Fatma Kaplan is the founder and CEO of Pheronym, an agtech startup that produces biopesticides that use pheromones (chemicals capable of acting like hormones to impact the behavior of the receiving individuals) to control a wide range of agricultural pests. The company’s mission is to help growers control pests in an eco-friendly way. Pheronym is based in Davis, Calif., located in the Central Valley—an agricultural mecca in the U.S.
It is one of a growing number of agtech startups launched by women. Kaplan is not your conventional startup entrepreneur. She is a scientist by background with a Ph.D. in plant molecular and cellular biology. She had an entire career as a researcher and scientist before launching Pheronym in 2017. This is her first startup in a sector that is not only fledgling but male-dominated.
Gender inequity in the distribution of opportunities and resources is painfully obvious. According to AgFunder News, looking at the 10 largest agrifoodtech financings in 2020, 100 percent of the founders of these 10 companies were men. And of the top 20 financings, two were known to have women co-founders.
Accelerators that focus on the agtech sector can serve a pivotal role for early-stage startups. While funding might seem like the most obvious resource, many accelerators also offer connections and networks for potential investors or customers, along with offering programs in skills for entrepreneurs, whether that be pitching or marketing.
Sarah Nolet, the founder of AgThentic, a food and agriculture consulting firm based out of Australia, is also a co-founder of Farmers2Founders, an ag innovation program. Farmers2Founders hosts a range of workshops for entrepreneurs at all stages with a particular focus on farmers who are keen on creating innovation for fellow farmers.
Nolet estimates that the gender parity for the programs is split 50/50, and there is an emphasis on recruiting women to the programs. It is not an accident that Farmers2Founders has two female co-founders, two female program managers, and a female operations manager.
“We believe it is super important for women to be innovating in food and agriculture, especially women who are producers because they see problems at different angles. They often have a farm background in different industry experience that they bring to bear to these problems,” says Nolet. “We have women building new agtech products, and we have women building new value-added products tapping consumer trends.”
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