And that’s a wrap. We are still digesting and reflecting on all of the incredible conversations and speakers from this year’s summit. It was a pleasure to be able to connect with people across our ecosystem and to hear from our speakers about how to accelerate progress in this time of uncertainty. The summit brought together over 400 executives, investors, entrepreneurs, thought leaders and policymakers for a discussion on The Anthropology of Market Change. Our portfolio leaders joined us on Day 1 for a special workshop on leadership and communications. On Day 2, our broader group of attendees joined for a full day of fireside chats, presentations and panels.
Sanjeev Krishnan, Senior Managing Director and CIO at S2G Ventures, kicked off Day 2 by situating the audience in the summit theme and providing a framework for contextualizing the ensuing talks. He began by acknowledging that a lot has happened since we convened last year. Capital markets are down, the scale of many challenges has increased and the scale of deployment is still limited across transitions. Accelerating progress across sectors while navigating the current volatility of markets will require a major shift in productivity. While we have the innovation basis for a 21st-century productivity boom, there are a number of other factors that will enable market change and lead to the next productivity shift. Krishnan laid out factors that the speakers expanded on: digitization and computation, capacity and resource interconnectivity, organizational redesign, story and audience engagement, and capital markets innovation and scale.
Digitalization + Computation
Accelerating an Industry: Changing the Status Quo in Healthcare
In an ardent conversation with Bill Tarr, Founder and Managing Partner at MOTIV Partners, Todd Park, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Devoted Health, shared his company’s mission to dramatically improve the health and well-being of older Americans by caring for each person as if they were family. According to Park, a key issue with our healthcare system today is misaligned incentives that pay healthcare providers for the amount of care they provide rather than the outcomes of that care. So Park and his brother Ed built an all-in-one healthcare solution that excels at getting members the right care in the right place at the right time, significantly improving health outcomes and lowering costs. Park concluded with some early lessons learned, including choosing an incandescently awesome mission and designing a business model and a culture that aligns completely with that mission.
Scaling Byte by Byte: Building the Next Generation of Software
In this conversation with S2G Ventures Senior Managing Director Chuck Templeton, Chris Gladwin, Co-Founder and CEO of Ocient, walked the audience through the implications of the incredible increases in data and data analysis capacity for companies focused on climate, clean energy, and food and agriculture. Examples include developing more precise and frequent climate models, achieving step functions in clean energy price performance and power efficiency, and increasing diet micro-specialization as we gather more genomic data. Gladwin highlighted the need for more talent to realize the potential of this wave of data and for enhanced data-storage capabilities.
Going Non-Linear: A Deeper Understanding of AI and Its Implications for Agriculture
Elliott Grant, CEO of Mineral, an Alphabet company, shared a fascinating analysis of the exponential rate of technological change, specifically regarding AI in agriculture, and our increasing inability to predict this type of change. Grant described how Mineral is teaching AI about the plant world by training one AI to produce edge cases and another AI to recognize them. Grant encouraged the audience to consider what happens when the cost of measurement goes to zero, precision agriculture becomes scalable, and large language models become ag domain experts. According to Grant, in an increasingly unpredictable world, we have to be ready to be surprised and plan accordingly.
How to Lean into Market Disruption and Why Now Is the Right Time
Speaking of unpredictability, Chuck Templeton walked the audience through a framework for thinking about black swan events and how to become antifragile in the face of unpredictability. He covered looking for and investing in optionality, making investments with open-ended payoffs, investing in people, and ensuring you have the right balance between safety and high-risk reward opportunities.
Capacity and Resource Interconnectivity
Energizing America: From the Heartland to the Coasts
Former United States Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz sat down with S2G Managing Director Francis O’Sullivan to share insights from his remarkable career about the current state and future of America’s energy landscape. He emphasized that while numerous promising clean energy solutions exist, the real challenge will be accelerating progress while ensuring social equity is built into the transition. Secretary Moniz stressed the importance of breaking down silos in the energy sector to satisfy the needs of multiple constituencies and merging the policy and investor worldview to clear the path for an influx of investment. While the obstacles are not negligible, he cited several reasons for optimism, from the passage of the IRA to progress in permitting and the upcoming COP28 conference in the United Arab Emirates.
From Consumers to Co-Creators: Leveraging Excess Capacity for Greater Resource Efficiency
While systems may work a certain way, they are the result of our choices and still prone to change. This is the idea Robin Chase, Co-Founder and CEO of Zipcar, explored in a talk on reimagining transportation. Robin described how cities (and nations) had many transportation options in the early 1900s. In the US, we chose to make cars the simplest and most convenient choice, building highways, requiring parking, and favoring cars over other uses for public rights of way, ultimately creating profound and widespread negative second-order effects of automobility. Chase created Zipcar to let people "consume" cars in the increments they want, ringing excess supply out of the system and dramatically improving cost efficiency. At the same time, Zipcar reduces many negative impacts. Robin pointed out that the critical elements to the success of Zipcar are 1) leveraging excess capacity on 2) a platform for customer participation, and 3) inviting collaboration. According to Chase, to defend against disruption, company leaders should ask themselves what should wither and thrive, and if their company is part of a just, sustainable future.
From the Earth to the Moon: Public-Private Collaboration and Competition in the New Space Race
Few people are more equipped to speak to the power of public-private collaboration than George Whitesides, former NASA Chief of Staff and Virgin Galactic CEO. In a conversation with S2G Ventures Senior Managing Director Aaron Rudberg, Whitesides spoke to the difficult but ultimately highly successful decision to open the space sector to private innovation. After this decision, investment in the industry skyrocketed, and it ultimately enabled the US to dominate global space exploration. Whitesides ended the conversation by emphasizing the need and great potential for leaders in the outside world to bring innovation to the government and similarly transform other industries.
Investing in a Healthier Future: The White House Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities
We were honored to have Ambassador Susan E. Rice, Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, join us to discuss the White House’s efforts to stimulate investment, policy change, and technology to transform the food and health systems in the U.S. At the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health last September, President Biden set out goals to end hunger and reduce diet-related disease by 2030. Ambassador Rice stressed that the Conference was just the beginning, and there is still much work to be done, including by private companies, elected officials, and non-profits. Attendees were encouraged to consider taking bold, transformative action and participate in the White House Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities to improve access to nutritious food, promote healthy choices, and create a healthier country by 2030.
Innovation from Incumbents: Corporate Leadership & Change from Core Positions
In this panel, Jessica Uhl, Former CFO and Board Member at Shell, and Mike Thaman, Former Chair and CEO of Owens Corning, provided their perspectives on the opportunities for innovation and change in large corporations. They spoke to the challenge of balancing the numerous requirements in large companies without crushing the entrepreneurial spirit and the need to work within corporate infrastructure and develop plug-in solutions. Uhl and Thaman agreed on the tremendous opportunity to bring more technology into the corporate space and the importance of developing the structures for corporations to collaborate with and leverage the innovation in the startup ecosystem.
The Great Balancing Act: Reconciling Changes with Core Values
In our final session of the day, Steve Cahillane, CEO & Chairman of the Board of the Kellogg Company, sat down with Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market and Senior Executive Partner at S2G Ventures, to discuss how Cahillane thinks about balancing the responsibility to maintain the character of an institution like Kellogg while also meeting the changing needs of the marketplace. Cahillane spoke about the Deploy for Growth Strategy that he launched when he first joined the company in 2017, which included asking employees what they loved about the company and what they would change. He also spoke to the decision to split Kellogg into two companies to ensure each part of the business could excel in its specialty.
Story + Audience Engagement
An Evolving Marketplace: How Do We Capture Imaginations and Shift Minds
In this exciting conversation, advisor, founder, and author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon interviewed Betsy Beers, creative partner and longtime producing partner of Shonda Rhimes, about Beers’ approach to telling engaging stories. In addition to dishing on the obstacles and successes of the early days of Shondaland, Beers spoke about the possibilities for impact when you build an immersive world and her drive to create stories where everyone feels welcome and seen. According to Beers, stories are richer and more satisfying when they are inclusive.
Food Bites: Impact Through Story
The ever-charismatic Emmy and four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, and social justice advocate Andrew Zimmern shared his thoughts on the importance of telling stories, particularly around food. In a conversation with Jessica Murphy, Vice President of Community at S2G Ventures, Zimmern spoke to the intricate connections between food and culture, from the impact of ice melt in Lake Michigan on community fish fries to the rebuilding of fish farms in Hawaii helping to spur a renaissance in indigenous culture. He voiced his concern that eating well in America has become a class issue but emphasized the power of food to change the world one plate at a time.
Capital Markets Innovation + Scale
Sustainable Returns: Crowding in Capital for the Transition
This conversation, moderated by Sanjeev Krishnan, Senior Managing Director and CIO at S2G Ventures, Lukas Walton, Founder and CEO of Builders Vision, and Justin Bruch, CEO of Clear Frontier, focused on deploying capital to address market whitespaces. Walton and Builders Vision partnered with Bruch to create Clear Frontier, an agricultural management company that can catalyze capital to purchase farmland and partner with farmers with the goal of increasing the supply of organic and sustainable agricultural products. These systems and problems are much bigger than any one company alone can address, making it crucial to create vehicles and opportunities that the broader ecosystem can use to advance solutions.
Scaling Diversity: Backing the Next Wave of Minority-Driven Innovation
In this session, Les Brun, Founder, Chairman, & CEO of Ariel Alternatives, spoke with Matt Yale, senior adviser to founders, boards, investors, and C-suite executives, about Les’ work to narrow the wealth gap between mainstream and minority communities. Les heads Project Black, Ariel Alternatives' first private equity initiative, which aims to support minority-owned businesses that can serve as suppliers to Fortune 500 companies. Les emphasized the power of progress through profit, the importance of being intellectually honest about your point of departure regarding diversity efforts, and the crucial need to create wealth that lifts more people up in corporate America.
It was such a privilege to bring together leaders and innovators, and generate the sparks for further ideas and collaboration. We look forward to continuing to lean into these conversations and welcome all companies, investors, entrepreneurs, and policymakers to join us on this journey.