15 Minutes With... Sarah Nolet, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Tenacious Ventures
By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Global AgInvesting Media (February 7, 2023)
This article was first published in our sister publication, GAI News.
The accolades are almost too numerous to list – internationally recognized food systems innovation expert, host of the podcast AgTech… So What?, and co-founder of Tenacious Ventures, Australia’s first dedicated agrifood tech venture firm – and her excitement to build the early stage agtech ecosystem in Australia is even greater to note. This is Sarah Nolet, an innovator on the fast track to make waves in agtech Down Under.
For nearly a decade, Nolet has been on a mission to advise agtech startups, design acceleration programs and consult to established agribusinesses, and help industry, universities, and government develop and implement forward-looking initiatives in food system innovation. This is proven in the endeavor that is Tenacious Ventures, which has developed partnerships with agtech operators under the mission of creating impact at scale at the intersection of food systems and climate solutions. And their portfolio includes those in the sector to watch, such as Goterra, SwarmFarm Robotics, Regrow, and Vow Food.
Currently fundraising for their Fund II, Out Loud (with a goal of A$70 million/US$47 million), Tenacious Ventures had much success with their Fund I, closing with $A35 million (US$23.5 million) in 2021.
GAI News sought out Nolet to get more details.
1). What is your guiding principle/investment philosophy?
At the highest level, we exist because our global food and agriculture system is facing unprecedented pressures due to climate change, and we see an opportunity – and imperative – to do something about it.
We desperately need commercially viable solutions to help the food system transition to a carbon-neutral (or better) and climate-resilient future. At the same time, there are massive opportunities for agriculture to provide solutions to climate change – nature-based solutions alone have the potential to remove 20 percent of global annual emissions!
Startups are uniquely well placed to solve these challenges, and we founded Tenacious to help unlock their potential.
2). There are other agtech venture firms, what’s unique about Tenacious?
It’s been awesome to see how the agri-food tech ecosystem has grown, including the entrance of climate generalists who are looking at agriculture and food startups.
We’ve found that there are three unique things about our approach.
We are thesis driven. In addition to evaluating companies that come to us, we proactively identify how the system is changing and what investment opportunities that creates. This work ensures we’re as much ag as we are tech.
We embrace deeptech. Though much of venture capital focuses on software, you can’t eat software. We believe the future of food and ag requires transformation of atoms and molecules, not just bits and bytes.
We are impact native. We believe that in ag especially, where combating climate change is a commercial imperative, the alpha is in the impact. So for us, there’s no trade-off between doing good and doing well.
3). Why did you choose to focus on agtech innovations?
I didn’t start my career in agriculture; I have a systems-engineering background and actually started in the defense industry. It was during an (accidental!) gap year in South America that I realized how much climate change is – and will – impact our food system, and the potential for new technologies and business models to help bring more resilience to farmers and the value chain.
As an athlete and avid backpacker, I’ve always been passionate about healthy food and the environment, and the more I looked into agriculture technologies, the more excited I became about the opportunity to do good (i.e., have an impact) and do well (i.e., make money).
It’s an incredible industry and I’m so fortunate and humbled to work with world-class innovators, from farmers to entrepreneurs. I haven’t looked back since!
4). What is the average time horizon for your investments?
Our funds have a 10-year life, with the possibility of two, one-year extensions.
5). You speak passionately of forward-looking initiatives in food system innovation. Please tell us of a few examples you’ve worked on or are currently implementing.
One of my favorite projects is the “Future Forces” report we wrote in collaboration with AgriFutures Australia, where we looked at five big trends changing food and agriculture over the coming decade, and what opportunities these shifts create for farmers, agribusinesses, and entrepreneurs. The final report is available here.
I also love working on our podcast, AgTech…So What?. Talking to farmers especially is incredibly rewarding and I always learn something about business and life, as well as agriculture and farming. This year we’ll be digging into some themes like:
~ Whole of farm energy use and electrification. ~ The future of ag retail; and ~ A world without food waste.
6). What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen since entering the sector?
The increased focus on impact is a massive one. In 2014, I interviewed nearly 100 agri-food investors to ask about their strategies. When I asked about impact, the answer was nearly always “it’s agriculture and we’re feeding the world, so that’s impact.”
While technically true, this answer leaves a lot of nuance and rigor on the table. Fast forward to today, and there’s a lot more maturity – and scrutiny – around impact. In an industry as complex as agriculture, I believe this is really important to ensure we avoid unintended consequences and deliver solutions that can scale.
ABOUT SARAH NOLET
Sarah Nolet is an internationally recognized food systems innovation expert and co-founder of Tenacious Ventures, a high-support, high conviction, sector-specific agrifood tech venture firm. Nolet has been instrumental in building the early stage agtech ecosystem in Australia. She also is the host of the AgTech...So What? podcast, telling stories of innovators building the food system of the future. She holds a master’s in system design and management from MIT, and a Bachelor of Science in computer science and human factors engineering from Tufts University