The CEO of Food+Tech Connect, Danielle Gould, talks to TechRepublic about creating a better future for food with technology and launching an idea that no one believed in.
She knew she was at the forefront of a movement.
Four years ago, when Danielle Gould started talking to people about the growing demand for locally produced food and the ways technology could help organic farmers and small businesses thrive, people looked at her like she was crazy. Investors weren't interested in food startups, and it was difficult to fundraise.
But she wouldn't take "no" for an answer. She knew she was ahead of the curve, and that everyone else would eventually catch up. Gould started a blog, Food+Tech Connect, to write about open data and agriculture, and bootstrapped it into a company from there.
"When I started, I had 50 organizations that were really thinking about food, data, and tech, and then it just exploded. We've grown with the movement," said Gould, the CEO of Food+Tech Connect.
Today the company is a site of record and a connector for the food technology sector, which has well over 3,000 companies in the space. What makes the business unique is that it covers the entirety of the supply chain — from farm management software and restaurant management software to consumer-facing health apps and fitness wearables. The company has weekly infographics that explain aspects of the industry, lists of resources for startups, and discussions of upcoming trends in agriculture. They also host meetups in New York and San Francisco.
And as it turns out, Gould was absolutely right about the demand. Food is one of the fastest growing industries around the world, both in the startup and investment space. In fact, two of the biggest areas in tech investment right now are food delivery services and grocery delivery services, which hit a five-year high in investments during the first quarter of 2014, a 51% jump from 2013.
Gould and her three full-time staff members at Food+Tech Connect produce editorial content daily, and the company also hosts hackathons several times a year to tackle big problems in the food industry. They recently held Hack Meat in Palo Alto, to work on projects geared toward the meat industry. Next up is Hack Dining, for the restaurant industry, which will be in New York.
"Every time we do a hackathon, it's amazing learning about how complex the systems are, what it takes a food item to get into a restaurant or on shelf of the grocery," she said. "People [are] borrowing technology from other industries and applying it to food."
The newest and most exciting aspect of the company, Gould said, is the addition of an educational component.
"We are getting into online business education for food and ag entrepreneurs, to give them information and technology to create a better future for food," she said. "The food economy is changing so quickly and some people don't have the skills they need to succeed."
Many farmers and people invested in the local farm-to-fork movements around the world are averse to technology, considering it at odds with the idea of being all-natural or wholesome. It's Gould's mission to show them that isn't the case. She often tells them that technology made it possible for small producers to improve their operations, make them more sustainable, profitable, and scalable.
"And that's what we need. There's so much demand for better quality ingredients," she said. "There's never been more demand, but the demand is far outpacing supply."
As farmland shrinks and the population grows toward 9 billion people, farmers have to increase their production, while being transparent with the public, who is becoming increasingly more concerned about where their food comes from. But they need technology to help them do it.
To spread the word, Gould regularly speaks in public. She is passionate about this topic, so she travels to conferences and events around the world, relaying this message to anyone who will listen. She also writes, which is very important to her. She likes to interview industry leaders and entrepreneurs to learn more about their work. Since Food+Tech Connect has grown rapidly in the last year, Gould has written less, but she said she promised herself she would make the time to write more, and encourages other startup founders to try writing as well.
When her company started to grow, Gould had to decide between pumping out content faster to keep up with the movement, or taking time to focus on the quality of the writing, hackathons, and education courses. She chose the latter, and has tried to provide insight in the simplest, most accessible way to the food and ag industry.
"I hope that [what we are promoting] levels the playing field, helping create this better future of food," she said. "And I think technology has a huge opportunity to drive that."
In her own words...
What advice would you have for your younger self?
"I think that I would have forced myself to create a business plan earlier on. I was constantly looking and exploring and it would have been helpful to have a business plan so it would have been [easier to figure out] where I could focus."
What are some of your hobbies?
"Reading or going to the park, getting lost in the city and exploring, walking for hours. I love going to shows — music or plays. I try and travel as much as possible. My heart is in Mexico. I love the food, the culture, I love the art and it makes me happy. I lived in Israel for three and a half years, so I love it there. Sri Lanka I really love. The people are so kind there and it's so beautiful."
What are your favorite foods?
"I love the farmer's market. It's my Saturday ritual. When I get home, I take a picture of everything I bought. It's fun because things are seasonal and new fun things are there that I learn how to cook with. I eat a ton of kale, I love squash, artichoke, and brussel sprouts. I love fresh cheeses from the farmer's market. I'm getting ready to start my garden. We do salad greens, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, squash blossoms, carrots, and radishes."
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