Monday, November 28, 2005
Interview with Jeffrey Martin, President and CEO of Yulex
Jeffrey Martin is the President and CEO of Carlsbad-based Yulex (www.yulex.com), a material science company developing a replacement for latex. The company is also interesting because of its beginnings as a technology transfer from research done at the USDA.
BK: What is Yulex, and what is the idea behind your latex replacement product?
JM: Yulex is a natural rubber latex derived from a desert shrub called guayule which is grown in the southwest United States. Yulex Latex is safe for the millions of individuals who suffer from Type I Latex Allergy (tropical latex allergy).
BK: How did the founders decide to commercialize guayule, and how difficult was it to spin out the technology was from the USDA?
JM: Yulex contained an exclusive right to the technology from the USDA-ARS who was seeking a commercial partner to commercialize. I presented the opportunity to Safeskin Corporation as the current VP Marketing and Business Development (Safeskin's board of directors declined the opportunity to pursue). Afterward I joined Yulex and provided the first investment capital and took over as President & CEO.
The working relationship between Yulex and the USDA-ARS has been ideal and a model for effective technology transfer.
BK: How far along are you in your development, and how long do you expect it will take to get to market?
JM: Yulex has already begun commercial shipments to several manufacturers who are in various stages of product development for medical gloves, condoms and catheters.
BK: Is there really that much demand for an alternative to latex?
JM: There is a large demand! Synthetic latex has been the only alternative to tropical latex. Synthetics have taken nearly 35% of many key markets but the materials are inferior to natural rubber and cost more to produce.
BK: Who are your financial backers?
JM: Argonaut Private Equity in Tulsa, OK.
BK: Was it difficult to find a financial backer for the firm at such an early stage?
JM: I provided the first seed monies followed by a round of Angel investors (high net worth farmers/ranchers from AZ). After proof of concept was established, the professional investment followed.
BK: What's your own background, and what attracted you to join Yulex from Safeskin?
BK: I have an extensive background in the medical device industry. Prior to Yulex, I was corporate officer and Vice President of Sales for Safeskin Corporation, a leading manufacturer and marketer of medical/scientific gloves in the U.S. As stated previously, I presented the technology from the USDA who was seeking a commercial partner to commercialize Guayule while at Safeskin, but the board of directors declined the opportunity to pursue. Therefore, I was attracted to this great advancement in the medical device industry and joined Yulex.
At Safeskin, I also held the position of Vice President of Marketing/Business Development for North American and European operations, where sales grew from $55 million to $235 million in six years. I was responsible for the acquisition of Tactyl Technologies where I was elected a director in 1996.
I was also the first sales executive hired for London Rubber Company's Regent Hospital Products U.S. office, where I helped establish the new division as the market leader in the surgical glove market and a technology innovator. Prior to Regent, I held positions in both R&D and sales with the Professional Healthcare Group of the Kimberly-Clark Corporation.
I began my career in medical products in 1975 with the Ethicon division of Johnson & Johnson, Inc., conducting product research on surgical adhesives and sutures.
BK: What lessons do you think you've learned from the difficulty (or ease) of spinning out technology from a research organization?
JM: The technology partner must commit continued resources to bring the product to commercialization. It is not always a clean hand off from academia/government lab to industry.