by Nick Sarkisian
Sponsored, hosted and organized by NewSeed Advisors and SPIN Farming, with additional co-host U.S. Venture Partners (USVP), the Agriculture 2.0 Silicon Valley 2010 Event, held March 24, 2010, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto, California, was the first West Coast conference of its kind, bringing together venture capital firms and early to late stage start-up companies with a focus on sustainable agriculture. This marked a notable convergence of cleantech, and even biotech, within the agricultural sector.
Janine Yorio, former Wall Street investment banker and founder of NewSeed Advisors, explained that the goal of NewSeed Advisors in organizing and sponsoring the Agriculture 2.0 Conference “is to attract institutional investors’ capital to the sustainable agriculture industry.” Ms. Yorio added that since the sustainable ag industry is a “relatively young industry, the companies tend to be pretty early stage.” As a result, NewSeed also assists these companies to “refine their messaging and structure their capital stack so that they are more attractive to investors.”
Need for Sustainable Solutions in Agriculture
In her opening address, Janine Yorio explained that the agricultural industry contributes more green house gases (GHG) in the U.S. than all of transportation combined, totaling up to “30% of U.S. GHG emissions”. With the U.S. itself contributing almost 25% of world GHG annually, reduction in U.S. GHG agricultural emissions is a key component to any GHG solution.
On that sustainability premise, the conference delivered a day of keynote, panel, and company presentations on sustainable “agtech” innovations and included a separate conference track on sustainable aquaculture sponsored and organized by Aquacopia Capital Management LLC, a venture capital firm specializing in aquaculture. Approximately 250 investor representatives, farmers, agtech professionals and academia were in attendance, including representatives from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Khosla Ventures, Mindful Investors, Mohr Davidow, Open Prairie Investors, Nexus Venture Partners, Rockport Capital Partners, RSF Social Finance, and U.S. Venture Partners, to name a few.
Tom Tomich, U.C. Davis professor and Director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at the university, provided one of the main keynote addresses, focusing on practices that promote a sustainable and secure food industry. Mr. Tomich highlighted that while agriculture represents only 4% of California’s economy, 20% and 40% of California land area and fresh water, respectively, are allocated to agriculture.
One of the featured panels was a Sustainable Ag panel focused on agribusiness models and practices that promote sustainable solutions and standards, and included Melanie Cheng, founder of FarmsReach, a San Francisco-based startup facilitating the development of a model for a regional food market infrastructure, Michael Dimock with the non-profit, Roots of Change, Scott Exo with Food Alliance, and Jeff Dlott with Sure Harvest. Continue Reading →