A new funding sector? Agriculture 2.0

By Deb Parsons, Co-Director

Last Wednesday, I attended the Silicon Valley Agriculture 2.0 conference hosted by one of our members, Janine Yorio of New Seed Advisors. It was a new mix of people at a conference focused on agriculture, food systems and technology. I saw many familiar faces like the folks at RSF Social Finance and several IC members but also in attendance were Kleiner Perkins, US Venture Partners and corporate vcs. Is sustainable agriculture the next “clean tech” sector?

This certainly has been a topic of conversation at Investors’ Circle for many years. The Slow Money Alliance actually became a movement into itself to address the long term capital needs for sustainable agriculture. But the question last wednesday really was is this a hockey stick return kind of space or more patient capital? I would argue that it is both and that some vc’s will be extending the investment horizon from the 3-7 years to 5-10 years.  And at what point does an investment become “patient”?

During the event there were about 12 venture pitches throughout the day and a side conference focused on Aquaculture.  While I didn’t attend the aquaculture pitches I did see a few interesting companies that are still too early for IC but ideas to watch and some that have already presented to IC.

18 Rabbits: an all natural granola bar with a great community story pitched. Alison Bailey Vercruysse pitched to our network in the Fall 2008. She continues to have success and if you haven’t tried her product check it out at Whole Foods or Peet’s coffee.

Marrone Bio Innovations: this is a company that was in the IC20.  Pam Marrone continues to create innovative, environmentally friendly products for increasing yields.

Too early for IC but to watch:

  • Cityscape Farms– an aquaponic rooftop garden focused on increasing the quality and quantity of good food in urban areas.  Ideally addressing food security and scarcity issues.
  • Capay Valley Farm Shop – this is a CSA model and then some run by a great management team.  If only they could figure out a way to also include micro-brew and bread.
  • Inka Biospheric Systems – a socially conscious company that has created a series of solutions in response to the global “water, food, and housing” crisis.  This company has great mass commercial potential as well as products that would be essential in developing worlds, refugee camps and areas of crisis.

At the Spring IC Conference April 20 (Registration still open), we will be addressing the topic of “Investing in Lood Systems” hosted by Amy Dickie of CEA Consulting and Elizabeth U at RSF Social Finance.  The topic will be building off Amy’s paper ” Local Foods: A guide for Investors and Philanthropists”. And if you want to learn even more about the topic check out Slow Money’s annual event in June.

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IC Chairman Quoted in NY Times!

Investors’ Circle Chairman, Woody Tasch, was quoted in today’s New York Times.

The article, titled: Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town, focuses on the hopeful future of sustainable agriculture.  Woody describes the social transformation that comes through investing in local food.

“What the Hardwick guys are doing is the first wave of what could be a major social transformation, the swinging back of the pendulum from industrialization and globalization.”

Read the full article here.