Women in Agriculture: Fourth Edition
Welcome back to the Global BioAg Linkages "Women in Agriculture" Series.
This is a special occasion when I am passing on our editor in chief function of "Women in Agriculture" to none other than Pam Marrone, Partner and Executive Board Chair of Primary BioAg Innovations and Global BioAg Linkages. There is no one better than Pam to host and steer our quarterly newsletter, "Women in Agriculture". Pam is not only an inspiration for all, but also a well recognized role model for all women leaders in agriculture across the globe.
In addition to the "Women in Agriculture" newsletter, Pam and I will also start a monthly blog together to engage a global audience into the "Adaptability of BioProducts as mainstream inputs in our agriculture" rather than just "good to have products". Our joint mission and passion are to make bioproducts a must in all Integrated Crop Management schedules. Watch the space!
Roger Tripathi, CEO & Founder Primary BioAg Innovations and Global BioAg Linkages
Message from Pam Marrone PhD, Partner and Executive Board Chair Primary BioAg Innovations (PBI) and Global BioAg Linkages (GBAL):
Most of you have seen the media release and social media communication that I have “retired” from my CEO role at Marrone Bio Innovations and taken on Partner and Executive Chair of the Board roles with Primary BioAg Innovations and Global BioAg Linkages. I am also excited to take over the Editor in Chief function of Women in Agriculture” t"he GBAL’s quarterly newsletter.
We the women leaders in agriculture do not see ourselves as a separate group from men leaders, however we wish to reduce the distinction and classification. Our aim is to come to the point where we only recognize leaders as leaders not as women or men leaders. Good leaders are good leaders and bad leaders are bad leaders, they cannot be classified by gender. I was very impressed when GBAL at BioAg World Congress in New Delhi in 2019 started the recognition of strong women leaders and then came the “Women in Agriculture’ quarterly newsletter. I was featured in the first issue and I am pleased to be at the helm of this newsletter and steer this initiative.
During the last five months of my time as CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations, I was at the helm during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a long-time CEO, I have seen many catastrophic events. The first one I experienced was when I was running AgraQuest was 9-11 2001. I had a venture capital investor who said earlier, “Plan for disaster.” Never could I imagine anything like the terrorist attack. Since that time, there have been multiple other attacks around the globe, the 2008 Great Recession and now the global pandemic. In response to COVID-19, our Marrone Bio teams pivoted quickly to working at home, implementing health and safety protocols and social distancing in the labs and manufacturing facility, and stepping up educational webinars. We took a 10% reduction in our operating budget as a precaution. The lesson here is that resilience is a characteristic of all the entrepreneurs I know. We persist despite internal and external challenges. COVID-19 has laid bare many issues with the current food system, which means there are still many opportunities to solve big problems in food and ag. I asked some of my CEO and Founder friends, as to how agtech women entrepreneurs are weathering COVID-19 pandemic effects. This is what they shared:
“When COVID and “Shelter in Place” started it was a huge challenge for us. InnerPlant has a team of nine, working on biology innovations, we make plants that are living sensors. Losing access to our lab significantly slowed down our progress. The team came together quickly and by doing staggered shifts starting at 5am and ending at 8pm we were able to find a rhythm for the biology team. We actually became more efficient, focusing only on strategic projects and communicating over zoom. Lately, we all experience Zoom fatigue. With many months ahead of us, I'm focused on keeping the team productive and making sure to address mental wellbeing through openness and vulnerability. Next challenge for us is kicking off a virtual series A fundraise over Zoom!” Shely Aronov, Founder, CEO, InnerPlant
“Agriculture is the primary unit of economy which has been realized more so during the pandemic. When lockdown was enforced in India and across the world in varying degrees the stocks of Ag-companies increased in value in India. It was initially feared that due to shortage of raw material supply the companies and farmers would face some challenges. But largely the situation was corrected timely by the government stepping in to offer incentives and additional working capital. This helped the sector weather the challenges largely. The consumer focus on health has been deeply affected which should help the sustainable AG industry. Fear about residues in food, water and keeping the air/our lungs clean by stopping burning is in limelight.
Right now, the rural economy in India is growing faster as compared to the urban and India INC is starting slowly but surely. As a women entrepreneur the lockdown phase gave me a lot of time for deep introspection on re-channeling resources. While much of the manpower was retained during the distress, deep haircuts were taken on advertising, new area expansion, re-allocation of manpower thereby increasing the efficiency of working capital. Personally, I am involving myself in in-house corporate governance betterment activities that can prepare us for a longer leap for the future. This “Corona” year I would be glad if we show a decent growth of 25 to 30% over last year in the same area. One important thing that I have noticed is an undercurrent of co-operation to arrive at a win-win situation to face the uncertainties mutually with respect to all stakeholders. This understanding should go a long way as adversity is always an inflection point provided we harbor the mindset for citing the opportunities.” Sandeepa Kanitkar: Chairperson and Managing Director Kan Biosys, India
Let me now share with you the women entrepreneurs we are featuring in this issue of “Women in Agriculture” and their success stories and experience.
Pam Marrone PhD; Partner and Executive Board Chair Primary BioAg Innovations (PBI) and Global BioAg Linkages (GBAL)
Dr. Nancy Schellhorn
CEO & Co-founder, RapidAIM
Formerly with CSIRO (Australia); Globally recognized Ag & Biosecurity research; PhD Entomology University of Minnesota, USA; MS Ecology & BS Agriculture University of Missouri, USA
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced as a female entrepreneur in agriculture and how have you overcome these challenges?
This is a difficult question to answer because there are challenges running a business almost every day. However, I’m never really sure if any of them are associated with my gender. I’m sure some are, but it’s unclear. The only observation that I’ve made is that women consistently undersell their achievement and capabilities, whereas my male colleagues are not as understated. The problem is that I find men assume that women aren’t as capable or more capable because they’re not as bolshie! It’s not the case, and the same is true for my quitter, understated male colleagues.
Q: How did you make the transition from scientist/entomologist to entrepreneur/businesswoman? It’s not an easy transition, any advice for other scientists who want to be entrepreneurs?
Transitioning from research scientist to entrepreneur was challenging. I knew that the entrepreneur path would take my complete focus, so I divested all of my research and focused on building a company. To do this, I had to stop ‘being’ one thing before I could become something else. As an example, there are a lot of activities in the scientific profession that are symbolic of status and recognition by your peers; editorial positions for journals, keynote and plenary addresses, training students, participating on panels. I had to step back from these activities, which also meant, stepping back from my professional status, because none of these activities would help us grow the business. That was a bit challenging to my ego; I went from being a global expert in my discipline to being unrecognizable! I don’t mean to say that I stopped being a scientist, because I haven’t, and I bring my scientific training and knowledge into our company. I had to stop conducting the business of science. That was challenging, but necessary.
Secondly, I surrounded myself with some dedicated, exceptional mentors who are business savvy and are deeply committed to seeing us succeed. Great mentors are critically important. Find a couple of good ones and treat them like gold.
Q: How did you get the idea for your business?
I’ve worked in agro-ecology and pest management for many decades. My lab and collaborators and I did some fantastic research through the years. However, time and time again, one of the most persistent issues was that the biggest barrier to sustainable pest management was that for farmers managing pests is a guessing game.
We knew that if we could detect pests in real-time, and provide the information to farmers, this would give growers confidence about when to hold, when and where to control pests and know if control is working. We’ve created technology to do that. RapidAIM helps farmers protect crops by detecting and predicting pest threats across regions, farms, fields and orchards. With a mission to reduce chemical use, RapidAIM eliminates insurance, just-in-case, sprays, reduces crop loss and achieves 30% cost savings for pest surveillance.
Q: You’ve successfully raised money. How did you do this having not raised venture capital before? What tips do you have for other women entrepreneurs about the money raising process?
Great mentors who advised us along the way is super important. They let us know what was up ahead, what to watch out for, how to prepare, and when to really lean in. We’re also super lucky to land with Main Sequence Ventures for our seed raise; a fantastic group of very experienced and knowledgeable men who roll up their sleeves and have helped us grow our company.