EXCLUSIVE | Interview with Mr. Brandon Day, COO of The Yield Lab Institute

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The agtech sector – usually described as the fourth agricultural revolution – is witnessing an influx of investment amid the COVID-19 outbreak to achieve hitherto unrealised levels of productivity using cutting-edge technology.

Mr. Brandon Day, COO at the Yield Lab Institute, a non-profit agtech think tank, says agtech startups should not apply technology for the sake of technology; rather they should solve actual problems or capture value that is validated with market share and customers.

In an exclusive conversation with Agrigate Global’s Saura Panigrahi, he also underlined the future of agritech startups and the upcoming The Sustainable Agtech Challenge.

Here are edited excerpts:
Since you are in the middle of one of your flagship events: “The Sustainable Agtech Challenge.” What are you seeing thus far in the applicants?

As you know, The Sustainable Agtech Challenge has been kick started by the Yield Lab Institute in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in order to identify agtech startups, with a scalable business model, that can tackle some of the most pressing issues of climate change in agri-food systems in the Latin America and Caribbean region (LAC).

Also, preparation is going well. We are seeing an interesting batch of applicants, with respect to technology, geography and impact.

With respect to Yield Lab Institute, how do you see your role/impact as an enabler to develop the agritech startups ecosystem?

The Yield Lab Institute is the non-profit arm of the Yield Lab. As a non-profit, we serve as a catalyst and supporter of agtech innovation and entrepreneurs around the world.

We do so through initiatives that include open innovation challenges such as the Sustainable Agtech Challenge, ecosystem assessments (examples of our work can be found here) and technical papers on emerging verticals in agtech (see our work in indoor agriculture here).

The global food crisis is looming over many countries in recent years. Agri-tech start-ups are expected to come up with solutions for the same. What is your take on the global trends in agri-businesses?

At the Institute, we are increasingly seeing agtech innovations and solutions that are connecting the input side of the food and ag value chain to tangibly improving health outcomes. There is an emerging demand from consumers who want to know how their food was grown, harvested, processed, packaged and distributed. There is tremendous value for innovators to fill that demand along the entire value chain for ag stakeholders.

At a personal level, you have an extensive track record of managing and consulting billion-dollars businesses. What, according to you, are the major challenges faced by agtech start-ups? Also, what would be your suggestion to them on pivoting during these adverse times?

In my short time at the Institute, I see a lot of startups trying to apply technology to agriculture that does not solve an actual problem or meet a market need. Agtech startups should not apply technology for technology sake; it should solve an actual problem or capture value that is validated with market share and customers.

As a publication, we realise the importance of conversations and debates around agriculture; sharing knowledge, brainstorming ideas, and promoting innovations. Tell us more about your different ag-related media and content.

We recognize the value of being a convener of thought leadership, subject matter experts and creating a space to start conversations about the most pressing issues in food and agriculture. With that premise in mind, we have launched several key initiatives aimed at convening thought leadership from different stakeholder groups to convene, discuss and solve the most pressing food and agriculture issues.

One of those is Space for Food, an initiative aimed at convening thought leadership in the space technology and agrifood technology stakeholder groups to discuss the future of food, regenerative agriculture and food systems within the context of space technology applications.

You can find videos of those sessions here on our YouTube page. We also support other media like the ‘Agrifood Conversations’ series that has a weekly webinar run by iSelect highlighting innovators and startups in agrifood. The Yield Lab Institute is in the works of developing its own content platform highlighting agtech innovations, entrepreneurs and disruptors.

Could you share your experience while leading The Yield Lab Institute? Also enlighten us about your association with organizational partners and how it is shaping your vision for the future?

I’ve been in this role for almost two years and our organization continues to evolve with the changing tide of agrifood. We implement targeted initiatives, such as the Sustainable Agtech Challenge and Space for Food, all with the overarching mission statement of the institute in mind. To illustrate our relationship with organizational partners, when we launched the Soy Innovation Challenge, the United Soybean Board (USB) approached us because they wanted to better connect to the agtech startup space, more specifically to identify high potential innovations that can capture value back to the USB’s member soy farmers.

For us, we are always trying to support nascent and emerging spaces in agtech, so this opportunity represented a natural alignment with the USB’s goals and our mission statement; hence an open innovation challenge in soy was launched.