Listening to CEO Brad Mitteness explain what Le Center-based Camas Inc. produces can be a little like reading the mathematical equations underpinning Einstein's theory of relativity.
started in the mid-'80s as the vision of Dr. John Rosevear, who had worked at Mayo Clinic
," said 47-year-old Mitteness
Le Center corporate offices.
, "Doing it this way gives us all kinds of advantages.It's efficient and it's low cost.The other way to do it would be to hyper-immunize a rabbit or goat and draw blood from the animal.But that would be very invasive and would not result in antibodies with the same level of stability."Mitteness was born and raised in west-central Minnesota, in Benson, on a sugar beet, registered cattle, turkey, corn, and soybean farm.
It was a great atmosphere in which to grow up and develop a work ethic, he
said, and he
was heavily involved showing cattle in 4H and in FFA before going off to pursue his
dreams at the University of Minnesota
siblings and parents were all high-achievers: his
oldest sister became a medical anthropologist and Department Chair at the University of California-San Francisco; his
other sister, the executive editor of American Family Physician magazine; and his
brother resides on the family farm near Benson."And my father was an extremely hardworking guy, always involved in organizations, and was on the original board of directors of the Southern Minnesota Sugar Beet Cooperative," he said.
"My mother is a super-bright lady.She
has always kept the wheels on and everybody going in the right direction.She
gets a lot of the credit for what we have accomplished."
At the University of Minnesota
majored in agricultural and applied economics, and specifically, he
zeroed in on animal science and technology.As for his
was intensely curious, always focused on how and why things worked, and figuring out ways to solve problems."All I ever wanted to do was be a farmer," he said.
...In 1990, Mitteness leased out his farm and began graduate work in economics at the University of Minnesota.
dream job as general manager at the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute
(AURI) in Marshall, Minnesota.The Institute's mission, Mitteness
said, was to help people commercialize value-added agricultural technologies.While in that position, he
ran across many ag-tech start-ups, including Camas
, and worked with dozens of companies manufacturing all kinds of product, from high-tech applications like biodegradable packing material and plastics made from wheat starch, jams and jellies from wild berries.He
also became deeply involved in food safety issues, and learned about meat processing.
only eighteen months, he
left."I had challenges working for a state agency and the limitations it imposed," he
...After coming on board in 1995 as a consultant, Mitteness met at company headquarters near the University of Minnesota with Dr. Rosevear, CFO Don Robinson, and a major investor.
helped board members understand other applications for their patents, including using the antibodies in animal feeds as direct interventions.Mitteness'
food safety background helped in a bit of the explaining, as did his
experience in working with meat processors in implementing comprehensive food safety programs."I knew the tremendous need to address salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, listeria and other organisms, for instance," said Mitteness
."And after that meeting, I had a lot of nights where I couldn't sleep because of the excitement, just thinking about the company's potential."
After successful trials, and proving they could reduce the numbers of certain microorganisms to undetectable levels, Mitteness
and the company board thought they had a slam-dunk selling the product in to meat packers.
"But we don't get into that argument over whether using antibiotics is bad or good," said Mitteness
"When we launched NPCoat, I spoke to a group of veterinarians in Nebraska at a 5:00 a.m. breakfast meeting," said Mitteness
, "Our product can lead to a significant reduction in morbidity and mortality there, too."
The almost endless growth potential?The United States alone has about nine million dairy cows in production and annually slaughters 35 million beef cattle and almost a hundred million hogs.As for Camas
, the company currently ships product to about 30 states, and has been doing extensive research with the Brazilian beef industry and in Spain.Through its technology and productsâ€"researched in Le Center in part using a bio-secure facility and a tissue culture laboratoryâ€"Camas
has separate products that can target each of dozens of microorganisms affecting farm animals.
The company owns patents and has several patents pending for methods of producing antibodies, injecting chickens, and patents on the products themselves.Although there are competitors, said Mitteness
, "There isn't anyone out there doing things exactly the way we do."
Family TiesBrad Mitteness joined Camas Inc. full-time in 1998 as its marketing director, not long after John Rosevear passed away, and became CEO only last October, replacing Dr. Peter Nash.
still lives near Marshall, where he
used to work as general manager of an Agriculture Utilization Research Institute
said, "I fell in love with a local girl there.
"If we get too expensive, there is sticker shock," said Mitteness
."We aren't cheaper on a per-animal basis.Our efficacy gives us a cost advantage."Mitteness
said that disease pressure in feedlots increases every year.One virus alone, circovirus, devastated the swine industry over the last two years, and salmonella always remains a problem.
"However, it's a fact that these organisms can develop an antibiotic resistance," he
...As for now, Mitteness and his board see a lot more upside potential, and greater growth possibilities, and they want to take the company several steps further before entertaining any thoughts of selling.
"We would prefer that NPCoat be designated as a veterinary biologic," said Mitteness
...CEO Mitteness stressed the company wouldn't be anywhere without its talented workforce of 21 employees, such as Connie Phillips, an experienced virologist from Iowa with 35 years in the vaccine development business in USDA-regulated environments.