FAC: You recently launched joined Semillero Ventures. Tell me about it.
AB: Yes, Semillero Ventures is a private equity fund specializing in agribusiness in Puerto Rico. We have a number of committed investors and are in due diligence on our first two target companies already. My partners and I are really excited as it’s really an untapped market here with lots of opportunities. I’m in Puerto Rico full time now, and my fiancé is coming down next week.
FAC: What trends are you seeing in the investment landscape overall. Challenges?
AB: Big companies are struggling. Small companies are much more nimble and able to be more innovative and create new offerings. I think we’ll continue to see what we saw in pharma and biotech: big companies supplementing their R&D pipelines with external innovation through investment in startups. And for food products it’s particularly promising for entrepreneurs because they can add so much value to Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies. The application of new tech to agriculture is also a very promising and fast-growing area of investment.
FAC: What are some things you did at MIT that prepared you for your subsequent steps?
AB: Being involved with FAC and the Sustainability Initiative really opened my eyes to the landscape of startups and movement of entrepreneurship in the food and agriculture space. Organizing networking events with Brandeis, Tufts, and other schools around Food and Ag helped me meet other people in the space and hear their areas of interest and ideas. It really showed me examples of the multitude of startups and ventures being created. I had no idea of the possibilities, or how big and connected the system is, which means there are more opportunities for disruptive innovation in different sectors. All this convinced me that it would be the biggest sector for economic growth and impact in next 50 years.
FAC: I’m glad to hear MIT FAC was useful. Tell me more about the value of getting involved with FAC during your time, and staying involved now?
AB: Some people talk about giving back to Sloan because it was such an important part of their lives, and I agree. I also believe that sharing one’s knowledge and providing mentorship to current students is equally important. When I was there, that’s what I wanted more than anything. I know it’s super valuable to students because it was to me. It was great to connect to alumni in this space because especially in food and agriculture there are so few of us.
When I was at MIT food and ag wasn’t a big part of the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, but it’s starting to be and getting involved in it is really important. There are so many opportunities and MIT has so much potential. I want MIT to be a leader in this space, so it’s on me to help drive that. We have to be involved and support what we are passionate about, because if we don’t, who will?
FAC: Do you have any advice for students entering or applying to MIT who are interested in food and ag?
AB: Take a leadership position in FAC. It gives you an opportunity to be a part of driving activity in the areas you’re most interested in. You will even discover things you didn't know you have interest in. A leadership role really changed things for me because I not only felt energized, but also the responsibility to get others involved.
FAC: What’s an example of something you didn't know you were interested in?
AB: For me, I had no idea about food waste and how big the problem is. I took L-Lab and we did a project on food waste, working with Complete Recycling and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. It was an incredible experience to learn while adding value to a real world problem at an actual company. Visiting food manufacturing facilities and dairies allowed us to see first-hand the scale of the problem. Since then it has been exciting to see how much interest has developed both at MIT and beyond around food waste, with startups like Spoiler Alert and Imperfect Produce.
FAC: How about any advice for graduating students? What did you wish they told you but didn't? What should they be sure to do before leaving?
Every student should be involved in a startup somehow before they leave MIT. Be a mentor. Join one. At least have an idea with friends and talk it through. Don't necessarily just fall into traditional roles of consulting or finance- there are so many opportunities for MIT students to have such an incredible impact. There can be so much more passion with a small company.
FAC: What would you have done differently during your time at MIT?
AB: The one thing I would have done is taken more classes related to communications. I’ve learned, and it’s continuously reinforced for me, that the soft skills like working with people and communicating a message are crucial. So much more important than metrics and models. At the end of the day, the most fundamental thing we do in life is interact with people. The only way you will convince others to work with you is to communicate your vision effectively, and then get them to respect you and share the vision.
FAC: I’ve heard that from alumni before. But honestly sometimes it’s hard when not everyone takes those classes seriously. Any advice?
AB: That's why talking to alumni is useful. You can’t realize the value of everything you’re doing while you’re in the thick of it. It’s easy to think it’s not as important, but listening to someone who has been through it helps make it clear what ends up being most useful in your career and in life.
Posted: April 13, 2016
Author: Sarah Nolet