#200 Suma Reddy, CEO of Future Acres
Suma is an entrepreneur, organizer and educator committed to solving some of our society’s largest systemic challenges. Suma is Co-Founder/CEO of Future Acres, which builds advanced mobility and AI solutions for farms to increase production efficiency, farmworker safety and provide real-time analytics. She is a 3x AgTech + ClimateTech founder, is on the advisory board of Scale for ClimateTech, a Board Member of GrainPro, and teaches the Future of Food and Climate: Just Entrepreneurship at the NYC School of Visual Arts. She has also built and is active in inclusive tech communities, and has been awarded the White House Champion of Change for her Asian & Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ advocacy work. She started her career at a microfinance startup-turned-unicorn in India and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali. She is a graduate of The Wharton School (MBA).
Bigger Than Us #200
This transcript has been lightly edited.
Host Raj Daniels 00:48
Suma, how are you doing today?
Suma Reddy 01:44
I am doing great Raj. Thanks for asking.
Host Raj Daniels 01:47
Suma, I’d like to start the conversation with your time in the Peace Corps. Can you share a little bit about that with the audience?
Suma Reddy 01:56
Yeah. So right after college, I was in the midst of deciding to join the Peace Corps. And it was really coming from two places, I think. One, just a sense of curiosity about the world and being the child of immigrants and knowing where my parents and grandparents came from in India, whether in the village or in the city, and sort of understanding the privileges which I grew up with. And then also just curiosity around getting out of my bubble and exploring a new place. So that led me to Mali, in West Africa, French-speaking, Bambara as the main language. So it was a incredible life-changing experiment, those two years and three months.
Host Raj Daniels 02:46
Now, as the father of three daughters, if one of my daughters came to me when she was, let’s say, 18, 20, and said she’s going to join the Peace Corps. I would love her to do it, but I will still have some apprehension. How did your parents feel about your decision?
Suma Reddy 03:02
They were shocked. I started applying my last year at university. I think in January. I found out my acceptance by May. And that’s when I told them, and I said I was leaving in August. So it was not a discussion. I was so firm on this and knowing that this is the right path for me, even though I was terrified. I never really traveled or lived in a country like Mali. I had never even gone camping. So you know, sometimes people think Peace Corps are outdoorsy people, right? Things like that. Because there is an environmental element there, right? You’re going without running water, you’re going without electricity. And I grew up in a suburban bubble. So yeah, my parents were shocked. But they also are very open minded. And they’re like, you’re gonna do what you’re gonna do. So good luck. And just make sure you stay in touch.
Host Raj Daniels 04:06
Now, if my research serves me, you were there for two years. Is that correct?
Suma Reddy 04:11
Yeah. Two years, three months.
Host Raj Daniels 04:13
Share more about that experience.
Suma Reddy 04:15
Yeah. So I was terrified, to be honest, when I was going because it was such a brand new experience. So I get on a plane from Philly, with the other Peace Corps volunteers as we fly to Bamako, in Mali. In the first three months, we’re really getting integrated into the culture and the language and community. So I was immediately placed, for three months, with a host family and started to learn Bombora the local language, as well as French, and so most post Peace Corps volunteers had had some grounding in French, but I had taken Spanish in high school. So I would say one of the first challenges and probably the biggest challenge was communication. The second challenge was sort of the lifestyle adjustment, not having running water and not having electricity. So when I eventually landed in Kangaba, which was my main placement, adjusting to that.
But, to be frank, that is a much easier adjustment than, I would say, communication and culture. Because to get things done, you really need communication and you need people to work with and collaborate with and learn from. I think a lot of people like to maybe talk about, “Oh, my God, no running water, no electricity, 100 plus degree weather,” because Mali is, I think, over a third desert. But really, the challenges were around just being able to speak the language and get work done. All that said, the work I worked on was hosting a radio show, which is very common in Mali, and talked about everything from savings to nutrition, played Bob Marley, incessantly, because Bob Marley was very popular in Mali.
So it was really fun. And then the another project I worked on was really around youth education. So we brought kids all around Mali into the capital and sort of expose them to different types of careers, whether it was a small business owner, a doctor, you know, someone working at USAID, things like that.
So it was really, really quite fulfilling. Looking back, it just was the best experience of my life, learning and just being so grateful that Mali back then was a very safe, stable country and the my family there was loving and kind. Just absolutely an amazing experience. And my name there was actually Ayisata. So for two years, you have a new name. So that was my name, is Ayisata, over there.
Host Raj Daniels 07:12
So to your experience, a new name, learning the language, what was the transition, like when you came back stateside?
Suma Reddy 07:21
So I had stateside for only a couple of months. And the first thing I did was go to a grocery store. And I was just like, “Wow, what a waste.” You sort of miss the diversity in sort of in food. As someone who loves food, like I love to talk about food, I love to eat food, I love to discover food. So I know that sounds very superficial, but it’s a huge thing.
So that was sort of the transition, and then you see the consumerism everywhere. So you live in a in a country that doesn’t have that because it is, you know, it is landlocked, there’s not a lot of infrastructure in terms of trade and supply chain routes and that things like that. Mali at the time, was the quote unquote, third poorest country in the world. So the rampant consumerism in the in America definitely slapped me in the face. But also just, you know, grateful to be back and be around family and friends again and enjoy the time. And again, I only spent a couple of months, I then moved over to India to work for a microfinance company.
Host Raj Daniels 08:42
And how long were you in India?
Suma Reddy 08:44
So India was almost two years, as well. And it was with a company called SKF. Microfinance, which was giving micro-loans $100, $150 loans to women, 100% women to invest in income-generating activities. So that might be buying a goat to sell goat milk, buying bangles to sell in the market, cows, chickens, things of that nature, and also ended up being a very, very high-growth startup that would IPO and get acquired over the span of its life.
Host Raj Daniels 09:21
Sounds very familiar to a Kiva model.
Suma Reddy 09:24
Yeah, very Kiva is interesting because Kiva was based in the US and the micro-loans were given to people out of their country. So this company was born and raised in in Hyderabad in India and was sort of building that micro economy within villages in India. But yeah, very similar. You’re totally right.
Host Raj Daniels 09:50
So between Mali and India, what are some of the learnings or perhaps life changes that have stuck with you over time?
Suma Reddy 09:58
Great question. So I think from a professional sense, I think I got hooked on building the grassroots and building things from scratch. And that would lead me to entrepreneurship. How do you take nothing and build it into something?
I think the second piece was community and the power of when you’re building things from that level. How do you engage people, community, stakeholders, users, consumers, whoever it is, to make sure that you’re building things in the right way?
I think the third piece was innovation. So this wasn’t something I thought about, to be frank, much in my 20s. But then, when I was at FKS, it was interesting that the innovation was actually a software database of list of members, the number of loans they took, the amount of loans — for us in the West, pretty basic stuff, in terms of bookkeeping and data management. But it was that quote, unquote, innovation that really led it to grow as a company and be able to go from one state to five states to 11 states, etc, within India. And so I started to realize the power of innovation, whether it’s in terms of technologies or business models to drive growth.
Yeah, so that, and then on a personal level, I think it’s such a privilege to be able to live in other countries and just learn from cultures, learn from people, learn from languages, and immerse yourself in that. And so even though I’m stateside now, and I’ve been for more than a decade, it’s a curiosity that never goes away.
Host Raj Daniels 11:54
Do you have any wanderlust knowing that you could go somewhere else?
Suma Reddy 11:57
Oh, my gosh, yes. Absolutely. I think one of the things that grounded me, and it’s a good thing, is that I ended up coming out as gay when I was in business school, in Philadelphia, Wharton, and to myself. I was pretty repressed, I would say. That repression led me to adventure and go live in other places. But once I started understanding myself better, that meant being in the US and dating for the first time. And now I’m married. And I’ve been married for three years, with a partner for seven years. But it’s a whole other chapter, part of life, relationships, and building a partnership with someone. And I would say my first chapter of life was really around experience and profession and things like that. And of course, now I’m merging the two. So my wife, she’s American, grew up here, but she’s lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years at one point. So we talk a lot about what kind of work would take us back somewhere, right? We’re really open, you know. I think we could live pretty much everywhere. So maybe one day, you know, maybe we’ll have a couple of kids strapped to us and take the kids somewhere and live somewhere else for a couple of years.
Host Raj Daniels 13:19
Very nice. Now, you mentioned food. You mentioned entrepreneurship. You mentioned innovation. Let’s fast forward to today. Can you give us an overview of Future Acres and your role at the organization?
Suma Reddy 13:32
Absolutely. So Future Acres is a company that builds advanced mobility and AI solutions for farms. So the first solution is called Carry and Pick, essentially an intelligent transportation solution. A crop transporter, in simple terms, to increase efficiency on the farm, improve farm worker safety, and provide real time data and analytics. In simple terms, we’re building autonomous carts to improve logistics on the farm. And really what it gets at is the humongous challenge around food production in our country and around the in the globe. $1.4 billion dollars is the size of the global specialty crop market.
Specialty Crops are your fruits, your vegetables, your nuts, everything nutritious in your diet, and 40% of that actually goes to labor expenses. And the reason is because fruits and vegetables, they still take a lot of manual, high-touch labor. And what we understand is that we know who our farm workers are, doing the hard work, doing the skilled work, oftentimes migrant workers, and so for us to continue to meet our food production goals, deal with our fragile supply chains, dealing with our rising expenses — in this country, decreasing immigration for agriculture, the consumer demand for organic and sustainable — we really need to think about how to innovate on the model and technology and hardware. And autonomy is one way to think about that.
Host Raj Daniels 15:20
And how does your device work?
Suma Reddy 15:23
So essentially, with two parts of the system, one is called Carry, which is the autonomous harvest companion. The second part is called Pick, which is a smart wheelbarrow.
So, Raj, if you were the picker, and you’re on the farm, and you’re picking your table grapes, your main tool is actually a wheelbarrow. So the smart wheelbarrow is something just with sensors to capture time and location and weight. So you’re loading, you’re picking, you load those grapes onto the smart wheelbarrow there, and there’s a fleet of carries at the beginning of what’s called the sorting station. And once you hit and get closer to sort of that limit of 200 pounds, one of those carriers will autonomously transport to you, and then you could load up the carry with your grapes and send it back. And so it sounds like a very simple mechanism.
And it is, but over time, when you think about farms that are 100 acres, 500 acres, or 3000 acres, it can increase that harvest efficiency by up to 30% or 40%, which is major, major revenue dollars for the farm. And then of course, make the work life of farmworkers a bit easier, because this is hard, hard, hard, tough work.
Host Raj Daniels 16:46
You know, on its face, it sounds like one of those forehead slapping moments where you think, of course, right? But from what I’m hearing, the Carry and Pick will also help the laborers because it sounds like before they would have to fill the wheelbarrow and then go to a certain point to unload and come back again. Is that correct?
Suma Reddy 17:08
Yes. And that takes up 30% of their day, currently, in terms of time and energy.
Host Raj Daniels 17:15
And also it could assist laborers, because if the wheelbarrow is too heavy, then it’s more prone to injury.
Suma Reddy 17:22
Exactly. And you see that a lot. And, of course, with climate change. In California, which is considered the breadbasket of the US in terms of specialty crops — I know that’s a very confusing term for it, but that’s what it is called — rising climate, droughts, heat waves, you’re gonna see more what’s called heat-related illnesses or HNIs.
Host Raj Daniels 17:46
I’m sure we’ve seen them today already.
Suma Reddy 17:48
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Host Raj Daniels 17:50
Now, you mentioned specialty crops, which crops have you started with?
Suma Reddy 17:56
So we started with table grapes. So table grape market in California is about $1.7 billion. What’s really incredible about table grapes is that 99% of them are grown in California. So from the perspective of business and go-to-market strategies, it’s an incredible opportunity to have 99% of your beachhead, or first market, existing within one state.
Host Raj Daniels 18:25
Now, I’m going to ask what might seem like a stupid question, but here I go. You specifically call that table grapes. Are wine grapes harvested differently?
Suma Reddy 18:36
No, it’s not a stupid question. It’s a very smart question. And something I had to learn as well. I didn’t, I didn’t grow up on a table grape farm. So one of the things around mechanization is for something to be able to be mechanized, a lot of times you’ll like throttle and thrash that that crop. And so for some wine grapes, and this is not all, the process of harvesting is already mechanized, because it doesn’t matter what the grape looks like.
It doesn’t have to have that pristine quality that you see in the grocery store. So that’s where that differentiation occurs. We still have a market, definitely, for wine grapes. But what we know of the table grape market is that 100% is fully manual and that those percentages start to change, as I mentioned, with wine groups,
Host Raj Daniels 19:35
So first of all, the language. Throttle and trash, could it be kinder like maybe cuddling something?
Suma Reddy 19:42
Yeah, cuddling. I mean, think about other things in your life that might be mechanized. The dishwasher, right, which has changed the life of many of us. Privileged New Yorkers who can afford a dishwasher and others. That’s the interesting thing about things that are mechanized, especially in agriculture. One reason you see a lot of mechanization among row crops, so that soy, wheat, corns is that you can throttle and thrash that, where what’s super special about your fruits and vegetables is you need that really delicate manual touch. It’s very skilled labor. When you think about our fruits and veggies and the amount of work and care that goes into into picking your fruit.
Host Raj Daniels 20:35
I know this might not sound terribly PC, but the idea of taking Mother Nature’s Bounty and throttling and thrashing it just doesn’t sound good to me.
Suma Reddy 20:44
That’s fair. That’s a fair point. I’ll try to come up with some new words.
Host Raj Daniels 20:49
I’m just wondering if it’s an industry standard word. I mean, throttling thrashing.
Suma Reddy 20:52
No, to be fair, I just came up with it. And I’m sure there’s people in the industry that would be like, we lovingly like harvest that wheat, so we can say that as well.
Host Raj Daniels 21:04
We cuddle and cajole our fruits and vegetables. Now, you mentioned you have smart sensors on the Carry and Pick, what kind of data can farmers retrieve from these devices?
Suma Reddy 21:18
Data and data collection and analysis is a really fun part. So in terms of the type of information: at the very baseline, the first question is, what do the farms need? And what product can we build? And what information can we capture? So in terms of the sensors, on the smart wheelbarrow, it’s time. So time of picking, location of the picking, and the weight, which correlates, of course, to yield.
And so the three categories that we then can decipher through that information is one, the fleet management system itself. So if your 1000 acre farm, you might have 120 of these systems, which is wild, it’s a giant fleet. So with those sensors, we’re captioning, time data, weight data and location data. And what’s interesting is we can gather three types of categories of data with that information, the first being the fleet and the fleet management. So imagine when you open up your Lyft or Uber app, you can see where your car is. And so similarly, this is actually very important, like where’s your fleet? If you have 1000 acre farm, and 120 systems, you want to know where things are in real time. So that’s level one. Second is really around the correlation between the farm worker and the yield, pay, and payroll systems.
So oftentimes, farm workers are paid, piecemeal, sort of per box, per weight, things like that. So being able to correlate that. The third, this is where we can to sexy layers of data, in my opinion, is information around the yield. So yield per location or yield per varietal. So you might have an Allison grape, you might have a Thompson seedless grape. Any one farm might be growing 12 different varietals of grapes — early season grapes, midseason grapes, late season grapes, and being able to aggregate that data. So it becomes quite interesting for us. And what the one farmer said to us was, “Currently, I’m making seven-figure decisions based on kind of my historicals, guts, and intuition. It would be really incredible to have real time data to be able to backup a lot of that decision making.”
Host Raj Daniels 23:50
My mind right now, again, with data, I think, where I’m going, as you mentioned, yield specifically. And it could even help the farmer change, irrigation, fertilization, because if some parts — sounds like prior to this, you know, you get a wheelbarrow of grapes, but you don’t know where it came from. So you don’t know from irrigation standpoint, or fertilizer standpoint, but with yours, you can identify almost where certain batches coming from and if they’re better or worse, you can adjust accordingly.
Suma Reddy 24:19
Yes, that’s genius. So that’s where we’d love to go, which is called prescriptive analytics, and being able to identify issues in real time, and then actions can be taken. So this could be around yield, but the next layer is, what if we get crop quality and health metrics? What if we get environmental metrics and things around soil? And so there’s a lot of this predictive analytics, real-time analytics and then prescriptive measurements that we can start to pull out over time.
Host Raj Daniels 24:58
Are you using any kind of mapping technology?
Suma Reddy 25:00
Yes. So definitely, with the fleet management, we have to map the farm before we enter the farm. So we are using mapping technology.
Host Raj Daniels 25:14
So you mentioned the farmer saying prior decisions or seven-figure decisions being based on intuition or hunches. How has the farming community taken to your product?
Suma Reddy 25:26
Yeah, so it’s been, it’s been interesting. I think, on one level, there’s like, we desperately need this. And I realize I’m overstating it. The hesitation, but the sort of desperate need for this, is because there is this what was an existential crisis, which was, “Oh, imagine if there were farm worker shortages.” And if a 20% farm worker shortage means 20% less revenue and new and 20% less food shipped to the grocery store, that existential crisis is now real, right? And think about COVID. And the worker shortages, and those images of milk being wasted, or the asparagus that wasn’t picked.
You know, I think we all remember, those were very incredible images, to see 1000s of acres of crops that weren’t picked. So this is real. And this is a real challenge around workforce. I think the second layer in terms of the value proposition is, what would it mean to increase that harvest efficiency. And so if you can offer a tool that is really simple, it’s like, “Let’s just do the transportation around it and be able to increase those efficiencies,” the revenue that you can get from that — a 30% to 40%, increase in efficiency, over time for just a fleet of six of these could be up to $80,000 in additional revenue.
And then the third piece, which we touched on, which is the data and analytics. We definitely need solutions like this. And we understand the role of automation and technology as potentially solving these problem. The flip side of this is that you need to prove it. Anyone who’s a technologist, anyone who’s building hardware, and especially in agriculture, we’re very practical people.
We need to prove out that the hardware is robust, that it can handle the heat, it can handle the dust, it is something that the farmworkers will want to work with. We’re creating what’s called “cobots,” or collaborative robots. So they work in tandem with the farmworkers in the workforce. And so operationally, it really has to be as seamless as possible in terms of the operations. And so what I love about people in the agriculture industry is they’re very, very practical. So they’re like, “We’ve heard, in the past 10 years, people promise all these things, and it doesn’t come to fruition. So prove it to us.” And so that’s been a joy. But I would say also, you know, a challenge of anyone in this industry is to actually make this stuff happen. Which is interesting.
Host Raj Daniels 28:13
You know, I love this idea of cobots because you’re not trying to replace the workers, you’re trying to enhance them.
Suma Reddy 28:19
Exactly, exactly. And I think that’s what’s been really interesting, working in automation, acknowledging that there is this huge fear around displacement of workers and frontline workers, and I think it’s something that we need to acknowledge and talk about, those fears. In our case, yes, it is definitely collaborative robotics.
And I think of it in the terms of the future of work of agriculture. So what happens when you shift the hardest types of jobs to automation? How does this open up jobs and quality control, or technical services, management and operations of the equipment, and start to build new types of economies within Fresno, for example? And so that’s something we actively think about in terms of another piece of our project, which is the educational and skill-building and workforce component.
Host Raj Daniels 29:21
They say, hardware is hard. How have you been field testing your devices?
Suma Reddy 29:26
Yes. So yes, hardware is very hard. And I don’t know why I jumped into it really, you know, 10 years ago with physical projects, products, industrial projects and hardware, and I’m hooked. But yeah, it is. It is hard. So how we test is in the field. That’s the only way that things can be proven out. And, again, we’re close to farms. So most of our engineers are based in Merced. There’s farms all around there. And then of course, we work with foreign partners. Nothing is done without testing on the farm.
Host Raj Daniels 30:02
What are some of the surprises you’ve come across during testing?
Suma Reddy 30:06
One, I could think this is early on — this is early last summer. So we have advanced since then. But we had 3D printed some parts and prototype parts, as you do oftentimes in your product prototyping process. I believe it was over 100 degrees out, and some of those parts melted. So it really double underlied that this really has to be able to work, those sensors have to work, in 100, 110 degree weather in the hot sun, which is a challenge that industrial robotics don’t have to face. And so unique challenges with doing ag robotics.
Host Raj Daniels 30:52
For sure. Are the devices battery driven?
Suma Reddy 30:55
Host Raj Daniels 30:56
So all battery driven? What kind of batteries?
Suma Reddy 30:59
So swappable rechargeable batteries that will last, in the end, eight days. So a full workday for the farmworker.
Host Raj Daniels 31:08
And where are you in your product lifecycle?
Suma Reddy 31:11
So we did our first demo last year at a farm called HMC farms. And right now, we’re building a small fleet of six of these for another round of testing during harvest season with farms to test out the new version of the hardware, as well as the software platform. And next year, we want to grow that to I would say, a minimum of 30 as a number of a fleet.
Host Raj Daniels 31:42
Are you able to use off-the-shelf parts, or do you customize?
Suma Reddy 31:46
Yeah, a ton of options of off-the-shelf parts for sure. We don’t build our centers from scratch, for example. So it’s a combination of customization and off-the-shelf parts. But a lot of off-the-shelf.
The smart strategy that we’re trying to employ is, how are we building a platform that really can system integrate in the best ways, so that if we have a roving ground robot that’s moving across the farm, you know, what off-the-shelf sensors can be put on there to capture data? Or, you know, what sprayers or different types of equipment can work on this platform? So this platform is something that we think about a lot.
Host Raj Daniels 32:32
Are any of the current supply chain challenges affecting how you do your builds?
Suma Reddy 32:38
Absolutely, yeah. I think everyone is being affected by the fragile supply chains. In the short term, it means longer wait times for things like sheet metal, or what have you. The good thing is we have very, very local supply chains. And that’s how we built it out in that strategy. I think in the longer term when we build a more robust manufacturing strategy, which I love talking about, but I know we don’t have too much time here is really looking at a regionalised, more localized approach, which has become an absolute necessity.
Host Raj Daniels 33:16
And how are you currently funding your project?
Suma Reddy 33:20
So we are funding primarily through equity crowdfunding. So equity crowdfunding is a platform where every day, folks like you, Raj, or I, can invest $1,000 or more into these companies. So we were actually incubated via a venture studio called WaveMaker Labs. And so that was the first few $100,000 in terms of cheque size. And then last year, we raised around $1.65 million through a first round of equity crowdfunding from from investors. And we just launched a new equity crowdfunding round, a week ago in hoping to raise a few million from crowd funders by the end of September or October of this year.
Host Raj Daniels 34:17
Excellent. I wish you best of luck on that.
Suma Reddy 34:19
Thank you. Thank you.
Host Raj Daniels 34:20
Now, you’ve had a really interesting journey. Through all your startups, your Peace Corps endeavors, your endeavor in India with the microfinance, what are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about yourself?
Suma Reddy 34:34
Oh, wow, no one’s asked me this question. A big one is, “Is this my path?” When I was first getting into startups, and then even entrepreneurship, I felt very much like an imposter and that I couldn’t do it. And now that I’m 20 years into my entire professional journey, I do feel like this is what I was supposed to do. And there have been so many challenges and things like that. And I think landing in a place where I just feel so confident that I get so excited by it. I learned so much, and I feel like I’m working with friends and people who are smarter than me and things like that. So I think that’s one was that as hard as the road has been, knowing that wow, I’ve gotten good at this. I did start off as a neophyte and made so many mistakes, and I will continue to make mistakes.
But I think just understanding that, hey, this is what I love to do. And I’m passionate about it, sort of hardware and agriculture, climate, entrepreneurship, innovation and impact. Right. And so all of those buzzwords combined. Love it. So yeah, I think that’s professionally, I think, on a personal level, this is related, but this is my life. I tell people, I have no hobbies. And I know that sounds really sad. But, you know, my hobbies are around all of this.
So you know, I teach a class around the future of food and climate and sort of models of entrepreneurship, or I sit on a board for a company working with smallholder farmers in many countries around the world. And so it definitely feels like a calling. And I think from a leadership perspective, I love working with hardware teams and engineering teams and impact-driven teams alike. And learning how I like to work and lead has been a really interesting journey as well.
Host Raj Daniels 36:46
You know, you lead off with impostor syndrome. The industries that you’re in are traditionally male-dominated. When Suma shows up on a farm, how does that conversation go?
Suma Reddy 37:01
It’s an awesome question. I did have some fears about it, even though I’ve been in the agricultural space in different ways — indoor farming was my last company, a sugarcane farm working with sugarcane farmers in India was prior, working with smallholder farmers prior to that. In the US, we know who owns most of the land, who are the farm owners. They look different from the farm workers.
And so I did feel a bit nervous, but I will say those fears have been misplaced to date, where I think people are so hungry for the solutions and understand the solutions might come from a woman, might come from a Brown woman. I don’t lead with I’m gay, right, but sort of a queer Brown woman. One thing I get very excited about in this industry is now that technology is coming into play, and things like that, we can really diversify the industry in a way that has not been done before.
And you know, for someone, like me, who considers myself an outdoor for American agriculture — my parents were physicians. And yes, grandparents were farmers, of course. But you know, how do we work on bringing folks into the space who, like me, maybe grew up in a suburb? I love it because I think it’s an interesting challenge to sort of be in these homogeneous spaces. You know, I think I learned a lot, and we grow together.
Host Raj Daniels 38:44
So speaking of diversifying, let’s fast forward into the future, it’s 2030. Let’s say your favorite publication, it could be Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, Wall Street, you pick a publication, if they were to write and write a headline, or perhaps even a short paragraph about Future Acres, what would you like it to read?
Suma Reddy 39:06
Hmm. Okay, so I think it’s: Future Acres Continues to Help Build Farms of the Future. And I think that would be, one, helping address food production and getting people excited about actually learning about their food for the first time — most of us don’t — and developing technological solutions that make it exciting for people to enter the industry, and for our farms to thrive. I think second, climate, really understanding the interplay between agriculture and climate and us being a leader in driving those conversations, and the third, I think, around how we build companies. I’m really passionate about trying to build companies with an understanding of not just the what, the technology, but the why, the how, and the who. The model I have come up with for that is called Just Entrepreneurship. How are we embedding these values, whether it’s a community focus, or diversity or equity focus, or justice. And so being a model, where instead of saying, “Oh, Facebook took a wrong turn,” it could be like, “Future Acres is one of a host of successful tech companies that are doing their best to run a company and run a tech company in the right way.”
Host Raj Daniels 40:40
I love the idea of how we build companies. It leads nicely to my last question, which is — this could be professional or personal. If you could share some advice or words of wisdom recommendations with the audience, what would it be?
Suma Reddy 40:53
I think the advice I would give is, for me, jumping into a lot of these spaces was difficult, but I think it was just how I was built, and I needed to do it. So I’d say, if you’re built like this, challenge the status quo, whatever the status quo means: what your family wants you to do, what your community wants you to do, what your society is telling you to do. I think we each have our own path. And sometimes that path will deviate from what others are doing. It can be hard, but I think it’s worth it in the end. And so that’s definitely a lesson that I continue to learn with everything I do every day.
Host Raj Daniels 41:38
Suma, I think that’s a great place to end. I really appreciate your time today. And I look forward to catching up with you again soon.
Suma Reddy 41:44
Thank you, Raj. This was such a pleasure.
Host Raj Daniels 41:47
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