22 Jul Madison’s TFX a ‘Rising Star’
MADISON – Fledgling biotech company, TFX Bioscience, proves that Wisconsin has what it takes to compete in the competitive high technology growth arena.
TFX Bioscience, headquartered in Madison, is one of two winners of the Rising Star award at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, held in Ann Arbor on June 11&12. The award is given to promising companies that offer an innovative technology and an engaging business plan. SensiGen of Ann Arbor is the other recipient of the Rising Star award.
TFX is an early stage agricultural science company that intends to commercialize proprietary biological control agents (BCAs) to help farmers manage pests and increase crop yields. Craig Parsons and Al Hawkins, cofounders of the management consulting firm Agave Group, started the company in January 2003 to commercialize formulations based on the protein TFX, which was discovered by Dr. Eric Triplett at UW-Madison.
Parsons said that Agave Group had been “on the lookout for technologies that they could run with.” WARF has licensed TFX, a technology that inhibits crown gall disease in fruit crops and woody ornamentals, and the University of Minnesota has licensed a technology that prevents common scab and Verticillium wilt in potatoes and Phytophthora root rot in soybeans and alfalfa. The technologies seemed perfect for a marketable business because they help prevent “economically important plant diseases that aren’t currently addressed by chemical pesticides,” said Parsons.
Drs. Eric Triplett and Tom Herlache demonstrated in the greenhouse that TFX prevents crown gall disease in grapes and other plants. Parsons said that they are focusing on grapes in particular because there is currently nothing farmers can do to prevent crown gall in the fruit. Apples, pears and roses are also particularly susceptible to crown gall disease.
Parsons said that the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium was a valuable experience and that the award was an added bonus. “It endorses what we are doing. We are very enthusiastic about the reception of our company amongst that crowd of potential investors and the entrepreneurial community in general,” he said.
According to Allan Dines, Assistant Director of Corporate Relations at the UW-Madison, TFX stood out at the Symposium because it is “ a great example of a business concept that has a solid science basis and that addresses a problem where viable solutions are needed.”
Dines said that a big factor in success for a start-up company is access to capital. The Michigan Growth Capital Symposium provided contact with investors that are willing to consider a “first money” investment. “It’s a chicken/egg situation; to get to a point where they have the operational maturity to be an attractive candidate for venture capital investment, they still need access to pre-seed or very early capital,” he said.
According to Dines, most Wisconsin companies that attended the Symposium are in the early start-up stages. He said that many of these companies have connections to the UW-Madison.
Wisconsin companies accounted for almost half of the participants at the Symposium, including Cellectar, NeoClone, Uclid Software and EraGen.
Craig Parsons said, “ There were actually a number of Wisconsin companies there, particularly from Madison. I think Wisconsin was really well represented.”
Alexis Johnson is a Madison, Wisconsin based writer and can be reached at