The Power of Entrepreneurship in Food and Agriculture: A Recipe for Disruption

By Eamonn McGuinty - 2015/2016 Kirchner Food Fellow

Food is one of the biggest markets in the world. It also happens to be one where innovation happens in very slow cycles. With advancements in technology, processing equipment and more efficient distribution systems, we are making food more transparent to the consumer and there seems to be major improvements in its quality and reliability. Some would reason that the intensification of agricultural production has led to better and more consistent food supply for people on the planet, but I would argue that it’s all about the entrepreneurs, innovators, and disruptors that are forcing positive change among agricultural supply chains.

The Power of Innovation and Interdisciplinary Thinking in Food

In an ever-changing globalized economy, many agriculturalists, economists, businesspeople, researchers, and entrepreneurs believe that we cannot move forward if we continue to view things in silos. There are too many factors that are now interconnected and effect many levels of integration in food; climate change and warming temperatures, volatile commodity and capital markets, unstable political economies, increase in international trade and movement of goods, as well as the digitization of processes and technologies that are completely changing the food paradigm.

The power of innovation and interdisciplinary thinking is a critical component of innovation and the measurement of success for ground-breaking ideas looking to positively disrupt our current system. If a new idea unfolds and the critical components of the triple bottom line (people-planet-profits) are not considered and included in a business plan, challenges will be imposed on growth and potential of the idea. In addition, other modes of thinking are extremely important and cannot be forgotten. The idea that one area of study or thinking is to be solely used without other resources is becoming a foreign concept to many big thinkers around the world that have shown an interest in solving complex problems.

What’s Working: Purpose and Profits

In 30 years, it has been stated that the world will need to double its production of food to feed an additional 2 billion people on the planet. With a rise in population, limited access to natural resources such as land and water, a rise in global temperatures, and volatile commodity and financial markets, this places immense amount of pressure on society to act quickly to proactively defeat these challenges.

One thing is for certain: we live in a capitalist society driven by profits. If anything, we are advanced and increasingly connected because of this. Profit can be a good thing and has been for many years. However, entrepreneurs are now understanding that profit may show financial potential and promise, but the bottom line in business is now accompanied by other important metrics that consumers and investors are interested in knowing about. Whether it be social impact, such as community-based initiatives or paying employees better wages, offering more transparent products and services, reducing environmental footprint, or identifying gaps in the marketplace that need to be addressed, entrepreneurs are looking for a purpose in the work they do, and are using profit to make it happen.

In the food and agriculture space, we’ve been increasing production and processes are becoming more sophisticated and efficient. We are more mechanized, and more efficient to produce for the critical mass than we’ve ever been. However, we still have over 800 million people on the planet who lack sufficient nutrients and food for survival. There’s still a massive portion of the population that looks for their next meal before they look for an occupation. How can we possibly address these problems given the uncertainties the world presents us? It’s all about our entrepreneurs who think about disrupting in a multi-faceted and interdisciplinary lens. We need to continue to encourage this thinking and provide the best minds with networks and capital to help them fulfill their purpose and strive for profitability.

What Makes Food So Important to People?

Not only is it an element of survival, but food is emotional: it brings us together. When asked about why food is important, it came to mind that it’s an emotional connection with the moment and situation we may find ourselves in. We spend some of the best times as friends and families over meals and cherish some of the best moments thanks to food. Can you imagine what a family dinner is like without an actual dinner?

The Widening Gap Between Farm to Fork

As we become more and more separated between the food we eat and its production process, technology is helping bridge the gap. For years, we used to be involved in the primary process of agriculture. Over the last one hundred years, this seems to have completely flipped over and consumers are further away from the source of the food they eat. This goes to say that the quality may be just as good, but the awareness about thin margins for farmers, animal welfare, pesticide use, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), preservative use in foods, and the time-to-market factors may be forgotten to the average consumer. Through the use of technologies and more transparent production and distribution systems, entrepreneurs should see this as an opportunity to add value to the food supply chains and its respective products they produce.

Tapping into a Network of Thought Leaders

As things become more transparent and consumers are the new CEOs of food supply chains, entrepreneurs must harness this opportunity and play to the strengths the marketplace presents. Trends will continue to rise in terms of transparency and where food comes from as consumers become more and more interested in what they eat. By utilizing a network of thought leaders who understand the food marketplace, and who provide interdisciplinary thinking and creative problem-solving abilities, sound entrepreneurs and innovators will be well equipped for agility and ability to pivot at a rapid pace. There is no better time to get involved in the food and agriculture sector.

Eamonn McGuinty Submitted by:
Eamonn McGuinty
2015/2016 Kirchner Food Fellow

Eamonn is currently pursuing a Masters degree at the University of Guelph. Eamonn is passionate about utilizing business as a force for good and developing comprehensive and responsible investment strategies in food and agriculture. He is extremely passionate about international work and wants to work towards safer and better ecosystems bridging all sectors together to solve the challenges we face.