Imperfect Produce

Screen Shot 2019-06-30 at 11.32.15 AM.png

Overview

Imperfect Produce is an organic grocery delivery startup that sells produce that would otherwise be discarded due to cosmetic imperfections. 20% of consumable food is wasted in the US because it is not visually appealing enough for grocery stores to display on shelves and farmers just discard these items to waste. The business model behind Imperfect Produce and its competitors which include Misfit Foods and others is a simple one: buy this produce that would otherwise be discarded for pennies on the dollar from farmers and sell to consumers for 30-50% less than market price. To be clear the produce they are buying is just as healthy and nutritious as what’s in grocery stores, it simply has some sort of visual (often minor) imperfection.

Orders are placed through a subscription box model online or via their mobile app. They are a double bottom line organization, which are becoming more popular as business entities.

The team is based in San Francisco, California.

Why I like Them

I like the mission and the problem they are trying to solve. In the US alone an estimated 30% of the consumable produced food goes to waste, a staggering and shocking amount, especially when considering the environmental impact and amount of energy needed to produce all this food. One recent study estimates very year, 30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillion gallons of water, and nearly two billion pounds of fertilizer are used to grow food that’s never eaten,

I also like that they give easy access to high end organic produce for even those in the lower income spectrum, and helping small farmers with produce they would otherwise dispose of and take a monetary loss on.

Emerging Trend: The Potential Future Role of Virtual Assistants

A fascinating trend I recently came across is the humanization of virtual assistants that seems to be emerging in Japan and South Korea. Line, through its subsidiary Vinclu last year released a holographic virtual assistant called Gatebox that initially seems to have sold rather well. It’s basically a limited virtual assistant that has a 3D avatar in a box you keep in your house that can interact with you. The video below explains it better than words could. The company right now markets it as “living with characters”.

Currently virtual assistants are seen as tools or utilities, but it is a fascinating thought that eventually they might be seen as friends or confidants. The loneliness epidemic, especially among Generation’s Y and Z is very well documented and publicized with data showing 13% of the country has 0 close friends. This leads to all sorts of negative health effects from additional stress, substance abuse, suicide, etc. This might be a technological answer to coping with the issue, especially as the algorithms become better and more lifelike.

I am curious to see how this type of technology/interface develops and especially if AI virtual assistants become a health tool and as common in a household as a television is.

Emerging Trend: Carbon Capture

With global warming from climate change accelerating there are a set of technologies and solutions emerging to hopefully address the challenge. NASA keeps a real time tracker of the effects of climate change here. One of the most direct and more science fiction like that is still nascent but in the pilot phase is carbon capture. Carbon capture is a set of technologies that is able to pull carbon dioxide from the air and store it back underground, hypothetically turning the clock back on global warming.

There are three startups on the cutting edge of carbon capture technologies - Global Thermostat, Climeworks, and Carbon Engineering. Their technology is based around exposing filters to air, that once saturated, are heated to free the carbon dioxide and pump it into tanks or back underground.

All three have working technologies that do this, the challenge right now is to find a business model that makes this a profitable activity. Substantial progress has been made in the last several years with the average cost falling from $600 per ton of captured CO2 to $100 a ton.

Critical to this effort right now are government tax credits that give back up to $50 for every ton of carbon stored underground. The improved efficiency of the technology and federal tax credits has captured the attention of big oil, who can use the recaptured CO2 to increase well pressure for oil extraction.

The next wave of carbon capture includes using the reclaimed carbon dioxide in transportation fuels by mixing it with hydrogen, reducing the carbon emissions of vehicle fuels by up to 20% in the next decade.

Currently the scale these firms are operating on is esmall but as they become profitable the hope is to scale up and start capturing noticeable amounts of greenhouse gases, hopefully slowing down global warming.

DroneSeed

DroneSeed.jpg

Overview

DroneSeed deploys drone swarms to aerially plant trees and other plants as well as cultivate and monitor them. They’ve initially launched the service to help reforest areas devastated by wildfires quickly recover. The team has received FAA clearance to fly lower than normal and carry heavier loads than the current 55 lb weight limit. Services include micro-precision planting of seeds, fertilizer and herbicide spraying as well as progress monitoring.

Current clients include timber companies and national forestry services. They are expanding their services to include commercial growers including vineyards, fruit and nut orchards. DroneSeed heavily modifies and retrofits industrial drone hardware

The team is based in Seattle, Washington.

Why I like Them

I like them because this is a very cool application of technology to helping solve the planet’s environmental issues. They make maintaining and expanding vast areas of fields and forests much more scalable and efficient than the current method of manually planting by hand to cover thousands of acres. The double bottom line here of cost savings for organizations as well as helping the environment in a more scalable manner is great. From a business perspective they have little competition and have already locked up long term government contracts.

The other part of this business I like is its much more defensible than it appears on first pass. Equipment and software needed for this are not off the shelf but are custom built by DroneSeed. The AI algorithms needed for mapping a landscape precisely, determining the best locations for seeds to be dropped, the seed packet mixture deployed, and then having the drones be able to spray the correct amount and type of herbicide for that area is not a trivial task.