In a speech to participants of the Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy at UC Davis, Matthew Johnston, CEO of HM.CLAUSE, offered words of encouragement, wisdom and caution based on his diverse experiences as an Ag industry professional.
The three-day workshop, put on by the university’s Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, aimed to help participants explore technology commercialization, discuss intellectual property, strategize on new business development, and establish a network to help advance their ideas.
Mr. Johnston talked on the final day of the workshop where the theme was sustainable agriculture. The issue of sustainability is paramount for the agriculture community as it finds itself under immense pressure from unprecedented world population growth and from diminishing land and freshwater resources. Under such strain, it is more necessary than ever for the industry to be innovative and forward-thinking. Johnston argued during his speech that entrepreneurs in this space need the support and encouragement of industry leaders to foster multi-disciplinary collaboration that can help meet the food security challenges that lay ahead. “It will require mobilizing all of our resources and pooling all of our ideas,” said Johnston. Fortunately, this comes at a time where passion amongst young people to improve the world is stronger than ever. For students considering post-education vocational options, agriculture is inviting because it offers an attractive career path while also giving candidates the opportunity to help solve one the world’s most complex problems: how to meet the food and nutrition needs of more than 9 billion people by 2050. “It is my deeply held belief that people who choose agriculture as a career share a common desire to help the world and society in some way,” said Johnston.
Beyond the topic of sustainability, Johnston also talked of innovation and its current and future role in the agriculture sector. Innovation can build onto existing technology or it can be completely game-changing. Some people do not believe that innovation in agriculture will be disruptive. This may be related to the fact that no matter how great the technology is, the development and adoption process for new products and technology is nearly always a longer process than other industries, giving the illusion that new technologies are not disruptive. However, Mr. Johnston believes it is likely that agriculture will see disruption in the next decade, and in particular, the seed industry. With so many brilliant people focused on finding innovative solutions, there is no shortage of good ideas. Advancing one’s ideas requires vision, tenacity, courage and dedication. These are also characteristics belonging to someone with an entrepreneurial spirit. Yet, as Mr. Johnston cautioned, not every idea becomes a company and not every person with a great idea is the one who brings it to fruition. “You have to ask yourself if you can take your idea to its potential. If not, you must ask whether you’re willing to share your idea in the interest of seeing it developed,” he advised. There are many benefits to exposing one’s ideas to new possibilities. For those who are willing to collaborate on the development of their concepts, Mr. Johnston explained that maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit within the context of a larger organization is possible. “At HM.CLAUSE, we seek to promote an environment that enables our people to maintain and exercise creative freedom. Our business strategy emphasizes the importance of having global reach with a local touch. To achieve this, our employees, who are located all over the world, are trusted and empowered to act in the interests of our customers and their local needs,” he said.
Pursuing one’s ideas is a worthwhile endeavor, but it doesn’t always go as planned. Fortunately much can be learned from failing. “Taking accountability for ones failures and misses is critical to moving forward in a positive way,” said Mr. Johnston, who discussed the importance of embracing one’s mistakes and applying the lessons learned to future decisions and actions. The key is remembering to consider the consequences of your decisions, balancing your attention between upside opportunity and downside risk, and realizing that your success does not always start and end with you. Whether at the helm of a company as CEO, or as part of a team within a large organization, much of a person’s success will depend on contributions from other people. “You have to be able to find your success and joy through the efforts of others as well as yourself. As an executive, you will find that you are rarely the smartest one in the room, but to find satisfaction in seeing others achieve and blossom will bring rewards to your company and to you as an individual,” said Mr. Johnston.
At the end of the day, his message to participants was simple: That innovation and entrepreneurship are critical for the future of agriculture because the industry faces immense social and environmental hurdles, and that it is therefore vital to be courageous, to learn from failure, and to be open to collaboration so that ideas can flourish.