A love of science evolves into a thriving business
In 1990 scientist and entrepreneur Doug Kremer, then 35 years old, launched his first company. With a few patents under his belt and a business suit, Kremer was looking to break into the microbiology business world. It didn’t exactly work out. “Having a patent on particular polymers and wearing a suit and tie doesn’t sell anything,” says Kremer, now the CEO of TerraMax. “I wanted to build a company, and I learned from that.” In 1998 Kremer started TerraMax along with co-founder Tom Proepper, this time, with products to sell and a growing network of distributors to move them through the marketplace.
“I always had the curiosity to go along with it,” Kremer recalls. “There are limitless opportunities in terms of working with specific microbes.”
Whereas Proepper is the business mind in the operation, Kremer has always been the scientist. “Let me warn you that I have a tendency to be fascinated with many of the science aspects of this story,” says Kremer, as a way of introducing himself that reveals what drove him to start his own company back in 1990, and what inspires him to this day.
An inclination for business
Kremer is a lifelong entrepreneur. From a young age cutting lawns to where he is today, he’s always been inclined toward business. His love of science developed while attending the University of Minnesota, where he became immediately hooked by the world of plant cell biology. “You can take parts of a plant and grow a whole new plant!” he says with a grin. At the time, he was unsure how to apply his newfound passion for science.
While studying horticulture, Kremer was pulled into a group in the agronomy department that was working with corn almost exclusively. When Kremer neared graduation, he approached the professor running the lab for a letter of recommendation. His jaw dropped when instead, his professor stated, “I’ve got a job for you.” It was with a company called Molecular Genetics Inc., one of the genetic engineering entrepreneurial startups back in the ’80s. Kremer says he responded, “That’s interesting. Let’s do it.”
Describing his eight years with MGI, Kremer smiles and says, “I’ve never looked back.” His strong performance with the company earned him a position running the science of a new company launched by MGI’s co-founder.
40 years of research
Kremer became fascinated with the field of microorganisms. At the time, there were very few microbial products in use for farming. This opportunity resonated with him and turned into 40 years of dedicating his life to researching how to keep a microbe alive and growing and perform its function in the ecosystem. “How to keep them alive and apply them to plants or soil has turned into quite the adventure,” he adds.
This adventure resulted in TerraMax’s line of nitrogen-fixing microbial products for America’s most common crops. “Nitrogen-fixing microbes have been known for a long time,” Kremer explains. “How do you use and formulate them? How do you integrate them into a farmer’s production system?” Using Azospirillum and Bradyrhizobium, bacteria that naturally pull nitrogen from the air and soil and deliver it to plants, TerraMax developed a long-lasting inoculant that strengthens the root structures of crops and improves crop yields.
Kremer employs a scientist’s precision to his work. “Our wheel has turned slowly but has demonstrated the capability of our products,” he says of TerraMax’s 23 years of research and development of stable microbial products.
“Doug from the beginning wanted to put a product out there that would work. We are very diligent to make sure we do three years of field testing before we put a product out,” says Joshua Doerr, TerraMax’s national sales manager. “Since 1998 people have been telling (Kremer), ‘No, you can’t do this.’ Every time someone told him that, he proved over and over with the science that yes he can. He is dedicated to science and dedicated to his craft,” adds Doerr.
People, products and the bottom line
At the end of the day, Kremer cares most about people and products that work the way they’re designed to — work as described — and help farmers’ bottom line. “The first thing our products have to do is function. They have to provide benefits to the farmer, and have a payoff for the farmer,” Kremer says.
Kremer has dedicated his career to using his scientific expertise to making a product that is easy for farmers to use, improves soil health and contributes to healthy, profitable crops. “He genuinely cares about the farmer, the grower, the person that we are trying to help,” Doerr says of Kremer. “He cares about everybody up the chain.”
This level of care is evident throughout TerraMax’s company culture, and in the rigorously developed soil inoculant products in TerraMax’s lineup. For Doug Kremer, that’s the definition of success.