Agriculture 2.0 Global Investing Conference
by Jessica Saturley, MBA '13 (1/23/12)
Although I knew there were plenty of students interested in sustainability at Johnson, I didn’t expect to have many networking or educational opportunities directly related to agriculture while in business school.
Before coming to Johnson to pursue my MBA, I worked for eight years in the food and agriculture sector. Although I knew there were plenty of students interested in sustainability at Johnson, I didn’t expect to have many networking or educational opportunities directly related to agriculture while in business school.
However, only a few weeks after starting classes, a 2nd year student sent out an email about an agriculture investing conference in Toronto. Attending the conference meant missing two days of strategy, statistics, and finance (!) classes, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to network with investors and entrepreneurs whose interests in agriculture and business matched my own. The conference organizers offered Cornell students the opportunity to volunteer at the conference (thereby avoiding the $1,500 price of admission), and with the help of a fellow student and the Student Activities Office, I secured funding for travel to and from Toronto.
The Agriculture 2.0 Global Investing Conference took place in Toronto on November 7-8, 2011, and brought together dealmakers from various points on the investing spectrum. Global demand for agricultural products is set to continue growing for the foreseeable future, fueled in part by population increases and the newfound wealth of nations like China and India. As a result, there is currently a keen interest in—and appetite for—investment in every aspect of agricultural supply chains.
Conference attendees were a diverse group; multinational agribusiness companies, major investment banks, and private equity and venture capital firms were well represented. Government and non-profit organizations took advantage of the conference as a way to remain up-to-date on industry developments. Other attendees included entrepreneurs participating in the annual Ag 2.0 Venture Fair; this popular session provided start-up companies with five minutes to pitch their projects to a roomful of potential investors.
The workshops and keynote panels ranged widely in scope and topic over the course of the two-day conference. In addition to the venture fair, concurrent conference tracks offered workshops in “Sustainable Investment Opportunities for Agrifood/Agribusiness,” and “Farmland Investing and Agricultural Commodities.” One of my favorite sessions, “Is Urban Farming Scalable?” focused on the challenges and opportunities of greenhouse growing and vertical farming in urban areas. Paul Lightfoot of BrightFarms and Derek Peterson of Grow Op Ltd. had an excellent conversation about the available technologies and consumer interest currently generating hospitable conditions for urban and alternative greenhouse growing operations. Another favorite was the “Predicting the Future of Global Agriculture” keynote panel, featuring Garth Hodges of Bayer CropScience and Warren Libby of Evergreen Bio-ceuticals.
I returned to Ithaca with renewed enthusiasm for my MBA studies and reinvigorated confidence in the future of the agricultural sector. We’re going to need lots of people with an interest in food and an understanding of basic business principles to accomplish the gargantuan task of feeding another billion people within the next 15-20 years; I’m excited to get to work.