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March 4, 2024 2024 Power 50

2024 Power 50: 43. Jacqueline Heard

HBJ PHOTO | HARRIET JONES Enko founder and CEO Jacqueline Heard in the pesticide development company’s Mystic greenhouse.

Jacqueline Heard’s startup company is at the heart of the data-driven agriculture movement, applying artificial intelligence to developing a new generation of pesticides that she hopes will meet the tough challenges facing farmers who must feed a growing world population.

Heard is CEO of agrichemicals company Enko Chem, which made headlines in 2021 when it announced plans to relocate its headquarters from Greater Boston to Mystic, at 62 Maritime Drive, where it currently occupies an 89,000-square-foot facility formerly owned by Pfizer and Monsanto.

Enko has raised $150 million from numerous investors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public venture capital arm.

The company has generated hundreds of crop-protection molecules through a technology platform it calls ENKOMPASS. It combines screening of DNA-encoded chemical libraries with machine learning and structure-based design to find new, better-performing and more targeted chemistries.

Find out who else is in the 2024 Power 50.

The goal is to find safe and effective pesticides in a more timely manner.

Historically, it’s taken about 13 years to bring a novel compound to market. Heard said she believes her AI-driven model can cut that to between eight and 10 years.

In January, Enko announced a partnership with Switzerland-based Syngenta Crop Protection to develop a new chemistry to control fungal disease in cereal crops.

“The world faces a food security crisis that climate change is steadily worsening,” Heard said in announcing the partnership. “By proving that digital tools can cut discovery time for new crop protection solutions, we hope to accelerate the digital transformation shift within the agricultural industry as growers’ needs become more urgent.”

Heard earned her Ph.D. in biology from Boston College and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. She’s an agricultural industry veteran, having spent more than 11 years at Monsanto Co.

Find out who else is in the 2024 Power 50.

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