Disrupting Business – Even Our Own – with Collaborative AgTech Investment
These challenges are daunting, but not new because agriculture has always responded to adversity by bringing forward new thinking. For example, in 1950, the average U.S. farm fed 27 people. Using new, integrated technologies and best management practices, the average farm today feeds 155 people.
“The agricultural industry will continue to innovate as it always has, but what will be the source of the needed breakthroughs in the future?”
At Bayer, we know that we don’t have all the answers. That’s why our innovation strategy uses multiple approaches to find new solutions for tomorrow’s challenges. This broad approach to innovation ensures that farmers get the best technologies as quickly as possible, so let’s take a closer look at what Bayer is doing.
First, it’s no secret that we are an industry leader when it comes to investment in internal research and development, especially in areas such as breeding, trait development, and biological and chemical crop protection - a commitment that won’t change.
But we also recognize that there are many innovations coming from sources other than Bayer, some of which are created by startups or technology incubators even outside of agriculture. We believe that finding opportunities to collaborate with these “AgTech” innovators can help to accelerate the cutting-edge research and new thinking that is so important to future agricultural productivity.
Seeking collaborative partnerships and the creative exchange of knowledge that comes with them is not only good for the two parties involved – it’s also good for farmers and consumers, because we all want healthy, nutritious, and sustainably produced food. As Steve Forbes said at the Forbes AgTech Summit in California last month, “Unleashing human ingenuity will help us feed more people more efficiently than in any other era in history.”
A broader approach to innovation also makes good business sense: With technology so rapidly evolving, we must constantly challenge ourselves to think outside our self-imposed boxes, and disrupt our own business practices to bring new ideas to a world that desperately needs them. We can either be inwardly focused or we can collaborate with others to help drive the change that is needed.
I’m happy to say that Bayer is doing just that. We have formed alliances with venture capital groups in the U.S. and Europe, including Flagship Pioneering in Boston, Anterra Capital in Amsterdam and Boston, as well as Finistere Ventures in San Diego, to help identify and fund promising new life sciences startup companies.
Additionally, we have invested in accelerators such as Radicle and AgTech Accelerator to nurture small ag tech firms and help them turn ideas into viable products and services. We’ve also established the Ag Innovation Fund in Israel with Trendlines.
Working with these proven venture capital companies allows us to take a more disciplined approach to external innovation. It’s also consistent with our investment criteria: Does the technology, for example, address gaps in our existing product portfolio or provide tangential benefits that enhance our future product offerings? Can our investment complement current products, services and support? We value investments that have the potential for future market disruption, because they can lead to game-changing technologies that may someday help feed the world.
The AgTech movement has grown far beyond a niche interest, with big names such as Forbes convening leading voices at its annual summit, and where last month I had the opportunity to speak and interact with brilliant minds looking to “disrupt” the agriculture industry. That same week, Bayer also sponsored and spoke at the Global Ag Investing’s AgTech Week conference in Boston, which is an increasingly important market for AgTech startups. It’s exciting to be part of this new thinking, the investments and the variety of new companies looking to positively impact the food value chain.
Regardless of whether innovation comes from internal or external sources, Bayer’s goal is the same as it has always been: Providing our customers with high-yielding crops that are free of weeds, diseases and pests. With the looming food challenge facing our world, we can’t afford to close any doors on potential ideas that could lead to groundbreaking new technologies. If that’s being disruptive, then I’m all for it!