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Beachy grows Kultevat, plans move to Helix Center

St. Louis Business Journal
By E.B. Solomont
March 9, 2013

Roger Beachy, founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, is bringing a new venture to St. Louis: a company called Kultevat that plans to produce natural rubber from dandelion plants.

With plans to move to the Helix Center, Kultevat hopes to raise $25 million, mostly from local investors, to scale up production.

Beachy, Kultevat's chief scientific officer, plans to set up an analytical lab, where he's looking to a hire a small team -- one or two Ph.D.s and two or three technicians -- to start. Overall, Kultevat is looking to hire 35 to 45 employees within 12 to 24 months.

Founded in 2010, Kultevat is the brainchild of Dan Swiger, who in 1995 founded Phoenix-based Yulex Corp., a company that makes rubber latex from guayule plant extracts. Swiger, who's based near San Diego, left Yulex in 2005. In 2008, he started working on Kultevat. The company combines advanced genetic techniques -- namely, increasing plants' yield traits -- with the ability to mass-produce natural rubber and, simultaneously, fermentable sugar syrups that can be sold into the biofuels market.

"Just like I built Yulex," Swiger said, "I can do the same thing (with Kultevat). I want to do it with something I know is a better crop."

Beachy officially joined Kultevat Jan. 30, influencing Swiger's decision to move Kultevat to St. Louis. "It makes better sense for us to be in St. Louis for a lot of reasons," said Swiger, citing the presence of the Danforth Center and Beachy, agriculture and investment opportunities.

Beachy, who stepped down from the Danforth Center in 2009, was appointed that year by President Obama as the first director of the National Institute of Food Agriculture. He returned to St. Louis in 2011 to continue his research.

Initially, Beachy joined Kultevat as a member of its scientific advisory board. Swiger, who met Beachy at several industry conferences over the years, first reached out when Beachy stepped down from his post at the Danforth Center. "We're very fortunate to attract Roger to what we're doing," Swiger said. "He is world renowned."

Kultevat's management team also includes Tony Nocera, a former vice president of manufacturing for Yulex, who will be Kultevat's vice president of manufacturing.

Swiger said he hopes to raise $5 million by June, followed by a second, $20 million round. The company previously raised funds from individual investors, though Swiger declined to say how much. Kultevat LLC raised $32,381 from two investors last year, according to a Dec. 7 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sam Fiorello, president of BRDG Park, said investors increasingly are interested in agriculture and plant science. "People are starting to understand the value proposition in ag, plant innovation start ups," said Fiorello, who met with Kultevat's management team in late February.

Natural rubber is used products ranging from chewing gum to tires. But traditional rubber sources are limited, said Swiger.

Swiger's business plan projects Kultevat will generate annual revenue of $350 million by 2016 and $585 million by 2017, including both the natural rubber and sugar syrups business.