Over the past year, AgFunderNews has been interviewing female executives in agtech to find out how the massive gender gap in agriculture, STEM fields, and venture funding affect their day-to-day experiences. We’ve heard stories of abuse, dismissal, and prejudgement, but also stories of encouragement, support, and progress.
Female CEOs receive 2.7% of all venture funding and women of color receive just 0.2%. The women quoted below are helping to move those statistics and today, on International Women’s Day, we are sharing some of their advice and experiences. Read the full interviews to learn more about each of these agtech leaders.
“If you’ve earned a seat at the table, then make sure that you’ve got a seat at the table for the discussion and the decision making. An experience early on in my career was, I had a seat at the table at the proposal stage, but then I couldn’t understand why the decisions that came back were different than proposed. It was after I found out that part of that discussion and decision-making process was happening at the strip club after hours that I was able to say, ‘No, we need to address the issue now and not just make the proposal, but let’s have the discussion and the debate and come to a decision now before we leave the table.’ That was very early on in my career.”
“I take criticism with a grain of salt. The most skepticism that I’ve received, and this has been a constant in my time in the food tech industry, is that people don’t think farmers readily adopt technology. However, I’ve found that farmers are enthusiastic about new options almost immediately, as long as it brings them a clear benefit. I knew what people were telling me about the lack of adoption wasn’t actually true, and it was mostly coming from people that were not directly working with the farms – potential investors and partners who weren’t actually involved in the wholesale food world.”
“Every time that there is an article on us here in Peterborough, if there’s something that’s said, and it says, “Adam’s company,” right away we correct it. And when it comes to public events or public speaking —that’s one of my passions and that’s one of my strengths — putting me a little bit more in the spotlight and having the platform to talk about the history of the company is helping us as well. So then people can see that there are females in this field and we are just as capable to be role models in this industry, to be the leaders, and be the image of disruption that people are looking for.”
“I’m a part of a female funder group and they have a blacklist and people will talk about VCs that are terrible to work with, but I don’t know that that goes far enough. The best thing you can do is call them out publicly — call them out in the press, call them out to their limited partners — just bring it to light. And I also find it fascinating how many times if something happens to one woman, it happens to a bunch of women. You have to have someone start the dialogue and bring it to light and then other people will come forward.”
“When thinking about our next raise, I wanted to raise a post-seed or a ‘seed two’ of $2 million, but our lead investor said, ‘You’re sending a message that we’re not ready yet, and that’s not true. You started the company four years ago, you have so much more to show for yourself than so many other companies that have raised more with less. You should raise at least five.’
So I was already handicapping myself in terms of what I thought we could raise because I’ve been shown that a female-founded start-up has to jump through a lot more hoops to get investors excited. It’s something I have to consider with every decision we make because I think investors want to see women de-risk their companies more than men.”
“It’s obvious that this country is obsessed with white males. They get a lot more attention in the media. That’s pretty obvious. We can either spend our lives worrying about it or go out there and prove that we’re just as qualified. I think the best way to really change that perception of what true leadership is, is to become a true leader and not sit and complain about the fact that you didn’t get a fair chance in life. I don’t think this male-dominated world is going to be that way in a couple of generations.”
“I think through my previous work experience I have grown accustomed to working in male-dominated environments and I have trained my brain to not allow that to be part of my process even with simple things like recognizing that I am the only female in the room. When I first meet with a new customer or someone who is interested in our product, I leverage my unique background in ag and aerospace to stick to the facts around what we do. When selling predictive technology, it’s critical for the first contact to be more about de-mystifying the crystal ball and giving users education around the technology rather than sell it as magic. I believe keeping the focus on this helps with skepticism and never allows the user to really care what my gender is. “
“Try to run companies for profitability. Don’t go into things where you’re beholden to capital forever. This is an industry where the disruption can be enormous, but it can also be very slow and there are very good, entirely satisfactory substitutes in field-grown produce — particularly organic. My colleagues in the industry don’t necessarily want to hear that — they’d rather live the dream of how we’re building the coolest thing since the iPhone X. But the reality is that we still have to build profitable farms if we want this industry to last. Our margins are better (and hopefully will stay better) but costs and revenues still matter, and we still have to make that work, one leaf at a time.”
“Everybody brought up the marriage bit early on when I was taking all my business classes as if it would be an issue. I have never found that. I’ve never heard pushback on that. When and if I get a no, I follow up with very pointed questions — no one has ever stated that the relationship is a problem, which I think is really reasonable. If you look at a lot of successful companies, many are family based, right? Cargill, Johnson & Son, or Stine Seed for example.”
“I see a change at the front lines of the industry, and even in the field there are more women than used to be 10-15 years ago. I meet more women colleagues, partners and investors. Every time I meet with a woman at official an Agtech occasion or meeting it’s empowering.”
Read our entire Women in Agtech Series here.
Have an inspiring female executive on your team? Sound off in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org.