Founded by INSEAD Alum Romain Sautrau (’12D), Startup Farmers is a venture capital fund and startup accelerator based in Paris, France that is dedicated to solving the challenges of feeding a growing population in an environmentally sustainable way. It works to support entrepreneurs based in France, Western Europe, and Israel who have innovative disruptive solutions for the future of agriculture. They support agricultural ventures that leverage technology to increase food production yields, improve food safety, encourage organic farming, and increase the well-being of farmers. In short, they are working on solutions for global food and environmental sustainability, and their investments focus on the following four areas:
- Sustainable inputs (bio control, bio stimulation, new proteins)
- Digital farming (precision agriculture and robotics)
- Circular economy (bio-waste recycling, waste reduction, biogas)
- Food Quality & Distribution food (food traceability and safety)
My Internship Role and Experience
During the summer with Startup Farmers, my role was to help develop a pipeline of startups for potential investment. I was focused on screening and shortlisting agritech ventures, based in Europe or Israel, that use block chain to facilitate food traceability and monitor food quality. While in Paris, I interviewed multiple startup founders from all over Europe and Israel to learn what made them and their companies tick. I queried their business decisions; why they launched in certain geographies; why they pursued certain customers and what were their plans for growth. One Israeli based startup used a mobile-based scanner to measure the quality of grapes and worked primarily with vineyards and wineries. They planned to expand to Western Europe within the next three years. Another startup based in the UK used block chain to track fish through the supply chain for UK, Japanese and US markets and planned to sell their solution to major UK grocery retail chains. Through these conversations I learned so much about what it takes to launch a venture and what kind of person decides to launch a venture. I was proud that I could apply the skills I gained from my INSEAD experience to critically assess the business potential of multiple ventures. At the conclusion of my internship I was able to present a recommended shortlist of startups across Europe and Israel that Startup Farmers should potentially invest in.
So, what is ‘Food Traceability’?
Traceability is the ability to track or trace any food product through every stage of production, processing and distribution; from when a farm worker picks an apple off a tree till when a consumer purchases that same apple in the grocery store. Traceability allows for movements to be tracked one step forward or backward at any point in the supply chain and it has multiple benefits. It ensures that food handling conforms to safety standards diminishing the opportunities for foodborne illnesses; it can eliminate illegal activities within the supply chain such as using child labor or underpaid labor to harvest produce; and it can also help eliminate counterfeit trade by verifying the provenance of luxury foods like olive oil and wine.
A Future in Social Impact?
Interacting with so many innovative founders and companies has inspired me to launch my own social venture down the line. While the burden of student loans is still weighing on my chest, I’m drawn to the allure of owning my own business and being driven by a noble purpose! My advice for anyone considering a career in social impact would be to interview as many peers and alumni as possible especially while you’re at INSEAD. Your classmates and alumni are an amazing resource! That is how I discovered my internship opportunity at Startup Farmers where I was able to explore my burgeoning interest in agriculture. I would also use resources from student clubs like INDEVOR and administrative resources like the CDC such as the INSEAD Social Stipend that truly allowed me to pursue this internship opportunity.
Tracy Okoroike MBA ’17D
Tracy is a member of the INSEAD class of December 2017, who has begun her 5th and final period at INSEAD. She was born and raised in California. After earning her BA in Political Science from Stanford University, she moved to Washington, DC where she worked in infrastructure public policy for six years. When she tired of the DC life, she quit her job to join a youth empowerment social enterprise based Lagos, Nigeria before she finally enrolled in INSEAD.