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Leaders Named to N.C. PSI Commercialization Council

The advisory council's goal is to help expand technology transfer and commercialization of the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative’s interdisciplinary research.

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A commercialization advisory council is helping take the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative to the next level when it comes to achieving the initiative’s vision of creating a healthier, sustainable and more prosperous future through plant science innovation.

The council brings five successful professionals from the agricultural technology industry together with six North Carolina State University leaders focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization. Their goal is to help expand technology transfer and commercialization of N.C. PSI’s interdisciplinary research.

Council members identify promising technologies that have potential for success in the agricultural technology marketplace. They also provide expert advice and recommendations for commercializing the technologies that come from N.C. PSI research, and they will draw on their experience to provide high-level mentorship and guidance to emerging companies that are part of the initiative’s new startup program.

As Adrian Percy, Ph.D., executive director of the N.C. PSI and council co-chair, explained, “The council will inform the N.C. PSI’s efforts to deliver to growers across the state of North Carolina by helping them get access to really new, transformational technologies and support tools.”

Percy has over 25 years’ experience in agricultural technology research and development and continues to act as an adviser and board member in multiple early stage companies in the sector. 

The other co-chair is  Stephen Markham, Ph.D., Goodnight Distinguished University Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the executive director of NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Markham is also an experienced senior executive in global strategy and portfolio management and founder and C-level officer of multiple high-technology startups. 

Other council members are:

  • Mark Brooks, M.B.A., leads FMC Ventures, the venture capital arm of FMC Corp. He is a board member of several startups with interests in agricultural, climate and financial technology and has co-founded two startup companies. Before joining FMC, Brooks was an investor at Syngenta Ventures.
     
  • Lisa Chang, Ph.D., M.B.A, is director of the Poole College of Management’s Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Program and director of diligence for the Wolfpack Investor Network. Chang is also responsible for the graduate curriculum in entrepreneurship for the Jenkins MBA Program, guiding students, faculty, and professionals with entrepreneurial aspirations through a technology evaluation and commercialization program that creates startups using real intellectual property. She also provides global consulting services in technology commercialization for startups and Fortune 500 companies.
  • Kultaran Chohan, Ph.D., LL.M., is executive director of NC State’s Office of Research Commercialization, where he leads a team of licensing professionals who facilitate commercialization of NC State’s entire research discovery and intellectual property portfolio. He personally manages the commercialization of a select portfolio of NC State’s life science technologies.
  • John Dombrowsky, M.B.A., is chief executive officer of Oerth Bio of Durham. He has over 25 years of business building experience, including 13 years within the agricultural technology sector. Recognizing that our common human dignity depends on daily access to nutritious food, his professional focus is to unlock, develop and bring to market high-impact agricultural technologies.
  • Kathleen Pitcher, Ph.D., is N.C. PSI’s director of innovation partnerships. She leads industry relations and entrepreneurial efforts for the N.C. PSI. Prior to joining, she worked 10 years in industry for Bayer Crop Science, BASF, Tiamat Sciences, and Biomason.
  • Tim Martin, M.S., is senior licensing associate for the NC State Office of Research Commercialization. He manages technologies and advises startup companies in the medtech, biotech, and design industries. Martin also advises NC State innovators on the process of intellectual property filing, startup company formation, industry marketing and startup company funding.
  • Blake Stevens, Ph.D., is vice president of science and technology and head of Alexandria LaunchLabs – AgTech. He leads AgriFoodTech venture investment activities for the Alexandria Venture Investments portfolio. In the Research Triangle region, he leads the human health life science venture program and collaborates on strategic real estate projects.
  • Mohan Tavorath, M.B.A., is the CEO of CropTrak and a  partner with International Farming of Raleigh. He is a growth-oriented strategy and investment partner investing in high-quality farmland assets, vertically integrated operating companies and food supply chain technology companies. Tavorath has expertise in data sciences; environmental, social, and governance objectives; and digital transformation.
  • Paul Ulanch, Ph.D., M.B.A., is well known in the local agricultural technology  community as senior director of focused initiatives at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. His role includes connecting North Carolina entrepreneurs with the greater ag tech investment community and co-leading the NC Ag Tech Council, which serves the state’s agricultural community by advocating and driving statewide ag tech development.

Markham, of the Poole College of Management, says the commercialization council will play a particularly vital role in helping the startups affiliated with the N.C. PSI successfully navigate through the so-called “valley of death,” the tough middle stages that most technology companies do not survive as they take their ideas from funded research projects into the commercial marketplace.

“Startups need partnerships and direction more than they need space and money. They need advice and partners and business plan preparation assistance,” Markham says. “The people on the council are …  all very, very successful people that really have been there and know how to get it done.”