A venture capitalist and a former Obama official are launching a fund that gives entrepreneurs $500,000 to fix a 'crisis' in our food system
- FoodShot Global is a new fund for researchers and startups who are solving problems in food and agriculture that stem from soil degradation.
- Venture capitalist Victor Friedberg, former Obama-administration USDA official Sara Eckhouse, and former Rabobank North America CEO Rajiv Singh will lead the fund.
- FoodShot Global partners include the new entrepreneurial division of M&M manufacturer Mars along with the Rockefeller Foundation and the nonprofit environmental group The Nature Conservancy.
Chicago venture capitalist Victor Friedberg's "aha" moment came as he was biting into a peach.
This particular piece of fruit had been purchased from a local market in Valencia, Spain. It was remarkably delicious - so delicious that it made Friedberg question the identity of all the other fuzzy, brightly-colored orbs he'd eaten before.
"I realized the peaches I'd been eating up until that point were shadows of the real thing," Friedberg told Business Insider.
An investor in startups like Beyond Meat (which makes a plant-based burger that "bleeds" like the real thing) and Apeel Science (which makes an edible coating that keeps fruits and veggies fresh for longer), Friedberg started to think about why America's food system spawned such inferior produce. It wasn't one problem, he realized, but many - warmer weather, chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation.
All of those issues contribute to another, more central problem: the planet's soil - upon which 95% of our food relies - is disappearing. The problem is so dire that, if it continues at its current rate, farming as we know it will cease within 60 years, according to a recent Reuters report.
"The deterioration of soil is one of the most pressing global crises facing humanity," Friedman said.
This week, he's launching a new fund dedicated to protecting the dirt. Called FoodShot Global, the fund, which launched officially on Thursday, features major partners in the food and agriculture spaces like multinational bank Rabobank, the new entrepreneurial division of M&M manufacturer Mars, the Rockefeller Foundation, and nonprofit environmental group The Nature Conservancy.
Sara Eckhouse, a former Obama-administration official with the US Department of Agriculture, and Rajiv Singh, the former CEO of Rabobank North America, are leading the new fund alongside Friedberg.
A hub for non-profit entrepreneurs as well as for-profit startups
"I think it'll be different from any VC working in the food and agriculture space," Friedberg said.
The members of FoodShot Global plan to analyze the companies and projects in their portfolio over a longer timeline than traditional venture capital, which works on a fast-paced quarter system.
"We can take a step back and think about moonshots - projects with higher risk and higher reward," Friedberg said.
The fund will also feature an annual challenge for researchers, advocates, and non-profit entrepreneurs to win $500,000 for a prize called the Groundbreaker Prize.
Although Friedberg wouldn't share details on what startups might be considered for inclusion in FoodShot's initiative, he did give some ideas of the kinds of questions he's hoping they'll be able to answer:
"Who are the companies who are going to give us a deeper understanding of what's going on in the soil? What are the roots doing in relationship to all of the other system down there? How can the genetics of that plant be bred in a way to deal with what the number one issue facing the planet is at this point?" said Friedberg.
Some of the startups currently doing work in that space include Ginkgo Bioworks, which recently received $100 million as part of a joint venture with chemical giant Bayer to study how naturally-existing microbes could cut down on polluting fertilizer; and Indigo, a Boston-based company using microbial seed coatings to slash the amount of water needed by cotton crops.
Friedberg hopes the companies and researchers that join FoodShot Global will not only be able to identify soil problems, but also help solve them. And perhaps even make America's peaches delicious again.