Michael Dean is founder and a partner at AgFunderNews’ parent company, AgFunder. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of AgFunderNews.
Looking back on our AgFunder journey, it seems incredible that 10 years have passed and it still feels like we are just getting started. Back in 2012, during the demise of an emerging market agribusiness I established and we had built over four years, it became clear that there was a huge opportunity for new technology development and deployment across the food system.
At the coalface of agrifood production and manufacturing, particularly in a frontier market like West Africa, the challenges were immense. Digitization and a new wave of biotechnology, among other innovations, were coming to revolutionize the food system, and we knew that the levels of investment required in innovation would dwarf anything the agrifood sector had seen before.
We had no track record of asset management, so we had to build our knowledge and our network and try to position ourselves to participate in the technology wave that was coming. AgFunderNews was our conduit to knowledge and it connected us to literally thousands of people globally who shared our passion for agriculture and food and the technologies that were emerging in the space. It allowed us to share information and to connect with startups and investors in a way that had not happened before. It then allowed us to raise our first, very small fund and to demonstrate that we had extraordinary access to the most valuable commodity in venture capital: deal flow.
The US, in particular, is at the bleeding edge of technology development in most sectors and agrifood is no different. For the first four to five years of AgFunder, I would say that around 90% of interesting agrifood technologies and startups emerged from the US. This is largely due to the well-established innovation commercialization pathways, the American entrepreneurial mindset, good quality accelerators, and the robust angel network helping fund startups through the “valley of death.”
For this reason, our initial (and continuing) focus was primarily on US-based tech startups. Having said that, disruptive business models and the application of digital technologies to existing supply chain inefficiencies were also attractive, and a key reason for our early foray into the Indian and Asian markets.
Our emerging market investments and international expansion were driven by the recognition that Asia was going to be the epicenter of consumption and consumer growth well into the 2030s. This trend prompted the establishment of our Asia office and our desire to leverage our broad network and media platform to help accelerate the Asian agrifood ecosystem. If AgFunder was to be a truly global VC, we needed a presence on the ground in Asia and a channel for identifying and nurturing innovation in and for the region, as well as create a pathway for our global portfolio into the region.
Technology transfer into developing markets remains a large but nascent opportunity in agrifood.
We recognized very early on that our ability to generate and utilize the enormous amounts of data that we were receiving was going to be a key differentiator for AgFunder across the entire platform. Our AI-driven GAIA platform and the network effects generated from our ability to reach the 90,000 subscribers of AgFunderNews have allowed us to drive value to our portfolio companies and provide our Limited Partners with key insights into emerging technologies and trends globally.
I am so proud of how far we’ve come over the past 10 years, reaching over $280 million in assets under management (AUM) this year, with offices in San Francisco and Singapore and a new, European office opening in early 2024.