Tell us about yourself Sarah…
I’m Sarah 🙂 I’m originally from Silicon Valley, CA but now live in Sydney. When not working, I try to spend as much time as possible playing sports or hiking.
Why did you join the FFN Board & what do you love most about the organisation?
- In my work I’ve met many young people who are keen to push the boundaries in ag and redefine what it means to work in the industry, whether on farm or off. I wanted to connect with these young people, and hopefully help them create meaningful, successful careers and connections
- Being on the board has been great opportunity to meet passionate, committed people working ag across very different areas. I love the different perspectives and experiences. Its also really fun to travel to different areas and feel like there are often FFN people- members, partners, other directors- to connect with.
Tell us about your career Sarah…how did you get from high-school to where you are today?
I initially studied computer science and worked in the defence industry as a systems engineer and product manager. I loved the complex tech and big projects, and learned a ton about how to build software, manage projects, and ensure that tech actually solves a problem for the end user.
After an accidental gap year (Americans don’t take gap years!) where I lived on several farms in Argentina (including managing a goat dairy), I fell in love with agriculture. And, I saw that techs that I had been using/building in defence were applicable to ag, and could be used to improve the environment as well help farmers be more profitable.
Around that time, Monsanto bought the Climate Corporation and Silicon Valley started paying attention to agriculture. I was hooked. I spent the next few years learning all I could about what is now “agtech”. This included consulting, research, a masters thesis on venture capital in ag, and a masters at MIT where I studied agribusiness, sustainability, and systems. Basically, I did everything I could to get into agriculture, and figure out my role in the industry (and pay my way at the same time).
Moving to Australia was not at all planned- we moved for my Partner David’s job, but it was one of the best things that has happened to me. I founded AgThentic and was able to commercialize and grow a lot of what I had been doing informally or in piecemeal ways in the US. AgThentic has now grown as a business and team, and we’ve been fortunate enough to work with amazing agtech startups, industry bodies, grower groups, research orgs, and many more to help build the agtech ecosystem in Australia.
Finally, after working with startups and investors and seeing the gap between the two, my business Partner and I decided to launch Tenacious Ventures, Australia’s first dedicated agrifood tech venture capital firm. I truly believe in this intervention for Australia, and it’s been a blast (and of course a challenge) to bring it to life.
What was it like moving to Australia?
I love it here! I’m fortunate enough to live by the beach, but also spend a lot of time in regional Australia. Meeting farmers and working with professionals in agriculture makes me feel like I’m getting to know Australia in a way that maybe my friends in the city aren’t, and I feel really fortunate.
Have you had any great mentors throughout your career? If so who, and what made them so influential.
My dad for starters. For as long as I can remember he was teaching me sports, business, and overall toughness and resilience. He’s been an inspiration and a massive supporter, and also a great friend. I often hear his voice in my ear when I make decisions or struggle with a tough situation.
My thesis advisor from MIT, Jason Jay, is also someone I really respect and have learned a lot from. He helped me bring a lot of rigour and discipline to how I think about systems and problems, and taught me practical skills…like how to finish a masters thesis 🙂
What do you think has shaped your career, or had significant influence over where you are today?
For most of my childhood all I was interested in was playing sports. I ended up playing soccer at a pretty high level and being an athlete has really influenced how I see the world and what I value. The importance of working hard for something, over a long period of time, despite having to make sacrifices and suffer ups and downs is really important in sports, business, and life. Curating resilience and being tough, learning basic skills and practicing them even when you don’t want to, building and leading a team, focusing on the present moment and controlling what you can control, and also just outworking the competition- in whatever arena- are things that sports have taught me.
If you could go back and give your 18-year old self some career advice, what would it be?
Build relationships. Not only is it important to get out there and meet people, but also cultivate strong relationships with those you value and want to spend time with. And equally, spend as little time and energy as possible with those who you don’t respect or don’t respect you- life is too short, and good people are too hard to find!
In your experience in agtech, what are some of the biggest challenges facing the next generation?
There are tons of challenges with agtech right now, which is part of the reason it’s so exciting. There are tons of opportunities. But one challenge for the next generation is the skills that are needed to build and interact with technologies. Tech is changing incredibly fast, and all industries are competing for the best talent in areas like machine learning and AI, so agriculture needs to build and retain capabilities in these areas.
What excites you about the future of agriculture in Australia?
I am really passionate about seeing more farmers as innovators themselves. They of course already are innovating, but I believe the next step is finding ways to take these solutions from solving a problem on one farm, to having an impact across an industry. This might be the farmer as the innovator, or in collaboration with an entrepreneur or company, or even as an advisor or investor. Building out these pathways where famers are central to the innovations being developed, and are rewarded for their role, is vital to the success of agtech.