Successful businessman Karl Manhas, trained in biology and biotech, recently took on the false dichotomy often used to separate people who “do good” from people who “make money.” In his essay at FastCompany.com, he traced this and other key transitions he faced on the path from his basement lab bench to his CEO office.
Manhas’ company, Terramera, produces pesticides aimed at increasing crop yields while decreasing the use of synthetic chemicals. After discovering a successful formula to start this venture, he realized he had to put aside his scientist’s penchant to infinitely ask “what if” as a leading question and move to the more concrete “how to.” Discovery had to end, at least temporarily, while he figured out how to bring his discovery to market on a broad scale.
To engage and retain investors, customers and employees, he also had to learn how to compellingly explain the relevance of his work. Talking about his “crop protection” products, as he calls them, meant leaving the detailed, precise descriptions of scientific compounds and reactions and moving into the language of impact. “We’re not just investigating more efficient and sustainable crop protection, pest and disease control, or the uptake of molecules at the cellular level,” he said. “We’re working to reduce the global use of synthetic chemical pesticides by 80 percent and increase farm productivity by 20 percent.”
CEO Manhas also had to learn that “business” is not a bad word. “The fact is, solutions are only meaningful and maximally impactful if they are accessible, scalable, and economically sustainable,” he said. “And here, the levers of capitalism can help…. To make good on our story, we need to succeed as a business. Changing a massive industry like agriculture, after all, requires global solutions.”
Scientific discovery and business implementation require different sets of skills. At Terramera, Manhas shows how he integrates both.