Some men just aren’t satisfied with average performance or a passing grade. Take Maurice Gaubatz, President and CEO of Pyxant Labs, Inc., for example. His Colorado Springs-based company delivers bioanalytical chemistry support services to producers of agricultural chemicals and pesticides; it could survive and thrive in its current niche for the foreseeable future – but Gaubatz sees bigger opportunities.
Pyxant’s client list already includes major players like Aventis CropScience, Janssen Pharmaceutica, ISK Biosciences, Dow AgroSciences and Crompton Corporation.
The company’s laboratories determine the amounts of specific chemicals (pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and metabolites) in human, plant and animal samples – data vital to pharmaceutical companies who wish to register new drugs with the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
Gaubatz, a magna cum laude graduate in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M also earned an MBA from the University of Houston to begin a 16-year career (1983-1999) with Dow Chemical Company. While employed by the firm, he ran one of Dow’s keystone operations in Freeport, Texas, where epoxy materials used in automotive and can coating applications were manufactured. Gaubatz left the camaraderie and security of corporate life to become an entrepreneur two years ago. “I’ve always wanted to build something of my own,” he says. “I wanted to provide the leadership to make a company grow and to create new jobs.”
He purchased the company, founded in 1985 and formerly known as Colorado Analytical Research and Development, from its retiring owner in March of 2000. Initial business revenues have been encouraging. “In our first 21 months we went from basically zero to almost half a million dollars of bioanalytical testing contracts,” says Gaubatz. “I’m proud of our track record so far.”
But Gaubatz isn’t satisfied with holding his own in a field of a dozen agricultural chemical testing competitors. He readily admits that today’s $5 billion non-agricultural food and drug pharmaceutical development industry will grow to more than $40 billion by 2006 – and he expects to penetrate that burgeoning market.
“Companies are outsourcing to firms like Pyxant at an increasing rate,” he said. Referring to PriceWaterhouse Coopers, LLP, survey reports from July 2001, and 2001-2002 Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America annual reports, he projects that outsourcing will continue to grow exponentially – representing 20 percent of all pharma R&D spending by 2004. “We are perfectly positioned, with the addition of key equipment, technology and personnel (including a vice presidential candidate with a wealth of experience in early-stage pharmaceutical recruitment and business development) to capture some of that growing business,” he said.
“The big chemical manufacturers like our high quality reports and testing procedures. We are an attractive alternative to larger, less responsive labs, and we’re building an excellent reputation as an outsourcing partner.” Gaubatz points out that his company guarantees the raw data that goes into its studies. “With the pressure that Wall Street is putting on (pharmaceutical) companies these days to get new products to market, our research – not our company name – will be in the spotlight. In fact, our clients require us to sign non-disclosure agreements – and we must be careful not to publicize much of the work we do, including the compounds we are testing.”
Admittedly, a lab located in Colorado Springs will have to work hard to win over pharmaceutical giants who may have long-time outsourcing vendor relationships in place, but Gaubatz is doing his homework and has already gathered interesting competitor intelligence. “I’ve watched a small company like ours recently grow from three employees in 1998 to 115 employees last year. The same company generated $45 million in revenues last year as they entered the pharmaceutical testing arena.
In order to compete with other vendors for pharmaceutical testing contracts, however, the firm needs to add critical LC/MSMS instrumentation, technology infrastructure and a personnel and marketing budget, he says, adding that Pyxant is currently seeking venture capital to make that move, and is looking for key investors.
Gaubatz recently pitched his company’s expansion plans to fellow entrepreneurs and financing angels at the Peak Venture Group breakfast. “We are one of a dozen bioscience labs currently working with a finite group of agricultural chemical companies and we have increased our market share, but we see such potential in the much larger drug and pharmaceutical testing market.”
Jim Wittenburg, an advisor to Pxyant Labs and a member of both Peak Venture Group and the Chamber’s Southern Colorado Investor Group, says that the bioscience company represents an ideal profile for both organizations. “First and foremost, Pyxant Labs is locally-owned. Secondly, Maurice Gaubatz, as the owner, demonstrates his ongoing commitment by initially investing in his own company. That is always impressive to potential investors. I believe the company is well-positioned for the next round of angel funding.” Wittenburg says that after presentations to both groups, Gaubatz had been contacted by several interested investors. “They just need to find a couple more angels, and I think Pyxant will get its expansion funding,” he said.
So how was a young scientist with a flair for management drawn to the Pikes Peak region? Outside of Boulder’s biotech community, the state of Colorado is not known as a leader in research and development. Gaubatz admits that he and his family liked the area – and that geographical location is unimportant to marketing his company’s services.
On tour at the company’s extensive laboratories, Gaubatz introduces a number of chemistry and biology grads who have joined his team – noting that two of his employees have been with the company for fourteen years. The company also employs a full-time quality assurance officer, responsible for supervising all testing procedures and reporting. The operation offers a work environment straight out of a text book with its walk-in freezers for sample storage, seven “workhorse” chromatographs, rotary evaporators and enough lab equipment, technology and scientific gear to impress any prospective customer. And yes, an Einstein calendar hangs on the wall of one office.
As the Economic Development Corporation works to promote the Pikes Peak region as a great place to relocate and to grow companies, Pyxant Labs, Inc., stands ready to make its mark – and a long-term investment in the local business community. It may be a quiet, methodically-run operation, but Pyxant represents a real Colorado Springs success story so far – with a potentially exciting future ahead.