Kirchner Impact Foundation participates in Cornell University research

Study exploring the role of agtech intermediaries in advancing sustainability transitions among agtech ventures

Jacksonville, FL and Ithaca, NY -17 November 2022 – The Kirchner Impact Foundation (KIF) announced today that it is participating in a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University Department of Natural Resources and the Environment focused on the role of agtech intermediaries (business incubators, accelerators, and investors) in promoting social and environmental goals of early-stage ventures. This study was funded by CIDA (Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture) – a university-wide collaboration focused on science and innovation to advance the sustainability of agriculture and food.

KIF was approached to contribute based on its unique vantage point in the industry, the appointment of a dedicated impact and ESG-investment professional, and its internationally recognized Kirchner Fellowship program, which has a mission to strengthen impact investing ecosystems in areas underserved by capital markets through training and empowering a diverse next generation of investors with a focus on sustainable agtech startups.

The guiding research questions of the study included:​

  1. How do relationships between mission-oriented agtech incubators, entrepreneurs and investors constrain and enable social impact?
  2. How do metrics and oversight support accountability in relation to the social and ecological commitments of incubators, entrepreneurs, and investors?
  3. In what contexts do these accountability mechanisms secure positive social impacts and in what contexts do they fail?

The study is directed by Professor Steven Wolf and Postdoctoral Associate Christopher Miles, who are conducting a series of case studies of mission-driven agtech intermediaries to assess and strengthen their potential to contribute to sustainability transitions. KIF’s participation involved a series of interviews with Kirchner Group’s Managing Director of Impact and ESG/Co-Manager of the Kirchner Impact Foundation, Hattie Brown, related to the impact measurement and management methods of the organization, as well as a demonstration of innovative practices developed as a result of past experiences with Kirchner Fellows. Hattie is an experienced professional in the areas of impact and ESG-factor investment and impact measurement and management strategy, with subject-matter expertise in food and nutrition and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

“We were excited to be able to participate in this important research, led by Cornell, as it seeks to explore questions that we confront regularly as an organization seeking to support early-stage, mission-oriented agtech companies,” commented Hattie. “As one example of our participation, our team presented a case study on the use of impact covenants in a recently negotiated pending investment of the fellowship program.”

“The wave of recent investment in agtech potentially presents opportunities to advance innovations that address economic, social and ecological harms intrinsic to contemporary agrifood systems. Our study will help clarify the problem definitions entrepreneurship can address, as well as the limitations of existing models of agtech innovation,” commented Professor Steven Wolf. “Our ongoing analysis of the Kirchner’s programs and practices provide key insights into these opportunities and constraints. Beyond deepening academic and policy-relevant understanding of agrifood innovation system dynamics, our project aims to build relations with practitioners to advance exchange of ideas, critical reflection, and ultimately, sustainability transitions.”

Kirchner Impact Foundation – Kirchner Food Fellowship

The mission of the Kirchner Fellowship is to strengthen impact investing ecosystems in areas underserved by capital markets through training and empowering a diverse next generation of investors to allocate equity investments into early-stage companies. Through the use of a “real world, real time, real money” model, the program has proven that it is possible for newly formed investment teams to become effective capital allocators in a matter of months.

The Kirchner Fellowship is an initiative of The Kirchner Impact Foundation (501 (c) (3)) one of the “returning arms” of Kirchner Group, that focuses on harnessing the positive power of enterprise to make a difference in addressing some of the most important issues of today.

Hattie Brown | Co-Manager | Kirchner Impact Foundation |

Kirchner Group

Kirchner Group was founded in 1985 as a boutique firm and today operates various subsidiaries, providing advisory services (M&A, assessments, diligence) and operational support (interim management, workouts, turnarounds) as well as asset management (dedicated, portfolio optimization) – all leveraging a proprietary approach that dovetails domain and process expertise. The firm also recently launched an academic initiative, using their expertise and four decades of experience, to assist academic institutions in leveraging their current assets to generate new resources while also growing their societal impact.

Throughout the decades Kirchner Group has been internationally recognized for its unique business model centered around creating value while promoting values: “earning while returning”. The firm has also established a reputation for building and rebuilding important business and social paradigms based on its deep entrepreneurial orientation.

Kirchner Group’s clients and partners include early stage to mid-market companies, academic institutions, venture capital and private equity firms as well as family offices and some of the world’s largest insurance companies, commercial banks and institutional investors.

Blair Kirchner | Managing Director | Kirchner Group |

Cornell University Department of Natural Resources and the Environment

Professor Wolf’s research group at Cornell University focuses on environmental governance; interplay of state and non-state actors in environmental policy and (mis)management. Together with graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and external collaborators, the group conducts critical institutional analysis to understand the implications of existing and alternative socioeconomic coordination mechanisms. The recent entry of venture capital into agrifood R&D, a domain that has been dominated by public sector and corporate actors in past decades, is an important opportunity to investigate what the logic/imperatives of entrepreneurship offer to agriculture and food.

Steven Wolf, Associate Professor, Cornell University,
Christopher Miles, Post-Doctoral Associate, Cornell University,