Dave Friedberg has lots of ideas about the future. Some of them, if we're being honest, sound a bit crazy.
But here’s the thing: most ideas about the future sound a little crazy the first time you hear them.
I had known about Friedberg for some time, in part because was the founder and CEO of agtech’s first unicorn in the Climate Corporation, a company that sold to Monsanto in 2013 for over $1 billion.
More recently I’d been tracking his progress at the Production Board, a company that is essentially an idea incubation factory for food, bio and ag tech concepts. The group is run by what Friedberg describes as “operators more than investors”.
The Production Board company portfolio is strung together by something closer to a grand unified theory about how the world should work rather than any sort of single investment theme. This theory, which Friedberg articulates in a manifesto on the Production Board website, reads as much like a science fiction short story as it does an investment guide and is centered around how the world’s existing food and agricultural production systems are antiquated relics of an inefficient industrial production processes that have taken root over the past couple centuries.
I sat down for a (virtual) meeting with Friedberg recently to talk about how the Production Board works and the progress he is making for upending some of the antiquated food and ag systems. We also talk about Friedberg thinks the future of food could look like ten years or more in the future.
You can see some excerpts from our interview below. In order to see the full interview and read a transcript of our conversation, you’ll want to subscribe to Spoon Plus.
Friedberg on how crazy it is we aren’t harnessing the full technology development to address our problems around food and agriculture:
If a Martian came down to planet Earth and they look at the way we’re doing things they would say, “that’s a little bit crazy. Not only that, but it’s crazy that you guys do things the way you do them given all the technology you have. You can do crazy shit as humans. You can like write DNA and you can like ferment things in these tanks and make whatever molecule you want. And you can pretty much print anything anywhere using different chemistry.” It’s ridiculous that the systems of production operate the way that they do.
Friedberg on the idea behind Culture Biosciences, a company he describes as an AWS for Bioreactors:
If you fast forward 50 years, Tyson Foods and these feedlots and cattle grazing, I mean, it’s so fu**ing inefficient it’s just unreal. It’s mind blowing how much energy and money and CO2 is part of the system of producing meat and animal protein. And we have the tools to make animal proteins and fermenters, so if you could have a fermenter in your home, and it just prints meat when you want it, I think that would be pretty cool. Technically the science is there, the engineering isn’t. And that’s the thing: with a lot of these things, the science is proven, but a lot engineering work still to do. But it’s, it’s feasible. All these things are feasible.
Friedberg on how the Production Board germinates ideas that ultimately become one of their portfolio businesses:
We do primary research, we spend a lot of time with scientists and researchers and identify new and emerging breakthroughs in science and technology. We also spend time in the markets we operate in: food, agriculture, human health, increasingly looking at things like energy materials. And then we try and identify what’s a better way of doing this thing in this market?
So using all these new breakthroughs using all this new science, using all this technology that might be emerging, how can we do something that can transform one of these markets and really do a 10x on it? If it’s not a 10x, if it’s just a 5% better model or a 10% better model, it’s not worth doing. If we can 10x the market – reduce cost or energy by 10 times – then it becomes kind of exciting. And so that’s how we kind of think about operating business opportunities.
The full interview and transcript are available for Spoon Plus customers. You can learn more about Spoon Plus here.
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