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Why Dan Vradenburg joining Trace Genomics as CEO is a big deal

October 9, 2019

Editor’s Note: Rob Leclerc is a founding partner at venture capital firm AgFunder an investor in Trace Genomics.

On Monday morning, I got an email from our friend Daniel Vradenburg, former president of Wilbur-Ellis, and board chair of Cavallo Ventures:

I didn’t want to call you on Sunday but wanted to let you know that I just accepted the CEO role at Trace Genomics. Diane and Poornima are great and their soil intelligence platform has amazing potential. I couldn’t pass on this opportunity to help build an entirely new company that’s pioneering a new market. 

Yes!! For those of you who don’t know Dan or Trace Genomics, this is a big deal. 

Wilbur-Ellis is a leading retailer of agriculture products — think seeds, fertilizers, services — in the US and globally in other verticals too. The team is first class. For 37 years, Dan helped build Wilbur-Ellis into a modern-day powerhouse. He started at Wilbur-Ellis in 1982 as a field sales agronomist and worked his way up to become president of the business that today grosses over $2 billion in annual sales and spans 160 branch locations and 3,000 employees in the US.

Trace Genomics is a category-defining agtech company that could help usher in a second green revolution.  While we understand the chemical and physical properties of soil, we know almost nothing about the biological properties of soil. Trace Genomics plans to change that with its soil-testing technology.

The company was founded by two Stanford PhDs, Diane Wu and Poornima Parameswaran, who worked under Nobel laureate Andrew Fire. In our due diligence with several of the top agronomy firms, they said unequivocally that Diane and Poornima were the smartest soil scientists they had ever met. This kind of world-class technical talent, matched with cutting-edge science attacking a big open-ended market, got us excited. We needed to be a part of it and so last year we invested in their Series A.

Fast forward a year and Trace Genomics has since made tremendous strides in decoding how soil biology can be used to create value for farmers and agronomists on every acre, and now it’s time to press the gas on commercialization. 

For me, Dan joining Trace is like Eric Schmidt joining Sergey Brin and Larry Page at Google, or Sheryl Sandberg joining Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook. You want to give world-class technical founders the time to focus on the product and the vision and not get bogged down in simultaneously trying to execute on operational excellence. 

As the industry matures and startups start to move to that next phase, I think we’ll see a lot more of these high profile unions between great technical founders and world-class operators who have run and scaled multi-billion-dollar businesses. Dan doesn’t need to work another day in his life, and so getting someone of his caliber to lead Trace Genomics to realize its grand ambitions is an incredible coup.

He’s clearly excited as he told me today that he views “Diane and Poornima as not only talented scientists and cofounders but as entrepreneurs who have placed a life-encompassing bet on their team’s talent and abilities to build a purposeful company with global relevance.”

We’re excited for the next chapter for Dan, Diane, Poornima, and Trace Genomics.

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