To support this month’s combined events of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we celebrate the achievement of our women founders and CEOs that are not only solving the critical challenges facing our food system but also providing a path for the next generation of innovators.
Cassandra Curtis, Co-Founder of Once Upon A Farm
Raising the Bar for Baby Food
Cassandra Curtis founded Once Upon a Farm in her kitchen in 2013 when her first daughter started eating solid foods and she couldn’t find any fresh baby food at the grocery store. Since then, her three daughters have been a huge motivation in creating the first HPP, organic, non-GMO baby food product. Cassandra’s first foray into baby food was as the President of Mother’s Garden Inc., the first HPP baby food to hit grocery store shelves in the US. Prior to that she led other food and wellness startups in the San Diego area where she worked on product development and operations. Today her mission is to provide as many children as possible with the most nutritious, best tasting and highest quality food.
Lisa Curtis, CEO and Co-Founder Kuli Kuli
Popularizing a superfood that benefits consumers and producers
While in a Peace Corps placement in Niger, West Africa, Lisa Curtis gained an understanding of the nutritional challenges facing West African villages and the amazing benefits of moringa which is derived from the dried leaves of a plant native to parts of Africa and Asia. She launched Kuli Kuli in 2013 to raise awareness of the ingredient which is high in protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamin A, while supporting farmers through Kuli Kuli’s sustainable sourcing program. Today she has raised over $10M to fuel Kuli Kuli’s growth and disseminate the products to 11,000 stores nationwide. Lisa has also planted millions of moringa trees and provided a sustainable income to thousands of small farmers, particularly African women.
Lauren Driscoll, CEO Project Well
Combating chronic disease and food insecurity through personalized food interventions
Personal and professional experiences have convinced Lauren Driscoll that older adults deserve greater attention and empathy from our food and health care systems. On the professional side Lauren has had an outstanding career in the public and private sector from working as policy support staff in the Clinton White House, to leading Oxford Health Plans Medicare business, to helping private sector healthcare companies navigate health care reform with Leavitt Partners. In 2019 she saw healthcare providers articulating the importance of addressing social needs with improved diet and consumer preferences shifting to healthier foods. To meet these converging trends she founded Project Well which connects health plans and their members, and at-risk provider groups and their patients, to high quality, nutritionally targeted meals.
Sofia Elizondo, COO and Co-Founder Brightseed
Improving the Nutritional Content of Food
Sofia Elizondo co-founded Brightseed with the belief that advanced machine learning technology could make food more nourishing. With Brightseed she has developed a computational search engine which can identify plant compounds that can be instrumental in returning nutrition to food. Prior to Brightseed, Sofia worked in food tech company Hampton Creek, was a member of the BCG Henderson Institute, and was a special advisor to the United Nations Global Compact.
Laura Flanagan, CEO of Ripple
Making Dairy Free Nutritious and Delicious
Since joining Ripple as CEO in October of 2019, Laura Flanagan has focused the company on its strategic growth priorities, including supporting the launch of Ripple’s direct-to-consumer e-commerce business. Before Ripple, Flanagan served as the CEO of Foster Farms, one of the largest branded poultry producers in the US where she drove the highest growth rate and market share levels in nearly a decade, as well as the President of the Snacks Division at ConAgra Foods.
Elizabeth Fisher, Co-Founder of Lavva
Uncovering the Healing Power of Food
Elizabeth Fisher has spent her whole career in the food industry but it wasn’t until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and subsequently adopted a keto diet that she discovered the pili nut. She started making a mixture of pili nut and coconut milk which took on the form of yogurt and Lavva was born. Since then she has been working to make delicious products that are anti-inflammatory, contain no added sugar, and support gut health and healing. In 2020 she launched the first ever vegan keto certified yogurt called Molten Lavva, and recently debuted a line of plant milks and creamer exclusively at Whole Foods.
Jennifer Garner, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer Once Upon a Farm
Democratizing Fresh Organic Baby Food
In addition to award-winning actress and mom of three, Jennifer Garner can now add co-founder to her resume. As a Save the Children ambassador she met moms living in poverty across the US who wanted what was best for their children but didn't have the opportunity to provide them with a healthy strong start in life. So she founded Once Upon a Farm to make organic, fresh baby food that parents can feel good about feeding their children. To this end, Once Upon a Farm products are currently approved for purchase through the WIC program in 6 states. In 2017 Jennifer purchased her family farm in Locust Grove, Oklahoma, to fuse Once Upon a Farm with her agricultural roots and it is now one of the farms growing produce for the company.
Jasmin Hume, PhD, CEO and Co-Founder Shiru
Designing Alternative Protein Ingredients
Dr. Jasmine Humes PhD in protein engineering proved useful in founding Shiru, the first and only food tech company applying machine learning to produce better protein. With Shiru, Dr. Hume is leveraging technologies used to engineer proteins for therapeutics to make alternative protein ingredients for food products. She was also previously the Director of Food Chemistry at JUST Foods where she worked with plant proteins to understand how they could be leveraged in different food constructs.
Kellee James, CEO and Co-Founder of Mercaris
Improving Data Access for Sustainable Supply Chains
After 10 years of working at the intersection of environmental performance and markets, Kellee James decided to take on the challenge of improving data collection and access for commodities that have environmentally beneficial attributes. She founded Mercaris with the goal of enabling everyone in the food supply chain, from farmers to manufacturers, to track prices, volumes and other statistics for organic and non-GMO commodities. Today Mercaris’ customers include industry leaders like Whole Foods Market, Michael Foods, and Purdue Farms. Prior to Mercaris, Kellee spent five years at Chicago Climate Exchange, the first electronic trading platform and registry for spot, futures, and options on carbon, sulfur, clean energy and other environmental derivatives. In 2009 she was appointed by president Obama as a White House Fellow and was Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine ‘40 under ‘40 rising leader.
Ellis McCue, CEO of Territory Foods
Empowering people to make healthier food and lifestyle decisions
It is no surprise that Ellis McCue was named Best CEO by the 2020 Comparably Awards and that her company, the leading chef crafted fresh food marketplace, Territory Foods, was named the Best Company for Women. Ellis believes the company’s mission to enhance people’s overall wellbeing and minimize unnecessary stressors means giving their customers, employees and culinary partners the tools they need to thrive, especially in these unprecedented times. This year the company launched TerritorySERVES, a platform for Territory customers to donate meals in their community, matched by Territory. This program, along with the company’s long standing relationship with Feeding America has donated over $150,000 worth of fresh, healthy meals to local communities and front line workers since March with plans to double that impact in the next six months.
Shoba Murali, CEO and Founder of UCAN
Developing Revolutionary Products for Sports Nutrition and Fitness
Shoba Murali helped launch UCAN, led the financing effort, and shaped the overall manufacturing, formulation, clinical trials and marketing strategy of the company. The company has developed and commercialized energy sustaining products using a patented ingredient called SuperStarch, a revolutionary carbohydrate that has a one of a kind energy profile providing steady glucose release, muted insulin response and enhanced fat burning. Shoba was previously the President and Co-founder of Acorn Information Services, a customer relationship and database management platform for businesses, and led the company from inception to IPO.
Poornima Parameswaran, PhD, Co-Founder Trace Genomics
Providing Farmers with Valuable Soil Insights
The idea for Trace Genomics first came to Poornima Parameswaran when she was working on her PhD in Stanford University’s Departments of Microbiology and Immunology. She founded the company in 2015 to help agricultural industry professionals including agronomists and growers, maximize the value of every acre. Today Trace Genomics has developed a soil testing kit that uses DNA sequencing and machine learning to measure the health of soil and detect diseases. Poornima is also the author of 12 publications about the use of genomics technologies to address the fundamental questions in microbial diseases, that have been referenced over 1,500 times.
Jade Stinson, Co-Founder , President and CSO of Vindara
Breeding Novel Seeds for CEA Operations
Jade Stinson is the Co-Founder of Vindara, the first company to develop seeds specifically designed for use in vertical indoor farm environments as well as other controlled environment agriculture farming methods. Her agtech background includes doctoral research and publications for the UK’s Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs and she also served as the Technology Management and Head of Global Operations for BASF’s professional and Specialty Solutions business, and as Chief Scientific Officer for the venture development group, AgTech Accelerator, where she sourced transformational technologies and provided scientific diligence for investments.
In addition to celebrating the accomplishments of our women leaders, March is also a time to reflect on issues of gender inequality and bias and to reframe our plans to continue to improve. In 2019, S2G Ventures sponsored research with AgFunder, Karen Karp & Partners and The New Food Economy to understand the gaps in funding faced by women in Agri-FoodTech. At that time, companies with only women founders received only 7% of investment deals, representing just 3% of all dollars. Those numbers increased to 16% if the women founder had a male counterpart. Since that time, covid has disproportionately driven women out of the workforce. Many are struggling with the added burden of additional invisible labor in the form of remote school and managing children's emotional well-being during lockdowns.
While we don’t have all the answers, we want to do our part to change these statistics. If you are a woman entrepreneur doing great work in sustainable food and agriculture or oceans and seafood, we want to hear from you. If you are talented in your craft and passionate about making an impact, we encourage you to check out the many open roles across our portfolio. Throughout the year, we will continue to share the stories of leading women entrepreneurs, innovators, scientists, technologists, policy-makers and farmers doing their part to build a better food system. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram to hear more.