We are revisiting three different former guests from 2018 to ask the question “Where are they now?”. This is something you all have requested over the years, but I’ve never done until now. It was a lot of fun and really insightful to catch up with the three former podcast guests that you’re about to hear from. They are: Michael Gilbert of Semios, Tony Chen from Manolin, and Chris Rawley of Harvest Returns.
So you’re getting sort of three episodes in one today. I think there are a ton of great nuggets in each of these segments, so I highly encourage you to stick around to listen to each of them.
"From Farms to Incubators" https://www.farmstoincubators.com/
This week we are exploring the concept of engineering a plant to provide signals of stress like pest pressure or disease pressure or nutrient deficiency. InnerPlant is developing traits that serve as biosensors for when each of these unique types of stressors occur. This can be monitored via satellite for early detection and hopefully swift and precise action by the farmer. InnerPlant founder and CEO Shely Aronov is joining us on today’s show.
And when I say us, I not only mean you I, dear listener, but also my co-host for today’s episode Amy Wu. Amy is the author of the book “From Farms to Incubators: Women Innovators Revolutionizing How Our Food is Grown”. Amy and I teamed up earlier this year to produce some episodes together featuring women in agtech. This is the third of those episodes following Joanne Zhang in episode 263, and Ponsi Trivisvavet in episode 273. I highly encourage you to purchase a copy of Amy’s book, as it not only includes Joanne and Ponsi, but also several other former guests of this podcast: like Pam Marrone, Fatma Kaplan, Sarah Nolet, Mariana Vasconcelos, Christine Su, and others.
So, joining Amy and I is Shely Aronov. Shely grew up in Israel and came to the United States to get her MBA at Stanford, where she chose entrepreneurship as her focus. After some entrepreneurial ventures including a hummus company, she was inspired by some work her father in law was doing in biosensors which eventually led to founding InnerPlant in 2018.
I usually don’t feature companies on this show that are so early that they don’t yet have a commercial offering. But when Amy brought up the idea, the concept of communicating with plants was just too enticing for me to pass up. You’re going to hear a lot about how this works, why it could lead to significant improvements in management of these stressors, what it’s like to be a female agtech founder not from an ag background, and why farmers are paying to be part of this several months before there’s even a product available.
Tenacious Ventures: https://tenacious.ventures/
SP Ventures: https://www.spventures.com.br/
Merck Animal Health Ventures: https://www.merck-animal-health.com/animal-health-ventures/
Last month I gathered four agtech venture capitalists who all happen to be very popular previous guests of this show to talk about what they’re seeing in agtech investment, and to speculate about where things might go from here. What resulted was a great conversation talking about how areas of technology are making their way into agriculture, and how that’s made them feel suddenly like part of the “popular kids” of the venture community.
The four voices you’re going to hear from today are Mark Kahn from Omnivore in India, Sarah Nolet from Tenacious Ventures in Australia, Janette Barnard with Merck Animal Health Ventures here in the U.S., and Francisco Jardim of SP Ventures in Brazil. I’ll link to each of their websites and the previous episodes where you can hear them in the show notes.
Francisco Jardim LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/franciscojardim/
Sarah Nolet LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/svnolet/
Janette Barnard LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/janettebarnard/
Mark Kahn LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-kahn-20490a/
Sarah Nolet Twitter: https://twitter.com/svnoles
Janette Barnard Twitter: https://twitter.com/JanetteJoyB
Mark Kahn Twitter: https://twitter.com/agri_technology
Hello Tractor: https://hellotractor.com/
Jehiel Oliver on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jehiel/
Software is Feeding the World Email Newsletter: https://rpethe.substack.com/
Today’s episode is about how Hello Tractor is bringing tractors to farmers in developing countries. This is a tremendous story of figuring out the logistics of how to maximize the use of farm machinery where it’s needed most, and deploying the technology and processes to make this happen at scale. At a real basic level, Hello Tractor is an agricultural technology company that connects smallholder farmers across the emerging markets with farm equipment owners that have excess capacity through technology.
Jehiel started the company six years ago in Nigeria, and has since moved to Kenya. Hello Tractor is now operating in 13 countries in Africa as well as a few countries in Asia as well as Guatemala and Jamaica.
Today’s episode is worth listening to all the way through, whether or not you think the problems of the developing work apply to you. It’s not only a great story, but there are some fascinating insights here about the power of fleet management technology, and how innovations in this industry can be applied to farms of all sizes.
Jehiel grew up in Cleveland and started his career in investment banking. He started to become really interested in ways to use finance to work with more marginalized communities, and started volunteering his time and expertise in deal structuring to microfinance organizations. After the financial crisis he committed full time to this work, first in Afghanistan. He realized that the global poor work in agriculture, and mechanization is a key missing piece to helping to alleviate poverty. So he’s applying his finance background to pull commercial levers to address this really entrenched problem.
The Nature Conservancy: https://www.nature.org/en-us/
"Building Soil Health Through Innovation" https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/provide-food-and-water-sustainably/food-and-water-stories/building-soil-health-innovation/
Renée Vassilos LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rvassilos/
Today’s guest is Renée Vassilos. Renée manages The Nature Conservancy’s investments in innovative companies that will help scale regenerative agriculture production practices. Prior to joining TNC, she spent nearly a decade at John Deere, followed by leading her consulting firm, Banyan Innovation Group, advising growth-stage agriculture technology startups and investors. That’s where she was when we heard from her in episode 157 in 2019.
If you’ve never heard of The Nature Conservancy before, they are a global environmental nonprofit working to create a world where people and nature can thrive. They have a strong reputation for working with private and public partners, including farmers and agribusinesses, to find practical and sustainable solutions to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.
Since joining TNC a couple of years ago, Renée has led investments in seven different early stage agricultural companies. Four of which, you’ve actually heard about if you’ve been listening to this show for very long. Those four are: Grower’s Edge (ep 156 & 238), SwarmFarm Robotics (ep 271), Sentera (ep 255 & 264), and Vence (ep 246).
Renee and I also talk about how they’re measuring and evaluating the impact of their investments related to their ability to get closer to their soil health goals, and the chicken or the egg problem of whether the tools can change a farmers practices or if a mindset has to change first with the farmer to seek out the right tools for those practices. That’s toward the end and Renee and I disagree slightly on which has to come first.
**Join the FoA Community: www.patreon.com/agriculture