When I was a kid, my parents didn't worry about whether the beef we ate was grass-fed, or if the contents of my school lunch were organic and locally grown.
The just worried about my brother and me getting enough food.
When I was three years old, my dad broke his back. He was a welder and well-driller, and he disregarded the whole "lift with your legs, not your back" thing. As a result, he was out of work for a few years while he fully recovered. My mom supported our family by earning the minimum wage at McDonald's and delivering newspapers.
That meant we were very poor.
Without the government's generous contribution of cheese, milk, bread, and peanut butter, my brother and I would have been far hungrier.
That story is my hard luck story--but when you look at the circumstances my brother and I grew up in from a global perspective, we were actually lucky. Very lucky.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people suffer from a chronic lack of nutritious food. While the world has made significant strides in the past 25 years reducing hunger, a coming population boom and stagnating agricultural productivity could lead to a massive food shortage in the decades ahead.
In fact, agricultural productivity must increase by 60% by 2050 to meet the world's food demands--and that increase in production must also happen in an environmentally sustainable way.
That's why Thad Simons, former President and CEO of animal health and nutrition company Novus International, and his three partners founded The Yield Lab, a St. Louis-based accelerator that invests $100,000 in 6-8 agricultural technology companies per year. Unlike other accelerators, The Yield Lab does not require companies in its portfolio to relocate to St. Louis. With an additional location in Ireland, The Yield Lab's goal is to fund companies across the globe that develop technology to sustainably increase the world's food supply and reduce the inputs that go into agricultural production.
The Yield Lab invests in tech that will help farmers feed more people, and do that in a sustainable way.
It might not be as sexy as Snapchat, but too often in the entrepreneurship/startup media, we focus on the trivial or even the outright silly.
Looking at you, Bodega.
Looking at you, anyone who's ever pitched their product as "The Uber of something that didn't need to be Uberized."
But the "Uber of ___" approach to pitching a startup is something that can grab the attention of an investor or VC. Further, Simons and his partners at The Yield Lab recognize that the companies they fund are not the type that typically land on the cover of Wired.
"Unlike software startups, margins throughout the agricultural sector are often thinner, and traditional accelerators or VCs have a harder time seeing the potential and importance of what happens in this sector," said Simons. "But agriculture is the world's biggest industry, and in developing nations food production often still employs most workers. One small improvement in the agricultural supply chain can have an enormous impact on the health of people and the planet."
In other words, The Yield Lab and the companies it funds are not Bodega. They are not the Uber of unicycles/toilet paper/snowshoes.
The work they are engaged in matters.
It matters because everyone needs to eat, but not everyone always gets to eat.
I learned that when I was a kid.
Which is why the team at The Yield Lab will continue to invest in high-potential agricultural startups, so that everyone can eat--even when the planet has a lot more people to feed.