Because the world needs a data platform for agriculture
Ticker prices and stock symbols surrounded Sara Menker when she worked as a commodities trader in the 2000s. But she noticed one field was lacking in data: agriculture. "Nearly every part of our lives depends on this multitrillion-dollar industry," she says, "and it didn't have a data platform."
Menker built one. Gro Intelligence pulls global agricultural data from thousands of data sets, and then uses artificial intelligence to create forecasts for supply, demand, and pricing. Wondering how much pork will cost in China next year? Gro crunches tens of thousands of data points--weather, international trade volume, projected soybean and corn yields (i.e., pig food)--to produce an answer that makes sense to both pig farmers and hedge fund managers. Using publicly available satellite images from space agencies instead of private companies helps Gro offer pricing that starts at $1,000 a year.
After quitting her Wall Street job in 2012, Menker, who was born in Ethiopia, spent two years studying the industry. She initially self-funded her operation, and then persuaded some of her former bosses to invest and started building a team in Nairobi, where the company still maintains an office in addition to its New York City headquarters.
Gro uses agricultural data from all over the world. Many of its processes are now automated, but initially the company needed employees who could translate data from different local languages. Menker credits her staff's wide-ranging backgrounds--employees speak more than 25 languages--with helping the company get to this point. "An A.I. company has to resemble the world it's attempting to model," she says. "We recruited and built our team with extreme intention. Diversity was in our DNA from day one." Gro's 85-person staff includes agronomists, crop scientists, mathematicians, and designers. "Creating a culture that allows for collaboration between people of extremely different backgrounds allows you to accomplish things that can otherwise seem impossible," says Menker.
Gro has raised $40 million, which Menker says will help strengthen its data-crunching capabilities--and maybe solve some of the world's larger problems. "If we're going to fix issues around food security or access or malnutrition or climate change," she says, "we have to understand our food and agriculture systems inside and out. We've built a company that will help us do just that." –Kevin J. Ryan
Sarah Paiji Yoo
Because it makes no sense to ship water -- a primary ingredient in cleaning products -- across the country
Sarah Paiji Yoo knew she was facing an uphill battle: Rather than selling customers something they already knew how to use – such as razors or tampons or liquid dish soap – Blueland would be selling them tablets. Customers would need to pop the tablets into glass bottles with a bit of water, wait for them to dissolve, and then use the resulting hand soap or window cleaner just as they would any other. Blueland’s tablets would mean less fuel and carbon emissions during shipping, and reusing the same bottle would keep disposable bottles from piling up in landfills. But would customers get it?
That question guided everything from which products the company launched first (cleaning sprays seemed the most intuitive way to introduce the concept, and easily illustrated that it didn’t make sense to ship water across the country when it’s already piped into homes), to the chemical composition of its cleaning tablets (the faster they dissolved, the better).
All that work paid off. When Paiji Yoo and co-founder John Mascari finally launched Blueland in 2018, there was only a smidge of work involved, and customers seemed happy to do it. When the team launched its hand soap a few months later, with a tablet that could take up to 20 minutes to fully dissolve, they got exactly zero complaints.
The experience reminded Paiji Yoo, a serial entrepreneur, that trying to anticipate every hurdle before the product is even launched is a fool’s game. “Things will never go according to plan,” she says. “And until you put your idea out there into the real world, you can’t know what people will have a problem with and what won’t be a big deal.” – Kate Rockwood
Scout & Cellar
Because wine doesn't need to be stuffed with chemicals and additives
Because disaster recovery demands big, accessible data
For offering women a new, non-hormonal choice in birth control
“It really is suggested to women that there is nobility in putting yourself second,” says Saundra Pelletier, CEO of Evofem Biosciences. Perhaps that’s why she took on the challenge of commercializing a new form of non-hormonal birth control. Evofem’s flagship product is a contraceptive gel called Phexxi. The gel was first developed in the 1990s. After a bruising application process that Pelletier took over midway through, Phexxi was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May 2020 and went to market in September. Pelletier has raised more than $400 million from many investors, most of them male, to bring Phexxi to market. –Gabrielle Bienasz