Q&A with Agtech Expert Julie Morris
Academic Coordinator, Food and Ag Industry Immersion
Julie Morris has a passion for helping young companies grow and prosper. As the former director of technology innovation at the UC Davis World Food Center, she’s bringing that entrepreneurial drive to the Graduate School of Management as the coordinator of the new Food and Ag Industry Immersion.
Morris has deep industry experience in Silicon Valley and agribusiness, including serving as the chief financial officer, a vice president and a founding investor in the local agtech startup Marrone Bio Innovations.
Before Marrone Bio, Morris accumulated more than 14 years of technology industry experience in venture capital investing, mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, including product marketing, with roles in corporate development and marketing at Fortune 500 companies Agilent Technologies and Hewlett-Packard. She earned her MBA from the Harvard School of Business.
Morris shared how she is approaching the course and the executive insights she’ll invite to class:
Why is UC Davis a prime setting for this Food and Ag Industry Immersion?
With UC Davis as the leading U.S. agricultural university, there is no better place to be learning about the application of business principles to addressing and solving the pressing problems facing food and agricultural industries. With the world population rising rapidly and existing land and water resources becoming scarcer, combined with a push for sustainability, new leaders need to be trained in effective ways to address these global challenges.
Our campus is centered in a rich agricultural region with leading-edge food and agtech research being conducted both on campus and in the surrounding region. Within minutes of the campus are food and agtech companies that are active participants in this and other programs on campus, such as entrepreneurship.
“If I can help influence students to choose a career related to food or agtech, and address some of the exciting challenges that lay ahead for us globally, that’s what I find exciting.”
What differentiates this course and the experience?
The Immersion is particularly relevant to the UC Davis graduate student population, as it allows students in the MBA program and other graduate programs, such as Food Science and Technology, the opportunity to interact with high-level corporate executives and learn about real-life problems in the course.
Students will work in interdisciplinary teams to formulate solutions to case study problems posed, and will leverage their presentation skills in sharing their proposed solution to the visiting industry executive. The interaction with corporate executives in a smaller group format is an exceptional growth opportunity for developing networking and presentation skills, and it is not often available in the academic setting.
What gets you excited about developing and leading this course?
After many years in Silicon Valley as a corporate development executive, I joined a local agtech startup. I wanted to get closer to working on something meaningful, such as how to produce better quality food with less environmental impact. It was a life-changing move for me and if I can help influence students to choose a career related to food or agtech, and address some of the exciting challenges that lay ahead for us globally, that’s what I find exciting.
“A focus on food and agriculture as an Immersion area for graduate students is something that really speaks to the unique position of UC Davis as a leader in agricultural education.”
At the Graduate School of Management, Dean Unnava is leading a great community that is very interested in food and agtech as a focus area for the School. This includes the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which hosts the annual Food, Ag + Health Entrepreneurship Academy. It’s a focus for the School that I’ve been interested in seeing develop for the past 10 years, and I’m happy to be able to help bring that about.
What opportunities will this open up?
A focus on food and agriculture as an Immersion area for graduate students is something that really speaks to the unique position of UC Davis as a leader in agricultural education. By having this course open to students from other graduate programs on campus, we are able to build cross-disciplinary teams to work on problem solving, much as is done in real-world work situations.
Our hope is to grow this into a program that has multiple course offerings, and includes a strong internship and career placement program that provides our students with opportunities for various roles in food and agribusiness companies. Some of these would be more local, while others could be located elsewhere in the U.S. or potentially overseas. It will give an edge to our graduates to have a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing food and agriculture-related businesses, and enable them to be better suited to corporate roles.