It is not difficult finding conferences and one-off events that serve to link venture capital to clean technology firms. While the halcyon days of the 1990s dot-com era will never return, there are angel investors and VC firms that will invest in smart grid, renewable energy, and water efficiency if the opportunity appears solid.
Now sustainable agriculture is gaining more investors’ attention. One firm paving the way is NewSeed Advisors, based in New York City. Its Managing Director, Janine Yorio, a former investment banker at Salomon Brothers, NewSeed is organizing conferences that will link financiers to those in the agricultural and food production sectors, with the goal to yield both a positive impact on the planet while gaining returns for the investment community.
The NewSeed team has been on quite a journey. Kate Westfall, the firm’s Managing Director of Marketing & Events, has a past life as the Director of Operations for the International Federation of Competitive Eating, where she produced the famous July 4th Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest. Since then she completed a master’s in Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy (famous of course for its parmesan cheese and prosciutto). As Kate explained in our interview:
The transition from speed eating to slow food came very naturally to me. Food is culture, and I happened to be singularly steeped in American food culture. I needed to see how the rest of the world was benefitting from (and being corrupted by) exposure to our pattern of consumption.
Another team member is Anjali Oberoi, an MBA graduate with a background in management consulting who followed her love for chocolate from scouting the best sources in New York City to volunteering at cacao plantations and organic farms in Latin America.
The team has organized a series of events, Agriculture 2.0, that will address such pressures as population growth, the westernization of diets, and the increase in biofuel production. In New York on September 14, entrepreneurs and industry leaders will discuss the most promising ideas and companies that will benefit from the global demand for organic and sustainably produced food and related products from around the world.
Westfall and Oberoi explained that the transition to a more sustainable future can only happen with the cooperation and support of the large corporations that have been major players in the agriculture and food business for decades. This transition won’t come easily; it must be ushered in not just by small non-profits and activists, but also by industry leaders.
Executives who will speak at the New York Agriculture 2.0 conference include Ernesto Brovelli, the Senior Manager of Sustainable Agriculture in the Environment and Water Resources Department at The Coca-Cola Company. He is also on the executive committee of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform, and works on developing a sustainable sourcing strategy for Coke. Another speaker will be Don Borgman from John Deere, which is developing precision agriculture technology along with wind turbines used to generate clean, renewable energy.
NewSeed believes that a ground-up/top-down strategy is the most sure-fire way to move sustainable agriculture in a positive way. Future events will be held in Toronto in October and Silicon Valley in March 2011.