Agritech: Why you should pay attention too

Founder vs. Entrepreneur?

We recently had a conversation with one of our interviewees about the difference between an entrepreneur and a founder. This is a common confusion among people, so I had to go back to the dictionary and look for the definition of entrepreneur:

A person who manages an enterprise, usually with considerable initiative and risks.

Eureka! Founding a company is just one aspect of being an entrepreneur. At ‘SSUP, we were guilty of the same error before starting the tour but for the last two weeks we’ve seen a huge variety of entrepreneurs.

Today we’ll speak about Romain Sautrau and Startup Farmers. Is Romain a founder or an investor? Probably both and certainly a passionate entrepreneur.

But first, Agritech

So you’ve heard of BioTech, FinTech, InsurTech, CleanTech, GreenTech. Heck you may have even heard of FashionTech and CivicTech. (In fact we are also toying with the idea of starting our own CombiVanTech venture). Jokes apart, AgriTech is relevant, now more than ever. Using technology to boost agricultural yield and efficiency is nothing new. If anything, its roots go back to the Industrial Revolution and even the humble tractor is very much ‘tech’ when it comes to farming. Nevertheless, with the hectic pace of technological development, agriculture is ripe for being disrupted. Indeed, it requires disruption!

Agritech today entails using technology to improve everything from land surveying and sowing all the way to harvesting, supply chain tracking and minimising carbon footprint. Think Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and AI assisting farmers with real time irrigation information and drones helping with land surveying. Land is limited but the world’s food demands are only growing:

  • According to a UN report, food production must double by 2050 to meet the world’s demands. Add to that water shortages
  • According to another UN report, the world will only be able to meet 60% of its water requirements by 2030, without significant policy change

You don’t need an MBA to decipher that we have a CLEAR NEED for using tech for something that affects all of us. More than ‘snappy’ boomerang videos, the world rather requires AgriTech founders and investors.

Romain Sautrau and Startup Farmers

Romain Sautrau (INSEAD MBA’12 J) is doing exactly that, as Founding Partner of Startup Farmers, an accelerator fund based in Paris that is dedicated to AgriTech startups. After 3 years as a management consultant focusing on Energy and Agriculture, Romain decided to capitalise on the right timing and his relevant competencies to be an AgriTech Founder-VC with StartupFarmers.

Listening to Romain’ story, past and present, is pretty much like reading a guidebook on how to create a fund, so let us outline the secret recipe:

Phase 1:

  • Pick the best MBA, apply, get admitted, become president of the energy club and member of private equity club and pass your exams. Romain did all that during his MBA at INSEAD
  • Start a career as strategy consultant. 4 years at a global boutique consultancy (like CVA) will do
  • Choose to specialize in a specific domain. i.e. Romain focused on Agriculture & Fertilisers and Energy & Utility

Phase 2:

  • Pick your battles, study the market, reflect on what you know, what you believe in, what makes you wake up in the morning: define the perimeter, the project, the story. For Romain it was clear he wanted to invest on AgriTech, he had knowledge of the sector and wanted to do business for good.
  • Start slow, refine your project, your story, your orientations and goals Romain took 1 year working part time on this project before actually going all in
  • Find good partners. You don’t know everything and can’t do everything. Having the right people by your side is key. He/she could bring you knowledge, a network or technical skills, the important thing is to fill the gaps and move toward your goal.  For Startup farmers, Romain knew he needed someone with a large network in the cooperative world. That’s how he chose his associate.
  • Meet and greet! Speaking with a variety of people allows you to realize where are your knowledge gaps, to learn, and improve your approach. Romain did tons of meetings with agriculture professionals, cooperatives, and other investors. 

 Phase 3:

  • Screen a massive number of startups, refine your criteria, create your potential portfolio
  • Use this deal flow to attract investors and push them to invest on “ready to go” projects.
  • Get the money and start investing!

 

Thank you Romain for making us realise the important of AgriTech! We wish you all the best.

Follow Startup Farmers on LinkedIn here.

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