After having come in second place at the MIT Agribusiness Pitch Competition, one of the competition's sponsors, Rabobank, awarded us the opportunity for one of our team members to attend the Food and Agriculture Next Conference in Wageningen, Holland directly following the Memorial Day Holiday. With 3/4 of our team already abroad handling other obligations, we sent our CCO, James Williams, to the conference to represent the company, glean any relevant insights, and of course, see if there were any opportunities to network and further our cause.
Our first day at F&A wasn’t without some minor logistical kinks. James arrived into Amsterdam after a red eye from New York and navigated Dutch railways and bus routes to Wageningen, wherein he arrived just as the first shuttle to the University at which the conference was being held, was pulling off. Fortunately another would be in tow momentarily thereafter. He changed out of his travel clothes into something more becoming of an MIT startup, caught the next shuttle, and joined the fray.
The first person he connected with was a another Africa-based startup focused on increasing the penetration of solar panel usage in Nigeria, specifically increasing the productivity of chicken farms by getting Chickens to feed more often than their usual. Their founders hoped to expand operations significantly within the year. Our aspirations, like those of many others in attendance, were aligned.
The day was filled with talks, panels, and pitches on innovation in the agriculture space, many focused on yield prediction, tracking livestock and crop health, and other more granular aspects such as a new generation of bacteria-fighting bacteria that had us wishing we’d paid more attention in biology. Overall though, something that struck James and the rest of the team consequently was the level of honest discourse that took place as startup founders and investors took part in dialogue that wasn’t solely focused on networking and making connections, but instead there was a genuine exchange of ideas and a commensurate respect for opinions that would set the tone for day two in a way we hope we’ll get the chance to witness again.
Day 2 went off without a hitch in comparison, and was also more investment focused than Day 1. Consequently, our ears were primed for any viable opportunities to spread the Context Insights name further into the FinTech/Agriculture sphere. The opening speech from Rabobank's Chief Digital Transformation Officer, Barts Leurs, and the following panel on Corporate Innovation from a number of industry experts, were both inspiring for anyone in the space regardless of whether you were an investor, founder, or just an observer.
But, the part of the day that spoke to us (through James) most palpably was Tony Fadell's panel discussion on shaping food & agriculture. He spoke specifically to the power of the crowd, ideas that empowered the lower tiers of the Food and Ag value chains, data for the unaddressed ambiguity in the sector, and the secret password of the two days seemingly: scalability.
Naturally, we had to at least try to make a connection. Fortunately for us, and James more specifically, an encouraging Rabobank writer narrowed in on our CCO seeing he was a little more pacy and nervous than the other already eager startups awaiting Tony following the panel, this is how it went:
TL:DW (Too Long: Didn't Watch) - James got the opportunity to meet with and pitch to Tony Fadell, the founder of Nest and renowned "Father of the iPod" and his business partner, David Sloo.
Now, whether or not we get the chance to work more handedly with them is to be determined, but we know that regardless of outcome, this day will go down in Context Insights history and we wouldn't have had the opportunity without the support of MIT and Rabobank, specifically, Jennifer Jiang and Martine Jansen.
Next, we have MIT's Delta V accelerator in New York for the summer.