I recently spoke with Pam Marrone, one of the rare women leading a public company. Her startup, Marrone Bio Innovations, develops natural alternatives to dangerous pesticides.
Marrone is an entomologist by training — and to say she is an insect enthusiast is putting it lightly. Growing up, “I loved bugs,” she recalls. After graduating from Cornell and North Carolina State universities, Marrone went to work for agro-giant Monsanto in the 1980s — until the company pivoted into genetically modified seeds. She left. “I wanted to continue my passion for [discovering] a holistic way to control pests, rather than knock ‘em dead with a toxic chemical.”
With her background in bugs, Marrone started her first natural-pest-control company, Agro-Quest, which was ultimately sold to Bayer. In 2006, she launched Marrone Bio. Like many entrepreneurs, she’s endured a host of highs and lows — including an employee accounting scandal that nearly sunk the company — but believes her timing is finally right. “People are concerned about where their food comes from,” she says. “They want it to be grown in a safe way.”
[Related: 10 Tips for How to Market Your Business on the Cheap]
Marrone, whose company now makes more than $18 million in annual revenue, is not the only entrepreneur in the hot biologicals space. But one way she has always stood out is by wearing insect-themed jewelry. Quite literally, “I wear my profession,” she says. “It’s also a great conversation starter wherever I go.”
Favorite pieces include a pearl-studded horsefly pin, a blue-and-white praying mantis, and a cicada pin with rhinestone wings and a purple-glass body. (Indeed, when we interviewed her for this video, she was wearing a ladybug necklace and matching earrings). She prefers more unusual bugs to the standard-issue dragonfly or butterfly jewelry. And ever the bootstrapper, these aren’t Harry Winston or Van Cleef & Arpels. “None of the pieces are expensive, and I have a relatively low upper limit for spending,” she says.
Does she really get a lot of comments on the jewelry? “Yes. In business, always someone comments on them,” she says. Considering she’s raised more than $200 million in venture capital, it’s quite possible the quirky pieces have helped. “But also wherever I am in the world — flight attendants, gate agents, airport security screeners, Starbucks servers” — somebody always remarks about them, she says.
The jewelry is more than a conversation piece. Wearing things like a rhinestone cicada is a tangible reminder of her vision and the importance of her work. “Belief in the mission … is why we are here today,” she says. “I would do anything to keep this company going.”
[Related: The Unusual Item That Inspired This Science Entrepreneur’s Career Path]