The Power of Entrepreneurship in Food and Agriculture: A Recipe for Disruption

Food is one of the biggest markets in the world. It also happens to be one where innovation happens in very slow cycles. With advancements in technology, processing equipment and more efficient distribution systems, we are making food more transparent to the consumer and there seems to be major improvements in its quality and reliability. Some would reason that the intensification of agricultural production has led to better and more consistent food supply for people on the planet, but I would argue that it’s all about the entrepreneurs, innovators, and disruptors that are forcing positive change among agricultural supply chains.

The Power of Innovation and Interdisciplinary Thinking in Food

In an ever-changing globalized economy, many agriculturalists, economists, businesspeople, researchers, and entrepreneurs believe that we cannot move forward if we continue to view things in silos. There are too many factors that are now interconnected and effect many levels of integration in food; climate change and warming temperatures, volatile commodity and capital markets, unstable political economies, increase in international trade and movement of goods, as well as the digitization of processes and technologies that are completely changing the food paradigm.

The power of innovation and interdisciplinary thinking is a critical component of innovation and the measurement of success for ground-breaking ideas looking to positively disrupt our current system. If a new idea unfolds and the critical components of the triple bottom line (people-planet-profits) are not considered and included in a business plan, challenges will be imposed on growth and potential of the idea. In addition, other modes of thinking are extremely important and cannot be forgotten. The idea that one area of study or thinking is to be solely used without other resources is becoming a foreign concept to many big thinkers around the world that have shown an interest in solving complex problems.

What’s Working: Purpose and Profits

In 30 years, it has been stated that the world will need to double its production of food to feed an additional 2 billion people on the planet. With a rise in population, limited access to natural resources such as land and water, a rise in global temperatures, and volatile commodity and financial markets, this places immense amount of pressure on society to act quickly to proactively defeat these challenges.

One thing is for certain: we live in a capitalist society driven by profits. If anything, we are advanced and increasingly connected because of this. Profit can be a good thing and has been for many years. However, entrepreneurs are now understanding that profit may show financial potential and promise, but the bottom line in business is now accompanied by other important metrics that consumers and investors are interested in knowing about. Whether it be social impact, such as community-based initiatives or paying employees better wages, offering more transparent products and services, reducing environmental footprint, or identifying gaps in the marketplace that need to be addressed, entrepreneurs are looking for a purpose in the work they do, and are using profit to make it happen.

In the food and agriculture space, we’ve been increasing production and processes are becoming more sophisticated and efficient. We are more mechanized, and more efficient to produce for the critical mass than we’ve ever been. However, we still have over 800 million people on the planet who lack sufficient nutrients and food for survival. There’s still a massive portion of the population that looks for their next meal before they look for an occupation. How can we possibly address these problems given the uncertainties the world presents us? It’s all about our entrepreneurs who think about disrupting in a multi-faceted and interdisciplinary lens. We need to continue to encourage this thinking and provide the best minds with networks and capital to help them fulfill their purpose and strive for profitability.

What Makes Food So Important to People?

Not only is it an element of survival, but food is emotional: it brings us together. When asked about why food is important, it came to mind that it’s an emotional connection with the moment and situation we may find ourselves in. We spend some of the best times as friends and families over meals and cherish some of the best moments thanks to food. Can you imagine what a family dinner is like without an actual dinner?

The Widening Gap Between Farm to Fork

As we become more and more separated between the food we eat and its production process, technology is helping bridge the gap. For years, we used to be involved in the primary process of agriculture. Over the last one hundred years, this seems to have completely flipped over and consumers are further away from the source of the food they eat. This goes to say that the quality may be just as good, but the awareness about thin margins for farmers, animal welfare, pesticide use, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), preservative use in foods, and the time-to-market factors may be forgotten to the average consumer. Through the use of technologies and more transparent production and distribution systems, entrepreneurs should see this as an opportunity to add value to the food supply chains and its respective products they produce.

Tapping into a Network of Thought Leaders

As things become more transparent and consumers are the new CEOs of food supply chains, entrepreneurs must harness this opportunity and play to the strengths the marketplace presents. Trends will continue to rise in terms of transparency and where food comes from as consumers become more and more interested in what they eat. By utilizing a network of thought leaders who understand the food marketplace, and who provide interdisciplinary thinking and creative problem-solving abilities, sound entrepreneurs and innovators will be well equipped for agility and ability to pivot at a rapid pace. There is no better time to get involved in the food and agriculture sector.

Eamonn McGuinty is a 2015-2016 Kirchner Food Fellow. He is currently pursuing a Masters degree at the University of Guelph. Eamonn is passionate about utilizing business as a force for good and developing comprehensive and responsible investment strategies in food and agriculture. He is extremely passionate about international work and wants to work towards safer and better ecosystems bridging all sectors together to solve the challenges we face.

The Kirchner Food Fellowship is an initiative of Kirchner Group that is attempting to innovate capital deployment by advanced assembly of investment teams, applying a problem-based learning and solutions model along with a unique process and domain approach. The goal is to shorten deployment time frames and increase the likelihood of investment success. The program focuses on companies aiming to improve global food security and provides students with full discretion over their investment fund. Find out more about the Kirchner Food Fellowship and the 2016-17 application here.

Ever More Analyzed, Customized, and Connected: Three Trends In Agriculture Start-Ups

Written by Sarah Piccini a 2015-2016 Kirchner Food Fellow. She is currently pursuing a Masters at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Sarah is passionate about building food systems that are inclusive, healthy and sustainable from farm to fork.

February 10, 2016 – A farmer has always been a carpenter, veterinarian, mechanic and businessman all rolled into one. Today, they must also be a big data analyst, savvy marketer, and far-sighted strategist. At the Kirchner Food Fellowship, we support innovative, socially-minded enterprises with great ideas to help farmers meet these growing demands, while also doing right by their land, their teams and their customers.

Fortunately, the number of food and agriculture start-ups aimed at tackling these challenges is growing fast. Here are three trends we’re noticing out on the fields right now.

Data For All, Not Just The Big Commodities

“Big Data” has been a buzzword for several years and companies have been eager to collect as much of it as they can. But all that information means very little if it’s not the right data, and if it’s not put to work for the farmer at the local level.

Data analysis is moving past the big commodities and focusing more on specialty crops and smaller growers. Methods for collecting data are evolving too. The systems are increasingly passive (versus having to actively feed data into a system) and embedded in both software and hard machinery. Of course, there are risks involved in ubiquitous data collection. Farmers are protective of their proprietary information and enterprises must take care to respect privacy rights and only release data at the aggregate level.

However, the benefits have the potential to far outweigh the risks. With better information for growers of all sizes, service providers can deliver better and more targeted services to meet a farmer’s specific needs. “Virtual Field Manager” can give smart recommendations based on farm history, market trends, price information and labor availability. Farmers could obtain a bird’s eye view for strategic decision making on human and capital investments and marketing, among other important decisions.

Customized Tools and Recommendations For You

No one believes one size fits all anymore. Retailers and service providers will no longer be judged solely on price but also on whether the customized recommendations and the support they can give to farmers translates to real improvements in farm management and incomes.

Hard tools and machinery can be “smartly” designed to meet each grower’s specific terrain, growing conditions and challenges. Soft tools and advice will work to help farmers understand how weather, seed selection, inputs and practices interact and affect each other to determine product quality and market opportunities.

Start-ups are working to help farmers align each of these factors with their individual circumstances, growing conditions and goals.

Get Instantly Connected With Peers and Experts

Addressing the complexities that emerge from rapid changes and innovations requires greater access to peers and experts in all fields. As troubleshooting new machinery or getting the most out of management software becomes more complicated, there is enormous value from connecting immediately with experts without the downtime of rural travel.

New services are putting a digital spin on your local coffee shop and office water cooler by providing simple social platforms to connect with other growers and seek advice from those with similar challenges or goals. They are also providing a way for older farmers to share their wealth of knowledge and experience with younger farmers who are just getting started in the business.

Just like farmers, start-ups face a complex and dynamic field. The successful ones will be those who succeed in helping farmers create more profitable, efficient and sustainable businesses that meet shifting demands from the industry and consumers alike.

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The Kirchner Food Fellowship is an initiative of Kirchner Group (a traditional merchant bank) to innovate capital deployment by improving the assembly of investment teams, applying a problem-based learning and solutions model along with a unique process and domain approach that focuses on providing both sector and operational support. The goal is to shorten deployment time frames and increase the likelihood of investment success. The program focuses on improving global food security and provides students with full discretion over their investment fund. Find out more about the Kirchner Food Fellowship and the 2016-17 application here.