By Jelle Dijkema
On Sunday, June 21st, a group of 18 Dutch participants gathered at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in San Francisco for a the kick-off session of the Ag & Food Tech Safari organized by the NOST (the Netherlands Office for Science and Technology) in San Francisco. The week long schedule was packed with interesting speakers, great participants and amazing company visits. Our first speaker was Gigi Wang, an entrepreneur guru, who introduced the Silicon Valley culture and how companies should care about gaining people’s trust. It’s all about transparency and openness. How to become an entrepreneur in the agri-food business is William Rosenzweig’s expertise. Rosenzweig is the Dean of the Food Business School, part of the Culinary Institute of America. He elaborated on the importance and the possibilities of creating a successful business in the agri-food sector.
Monday started early with a bus trip down to Palo Alto to visit the Institute For The Future (IFTF). Devin Fidler spoke globally on the futuristic approach to change by IFTF and focused in on the future of food innovation. IFTF doesn’t try to predict the future, but provides tools to deal with trends that will change our future. “Foresight, insight, action” is IFTF’s mantra and Rajnish Khanna of i-Cultiver added to this by explaining the need for an integral approach to connecting soil health to human health for the future of our food system. He pleads that our food system starts with soil and the micro-organisms that are present to maintain a healthy soil to produce healthy food, and ends in the gut within the human body where the food is eventually digested.
Cisco’s Joel Barbier concluded the morning speeches on how the Internet of Everything and the Internet of Things work and how it can be used to assess business opportunities.
In the afternoon, the group had the opportunity to do two company visits. Ron Shigeta from San Francisco-based biotechnology accelerator IndieBio gave an insight in the way Silicon Valley treats their start-ups. In a matter of only four months, entrepreneurs, sometimes with just an idea, get a cash infusion of $100K to start here and end with a presentable prototype of their product in front of a panel of investors.
The second company visit, Google’s SolverForX, approaches the idea development in a different manner. The people at SolverForX actively scout for projects, or “moonshot” as they call it, that can make the world better. Whether it’s an idea to eradicate or better treat human diseases or new ways to deal with climate change, any idea, small or large, SolveforX will connect these projects to a wide network of experts, mentors, investors that will help further develop this idea into a product.
The day was concluded in the relaxed setting of the SOMA StrEatFood Park, a foodtruck park in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. During dinner a panel of experienced telecom executives discussed the Silicon Valley innovation mindset, how to collaborate with startups and what the biggest misunderstandings are about the Silicon Valley mindset.
Tuesday started off with a presentation by Farmobile at the Consulate General of the Netherlands. Farmers know farm data is valuable, but there are a lot of questions and uncertainties around giving this data away or selling it to large corporations. Farmobile puts the farmer in charge of its own data. The company helps the farmer with data logging and creates a market place where a farmer can decide against what price it wants to sell its data. This business model resonated well with the Dutch group. After this the group split up. Half of the group went to the Carnegie Institute of Washington, department of Plant
Biology, on the Stanford Campus. Scientists of various disciplines discussed the importance of healthy soil on plant development and the many interactions in the plant-soil-microbiome continuum with its links to nutrition. The other half of the group visited IBM to hear about the food innovation program that this traditional technology company is getting into. Followed by a panel in the influence and impact of social media on developments in the agri-food sector, this morning was definitely marked by its variety on approaching innovation in agriculture and food from different angles.
In the afternoon again two company visits were on the agenda. Mattson Foods develops new food products for large and small organizations in their ideation lab. Clients are as large as Starbucks (the Frappucino was ideated here) and as small as the local entrepreneur who is looking for help with her new granola bar product formulation. The people at Mattson Foods see a trend in consumer behavior where people move away from ‘diet’ labeled product and go back to ‘real’ food. Additionally, the awareness of ‘healthy food’ is becoming more and more apparent. People demand the right to know what is in their food.
Lyrical Foods, the other company on the agenda, was a good example of a company providing a novel food product. Last year the company launched their brand Kite Hill Foods which is a range of traditional dairy products like cheese, but instead of using milk the products are completely based on almonds and other nuts. Lyrical Foods believes these products are better for the environment as well, bypassing the animal farm system, thereby decreasing the pressure on natural resources like land and water: “You shouldn’t have to choose between good taste and good ethics.”
The evening was spent with Roger Royse, founder of Roger Royse’s AgTech incubator where the Dutch participants got the opportunity to listen to five venture capitalists and got to practice their pitch in front of the group. The VCs explained that they don’t invest in a product, they invest in an opportunity. This opportunity isn’t necessarily equal to the solutions that are needed to tackle problems in the agri-food sector. This point of view resulted in debates between the Dutch group and the American investors. It seemed to be the case that for VCs it’s easier to invest in solutions that overcome short-term problems, then thinking about solutions that are beneficial for the long-term only.
On Wednesday The Mixing Bowl Hub’s second annual “Food IT: From Macro to Micro” conference took place at the Alumni Center at the Stanford Campus. Besides more rounds of pitches by savvy entrepreneurs that were coached by VCs the major themes in our food system were addressed with more panels. On the day’s menu were the following topics: precision agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries, local food and logistics, nutrition, and introducing new food items. There was a great opportunity to mingle and network whilst flocking the outside area visiting the demonstration booths. A group of New Zealand Maori enriched the event by providing a traditional Haka to open and close the event fiercely.
Thursday the group traveled to the University of California’s Davis campus. Davis is among the top three best agricultural universities in the world, sharing the number one and number 2 spots with Wageningen alternatively. The Netherlands is top dog when it comes to agriculture, so this excursion was a nice opportunity for the Dutch to see what top scientists in California work on. A tour of the UC Davis Russell Ranch, a 300 acre research farm, followed by seven 7-minute presentations by UC Davis professors working on Food and Ag research rounded out the morning.
After a quick olive oil tasting the Dutch group headed back to San Francisco to attend the FoodBytes! Summit. This event, organized by SF NewTech in collaboration with RaboBank N.A. involved a whole afternoon of pitches by ten Food and Ag entrepreneurs.
One of the entrepreneurs was our own Dutch August de Vogt from NFDWSTD who also participated in part of the Safari. De Vogt presented his app that helps supermarkets reduce their food waste by updating residents in the area on food discounts when the food is close to its expiration date.
Friday, the last day of the Safari, started off with a re-cap by the Dutch group. Everybody shared the experiences and insights they acquired over the week and synthesized this into a list of things learned from the Silicon Valley ecosystem and the comparison with the Netherlands. On the one hand the Dutch participants acknowledged the passionate atmosphere that covers Silicon Valley when it comes to adopting new technology, the eagerness for developing a business and how easy it is to get in touch with investors. On the other hand these Dutch representatives assured themselves of what the Netherlands has to offer, which is a solid foundation of knowledge and a very sincere attitude towards innovation: with the focus on necessary solutions to actual problems. The group constructed a follow-up plan which every individual in the group is going to work on to improve the agri-food innovation ecosystem in the Netherlands. This mind-set is probably a key to success. The Dutch are very keen on reaching out to learn from others and collaborate, which is in contrast to a general Silicon Valley’s attitude where everybody is expected to come to California. This difference in attitude is very interesting, to say the least.
After these insights the Dutch group traveled up to Napa Valley and visited the campus of the Culinary Institute of America, where the next generation of professionals in the food industry are getting their degrees. Conveniently located in the region’s wine area the week was concluded with a toast of fine wine at Napa Valley’s oldest winery: Charles Krug. Like the grape vines that grow in Napa’s rich soil, the Ag and Food Tech Safari provided a solid foundation underneath the California sun where good insights came to fruition and will contribute to an exciting end product.
|Anne Bruinsma||Hackwerk Advies|
|August de Vogt||NFDWSTD|
|Corné van Aaken||VAA ICT Consultancy|
|Gabriël van der Kruijk||Rijk Zwaan|
|Javier Lomas Durante||Sigrow|
|Jeroen van Eck||Mangrove|
|Ko van de Walle||Lely|
|Lennard Duijvestijn||Landgoed Roggebotstaete|
|Pieter van Hout||ZLTO|
|Raphaël Hoogvliets||Bureau YAP|
|René Paré||MAD Emergent Art Center|
|Rob Baan||Koppert Cress|
|Robert Jan Marringa||Agrifood Capital|
|Sandra Ronde||De Streekboer, Bureau YAP|