Academy participant Tom Shapland is working on surface renewal measurements of daily crop water use.

Day 1 at the UC Davis Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy
Balancing a Growing Need for Food with Agriculture’s Impact on the Environment

In addition, the food and ag sector faces challenges in climate change, loss of biodiversity, and energy and land use. There is an increasing need for the industry to balance society’s growing need for food with agriculture’s harmful effects on the environment.

As Harold Shmitz, chief scientific officer of Mars, Incorporated, noted in his Dean’s Distinguished Speaker talk last night, “Scientific discovery and fundamental understanding in food, agriculture and health sectors offer critical business opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation at scale.”

The Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Sustainable AgTech Innovation Center organized the Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy at UC Davis from October 22–24 to explore these critical business opportunities. Researchers and early-stage startups working on fundamental issues in the food, ag and health industry—including irrigation technologies and natural colorants for the textile industry—are exploring how their innovations can make a broader impact in the marketplace.

Andrew Hargadon, faculty director of the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and professor of technology management at the Graduate School of Management, kicked off the academy by stressing that it is not enough to have a good idea. A good idea has to build on other good ideas and surround itself with the right network if it is to grow into a business that can have significant impact on the market. Entrepreneurs also need to build experiments to test their value proposition before they invest significantly on building their product.

Kari Perez, technology lead at Fintrac presented on the Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation program that was started by her company and USAID. The program invests in commercializing agricultural technology that helps smallholder farmers, with a focus on Feed the Future countries and those with USAID agriculture programs. In its first year, the program has invested in postharvest technologies and irrigation systems.

Mike Ward of Morrison & Foerster LLP educated the audience on intellectual property and patent law. Key takeaway: a patent gives the inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, selling and importing for a period of years.

Next we heard from Thomas Nelson of the Capay Valley Farmshop, which is working with 40 farms in the Capay Valley to bring more local food into the market. In Thomas’ experience, consumers value local food more than organic food because it helps them invest back into their communities. Capay Valley Farmshop provides source identification to chefs and helps relay its farmers’ stories to consumers.

Rounding out the day, Bob Adams, executive director of the UC Davis Sustainable AgTech Innovation Center, led a session on defining the problem that the business is trying to solve. Many times, entrepreneurs invest significant resources in an innovation that does not solve the problem. Once the problem has been defined and the value proposition has been identifies, entrepreneurs need to nail their elevator pitch.

Follow the conversations at the Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy on Twitter: #Agripreneurship

The academy is funded in part by a grant from the Economic Development Agency’s i6 Challenge under the Sacramento Region Clean AgTech Innovation Center Development Project. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendation are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Agency or the U.S Department of Commerce .