Eric Schmidt’s Farm2050 Collective Will Back Agriculture Tech To Feed Earth’s Growing Population

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We’ll need to produce 70% more food by 2050 to sustain a world population expected to grow to 10 billion. Yet agriculture startups struggle to get the funding, manufacturing, and test facilities needed to build tech that could boost food production. To fix that disconnect, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors and Flextronics Lab IX today launched Farm2050, a collective that will support AgTech startups with capital, design, manufacturing, and test farms to try out their inventions.

The Farm2050 partnership includes Google, DuPont, Agco, UTC’s Sensitech, and 3D Robotics. Flextronics’ Head of Lab IX Lior Susan tells me “It’s still not sexy to do agriculture. You don’t see IPOs and big acquisitions that pull Sand Hill into the game.” That’s why Farm2050 is necessary to foster an AgTech ecosystem.

Farm2050 is now inviting startups to pitch it ideas to address the global food challenge.

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“You see a concentration where 90% of entrepreneurs are focused on 10% of the problems”, Innovation Endeavors’ managing director Dror Berman tells me. Agriculture has been really underserved. You can build a ton of technology companies here that really matter.”

Farming is already a huge market, with net farm income worldwide estimated at $120 billion a year. Yet the support structure hasn’t been there to accelerate technological advancements in agriculture as fast as in other industries. When there are breakthroughs, though, they truly help humanity.

Berman says “100 years ago we saw the Haber-Bosch process enable fertilizer development. 50 years ago we saw the refrigerated truck facilitate the long-distance transport of perishables. And today we’re seeing the emergence of robotics and machine learning applied to agricultural practices.”

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Farm2050 is open to any ideas that boost food production. Specifically, though, it will be looking for startups working on how robotics and data science can advance the ways farmers seed, cultivate, and harvest all kinds of food.

The collective format that includes a range of companies, rather than just being a few investors, is designed to let corporations get involved with sparking AgTech innovation beyond just offering money. Berman tells me corporations frequently create incubators or fund startups, when really it’s their tech and expertise that could help most. Farm2050 will harness those resources, such as supply chain expertise, or sensor technologies, to help the companies it backs.

The mission-driven Farm2050 collective is a prime example of social venture capital, where returns are calculated not just in dollars returned, but good done. Susan concludes, “Our children and our grandchildren need to live here. If people who invest in startups can’t help, that kind of sucks.”

If you’ve watched Interstellar, you’ve seen a vivid portrayal of the desperate times a global food shortage could cause. If any entrepreneurs out there are on the fence about whether to get into AgTech, I hope that film and today’s announcement convince them there’s something more important to build than social games and photo apps.