An Interview with Jacqueline Heard, PhD, MBA

Jacqueline Heard, PhD, MBA
CEO and Founder, Enko Chem, Inc.

Jacqueline Heard, is a distinguished leader in the agricultural industry and the driving force behind Enko Chem, Inc., based in Mystic, Connecticut. As a former venture partner at Anterra Capital and a leader in global R&D at Monsanto, Heard’s expertise spans both scientific research and business strategy. She has dedicated her career to identifying and commercializing innovative solutions in agriculture. Now, as the CEO and Co-Founder of Enko Chem, Inc., Heard continues to pave the way for sustainable crop protection solutions, leveraging her extensive experience and passion for agricultural innovation.

Can you share with us the inspiration behind founding Enko Chem, Inc. and how your background in agriculture and venture capital influenced this decision?

My career in agriculture has centered around identifying and commercializing new technology in a variety of roles. Above all else, I’m passionate about the need for agricultural sustainability and saw enormous potential for Enko in my role at Anterra Capital. The platform truly inspired me!

Spearheading the launch of Enko in 2017 has allowed me to be at the forefront of work to design safe and sustainable solutions to agricultural problems, from pest resistance to new diseases. I see limitless potential for the future of safe chemical solutions when applying proven drug discovery and development approaches from pharma to agriculture.

In light of Earth Day, could you discuss Enko’s commitment to sustainability and its efforts to minimize the environmental impact of crop production and global agriculture?

We are at the beginning of the next era of safer, more sustainable chemicals for the agriculture industry. Enko is discovering and developing crop health products that are not only safe for the surrounding environment, but also help farmers combat weed, insect, and disease problems while using less product, less often.

One of our pipeline product candidates is a prime example as initial testing has shown an enormous leap in terms of effectiveness. Once fully commercialized, farmers will potentially be able to reduce chemical applications nearly 90% in important cropping systems across millions of acres globally.

The time for environmental stewardship is now – the crop protection market must make major shifts in its development approach. Enko’s target-based approach has generated a product pipeline of novel and diverse molecules in half the time and with fewer resources than legacy R&D methods. Enko’s products will reduce the environmental impact of crop protection products and improve agriculture’s sustainability over time.

Your bio mentions the importance of listening to farmers and translating their experiences into practical innovations. Could you elaborate on how Enko incorporates farmer feedback into its product development process?

As a venture capitalist investing in agtech startups, I have observed a disconnect between the solutions founders pitched and farmers’ actual needs. Farmers today need help sustainably maximizing their land and total crop production. Pests, weeds, and disease are destroying roughly 40% of crops today. The problem is significant.  We have built a better approach to chemistry-based crop protection, prioritizing farmers’ needs while addressing the needs of the environment. Enko will provide solutions to help growers be better stewards of their land and at the same time, be more profitable by addressing their biggest threats. Innovation only matters if it can provide a practical, economical, and sustainable impact.

Enko takes a systems approach to discover and develop differentiated and sustainable solutions for agriculture productivity across cropping systems globally. Our agricultural invention platform, ENKOMPASS™, uses DNA-encoded libraries and other proven drug discovery methods combined with Al and machine learning to accelerate finding the right treatments for the right pest targets. ENKOMPASS can screen lead molecules in 75% less time with 90% lower cost, meaning it can bring new crop health tools to farmers faster. Screening for safety and efficacy before a single molecule is synthesized also de-risks the process and ensures that the products Enko pursues will be safe, effective and make a real difference for farmers.

The  barriers don’t end at the development stage. Once safe, novel products are discovered, there is still a long runway of regulatory parameters to navigate. Enko’s team is experienced in working alongside regulators and policymakers and we hope to streamline the path for the next era of more sustainable chemical crop protection solutions through continued collaboration. Together, we can ensure that farmers around the world have access to properly regulated economical solutions to ensure better yields and sustainably feed the global population.

Looking ahead, what do you envision as the future of agriculture, and how does Enko plan to contribute to shaping that future through its innovative approach to crop protection?

I envision an era of safe, reliable chemical crop protection solutions that ensure we can feed the world without sacrificing safety or putting our planet or future generations at risk. Tapping into the massive chemical universe, we can unlock the promise of a sustainable global food system.

I look forward to when our products are actively transforming the agricultural industry, enabling all regions to solve large-scale crop problems and respond quickly to new ones.

Shifting focus to you personally, how do you like to spend your free time? Do you have any hobbies or interests that you’re particularly passionate about?

My love for the environment shines through in my free time. I love being outside, gardening, kayaking, and hiking to name just some of many things I enjoy doing.

And finally, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs or individuals interested in pursuing a career in agricultural innovation, based on your own experiences and insights gained throughout your career journey?

Working with investors, industry partners, regulators, and the scientific community to address systemic change in the food and ag industry is an ongoing effort and by no means easy. Change in this industry takes years, if not decades. Be ready to invest your time and passion into every endeavor. Active listening, open collaboration and science-backed passion are the keys to long-term success.


-Interviewed by Caitlin Truesdale
Sr. Communications Manager, BioCT