2020 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: FarmRaise, Stanford GSB

FarmRaise

MBA Program: Stanford Graduate School of Business

Industry: AgTech and FinTech

Founding Student Name(s): Jayce Hafner and Sami Tellatin

Brief Description of Solution: FarmRaise helps farmers unlock capital. We’re a one-stop funding shop providing farmers with grants and loans to amplify farm profitability and sustainability.

Funding Dollars: Mix of venture capital and grant funding (Tomkat Innovation Transfer Grant).

What led you to launch this venture? We both came to the Stanford GSB with big plans to join or launch an initiative that improves farmer profitability and environmental stewardship. After interviewing hundreds of farmers and ranchers, we heard producers lament a lack of accessible and affordable farm finance. Farmers are exhausted by daily management decisions and physical labor and don’t have the bandwidth to navigate financial admin. In response, we decided to build a solution that recommends a farmer’s best funding options and helps the farmer unlock capital. You can think of us as a TurboTax for farm funding. We view finance as the key lever for incentivizing regenerative practices in the agriculture supply chain and want to make this process as easy as possible for the overworked and financially-stressed producers who grow the food for our table.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our greatest accomplishment is building a solution that farmers love. Helping farmers do what they do best by improving financial access is, hands-down, the most fulfilling aspect of this work.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture?

Jayce: The GSB planted seeds of action inside of me. I’m a risk-averse person and before b-school, I held fast to a mantra of needing more professional experience or financial resources before I was ‘prepared’ to start a venture. In addition to a treasure trove of startup courses and rich mentorship, the GSB culture presses us hard to answer the question: “Why wait?” I realized I didn’t want my life to feel like waiting in an airport terminal: I was ready for take off.

Sami: I came to the GSB with a very specific vision for how I wanted to spend the next chapter of my career: transitioning to a role in the private sector that focused on improving farmer sustainability and profitability. The program was exactly the journey I needed to understand how I could effectively work to build momentum and gather resources to execute on social entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship classes allowed me to test and validate ideas with other students. Financial assistance for entrepreneurs enabled me to spend several weeks over the summer visiting one on one with farmers on their farms. And incredible teaching faculty and mentors helped expand my knowledge of what was possible in this next leg of my career.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you?

Sami: I echo Jayce in that farmers have been an incredible entrepreneurial inspiration for me. If I were truly brave, I would go out, buy land, and farm right now. That would be the biggest entrepreneurial effort I could undertake. I’ve spoken with dozens of farmers over the past several years, and each visit inspires and motivates me to keep working hard in my own endeavors while also contributing positively to society just like they do.

Jayce: Farmers are the most inspiring entrepreneurs I know. My dad is a regenerative Angus beef cattle farmer. I remember how he would wake up at 4:30 AM every morning in the frozen winter months to check cows before heading to his second, off-farm job as a builder. He works hard, builds long-term, multigenerational value (he’s planted an entire forest on our farm!), and treats his employees with kindness and care. It’s hard to make the leap from “Entrepreneurship” as an intimidating concept to the day-to-day grind of rolling up your sleeves and doing it. My dad showed me that the leap is possible.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it?

Sami: This is an incredibly tough question to answer as there’s an entire list of classes that have been critical to our team the past few months in starting FarmRaise. That said, the class that I find myself referring to the most often is Graham Weaver’s “Managing Growing Enterprises.” The biggest lesson that I gained from that class was the power of intentionality and preparation. Graham led us through exercises at the beginning of each class oriented at mindfulness and reflection and had us complete daily goal-orienting assignments. Our cases showed the importance of visualizing and planning for how you want to show up in each situation you’re faced with. That class gave me the tools I will continue to rely on to be an effective leader, contributor, and friend.

Jayce: Jane Leu and Anne Marie Burgoyne’s “Making it Happen” course transforms student dreams into tangible action. This course walks us through the nuts-and-bolts of how to build and grow a social impact venture and connects us with catalysts who have created extraordinary ventures across the for-profit and non-profit spectrum. Anne Marie and Jane generously provide mentorship and support long after the class has ended (I’ve been so fortunate to benefit from this lasting impact). These women are action-oriented visionaries who show you that you have everything you need to make your social venture idea real.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why?

Jayce: Two professors have made a significant contribution to my venture plans:

Alicia Seiger who Directs Stanford’s Sustainable Finance Initiative has been our FarmRaise champion from Day 1, constantly sharing crucial resources, professional connections, and astute guidance. She’s a climate change thought leader who is committed to championing emerging voices. Alicia’s ability to envision change from a systems level and delve into the nuts-and-bolts of what that vision will take to succeed has greatly empowered FarmRaise’s forward trajectory and impact.

I met GSB Lecturer Rob Siegel during my final quarter at GSB. I wish I’d met him years earlier, but when we finally connected, I hit the mentorship jackpot. He’s a seasoned VC and a rock star teacher who cares so deeply about his students. His dynamic classes leave you on the edge of your seat, but his impact on me extends far beyond the classroom. Rob reminds us of what’s most important and helps us reorient toward these key values. Today, he’s a constant source of generous moral support and creative wisdom as I navigate tough decisions for FarmRaise and strive to be a better person.

Sami: Although not a professor, Naomi Baer – a Practitioner in Residence at the GSB – has made a significant impact on me. Naomi has been part of my journey since my first year at the GSB, when she guided a cohort of students through programming oriented at jumpstarting our social innovation ideas. I have continued to rely on Naomi for advice and guidance in recent months, and am incredibly thankful that the GSB allows us not only to hear from incredible professors in classes, but also to be guided by practitioners like Naomi.

How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? The pandemic has brought enormous hardship to farmers, including supply chain disruptions, fluctuating commodity prices, and labor shortages. Our customers need more than long-term farm capital, they need relief funding today to survive the year ahead. When the USDA announced $16B in COVID-support payments for farmers, we set to work building a simplified application for this funding and have helped farmers unlock crucial COVID relief.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? We aim to scale regenerative, soil health management practices across at least half of America’s cropland in the 21st century. We see this goal as both a key tipping point and one that’s achievable in our lifetimes.

DON’T MISS: MEET THE MOST DISRUPTIVE MBA STARTUPS OF 2020

 

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