wim van der Krieken.

New fungicides developed by Ceradis will be tested on bananas and other crops in Colombia and Cameroon.
Until a year ago Wim van der Krieken was a researcher at Plant Research International, but now he’s director of Ceradis. The small company of seven people develops environment-friendly forms of crop protection against pathogens such as Phytophthora in potato, mildew in grapes and black sigatoka in bananas. Van der Krieken has developed mixtures that contain about eighty percent environment-friendly substances and twenty percent traditional chemicals which reinforce each other’s effectiveness. According to the new businessman, test plot results show that the new mixes are at least as effective as existing chemical pesticides, but far less polluting.

So far, the young company has spent a lot on product development and field trials, but has not yet brought a new pesticide on to the market. They have to be registered first. ‘We have to prove that it is safe for people and the environment,’ he says. In the European Union that’s a long-winded and costly procedure which takes at least four years. Outside Europe registration is simpler. That’s why Van der Krieken is planning on introducing his products first in Colombia and Cameroon. ‘That will bring in some revenues, and then I’ll be able to finance the EU registration procedure.’

He would not have been able to start his company without help from Wageningen UR, says Van der Krieken. ‘I developed the basic procedure for the crop protection pesticides when I was a researcher at PRI. That led to a patent from Wageningen UR, and I’ve filed three patents since I’ve been working as Ceradis. The bank wasn’t interested in financing my company. But when you’re in the starting-up phase you need a financier who’s prepared to take a risk.’ In the end it was Wageningen Business Generator (WBG) that transferred the Wageningen UR patent to Ceradis and gave legal and financial advice. In exchange for that, WBG is a shareholder.

According to Van der Krieken, the biggest obstacle has been making the change from enterprising researcher to entrepreneur. ‘As a researcher you think: I’ve got an environment-friendly pesticide, but can I make it even better? Yes, I can, but it’s too expensive. As an entrepreneur you have to have a unique selling point. I have to focus on important crops like potato and banana, because otherwise I won’t find a distributor. I’m still interested in research, but now I make commercial decisions.’

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