We’re delighted to welcome Isabella Fantini to the REMUS family as our ag and food-tech specialist. For years, we’ve explored the nascent and growing opportunity for technology to transform the agriculture industry. We’ve long been interested in the ability of technology to infuse innovation into longstanding, old-fashioned industries, and agriculture is no exception. Now, a series of macro events—from the very real threat of climate change to a growing population to rapid advancements in ag-empowering technologies like computer vision and AI—have underscored our interest in the space.
With the addition of Isabella to our team, we’re reinforcing our commitment to finding and funding the best and the brightest in AgTech: the early-stage companies that will become some of the best-known players in a changing world.
We recently spoke with Isabella to learn more about her background, the genesis of her interest in AgTech, and her vision for her role at REMUS.
Welcome to the team, Isabella! Tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in AgTech?
I think it all started because I’ve loved food my entire life. Exploring food—from grocery shopping to cooking—has always been really important to me. In middle school, I attended the ROSS School, which has a holistic curriculum focused on cultural history. All our food was Regional, Organic, Seasonal, and Sustainable. There, I first learned about where my food came from, and it was then that I decided I wanted to become a vegetarian.
My parents told me I would need to read and research vegetarianism and give them a presentation before they would allow me to stop eating meat, so I basically taught myself how to be vegetarian and became passionate about understanding where my food came from.
I also love finance and math, and I studied economics in college. I then went into traditional finance, but I was missing the food element in my work. I knew I didn’t want to be a chef and didn’t want to work in restaurants (even though I had worked in restaurants all through college), but I wanted to make a bigger impact. That was when I was introduced to venture capital, and I knew investing in food startups would be the perfect job for me.
How did you get started investing in food startups?
I worked at Food-X, which was an SOSV-backed accelerator program for food companies. Working there taught me everything about startups and food and the venture capital space. We invested in any company that touched food—from restaurant tech to supply chain tech to food waste tech, a little bit of biotech, and AgTech.
To me, AgTech was the most impactful part of the chain. Then I found out that REMUS was looking for an AgTech specialist, and I thought, this is a perfect fit for me (my favorite pastime is reading AgTech books on the weekends!)
What attracted you to the firm?
Everyone is so smart and knowledgeable and cares about the problems they’re solving—not just from a VC angle, but from a personal level of fascination and interest in the companies. I liked that. I think AgTech is a big issue, and I think a lot of AgTech investments are being dominated by large companies that just want to improve their profits. I think the actual impact is going to come from smaller groups trying to find the startups that are truly innovating—and I saw that REMUS had already been doing that.
On a macro level, how do you think investing in companies that promote sustainability can also be beneficial for shareholders?
Climate change is almost too big to ignore now. When AgTech had its last big boom, all those big AgTech companies were focused on adding value to their shareholders by increasing yields. That meant they were dumping fertilizers and herbicides in order to make bigger and bigger crop yields. I think that era is over.
We can’t keep farming the way a lot of commercial farms have been operating, because it’s depleting our soil, it’s creating irrigation issues, it’s releasing methane gas, etc. I think the only way to keep increasing yield and to keep increasing our food supply chain is to enact a drastically different way of doing things.
Over the past 15-20 years, ESG has been an added bonus—a “nice to have” in a portfolio. Now it’s almost something you can’t not invest in. There are startups that are ahead of the curve and have already been developing new technologies, and they’re the ones that are going to be at the forefront of the next AgTech revolution.
What are some things you’re excited about in the space?
I’m fascinated by indoor ag, because it’s a viable solution to solve a lot of our resource constraints. It allows growers to manage everything—water intake, fertilizer, etc.—in a very specific way. I think it’s also a great solution for urban farms. People are still moving into cities, which are becoming very crowded, and people aren’t getting fresh produce. There are a number of solutions to the problems that occur as a byproduct of how we live in an urban environment.
And I’m also interested in farm management, giving information to farmers, and helping them collect all the data from the new machines they’ve deployed in their fields. The data that’s collected is an added layer and an added benefit to the farmers. I’m interested in how they’re using that data to make predictions, manage their fields, and manage their harvests.
How do you envision your role at REMUS?
I think my role as the first specialized analyst is going to be the go-to resource for anything related to AgTech. AgTech is a very wide industry. There are so many parts united by the underlying thread of food, sustainability, and environmental impact: it incorporates computer vision, AI, machine learning, hardware, robotics, machinery, etc. I’m excited to be the person who can see the landscape from a bird’s eye view and figure out where things are going, where issues are popping up, and what trends are emerging.
What do you do for fun?
I go to farmers’ markets! Any time I travel to a new city, I go to the farmers’ market. I think it’s one of the most authentic ways you can see a culture and see different people interacting. I remember going to La Boqueria in Barcelona and spending hours wandering around, picking up fruit, and eating fresh seafood from the various market stalls. I’ve done this in every place I’ve visited.
Otherwise, I read a lot—mostly food books, I will say. I love being outdoors and being in the sun. And I just moved to Boston, so I’m excited to explore my new city.