Seed2Growth Venture Capital Seeks Disrupters
story by Becky Liscum • photographs by Karl Knize
Visionary venture capitalist Victor Friedberg knows a thing or two about “disrupters.” A former executive director of Wired magazine, and now co-founder, managing partner and managing director of S2G Ventures, Chicago, he has been launching cutting edge companies into the market at an ambitious pace.
Friedberg says it was the simple act of biting into a fresh peach while in a market in Valencia, Spain, that stopped him in his tracks and turned this tech fortune maker to train his entrepreneurial mind on the sustainability movement. His analytical internal processor switched from thinking in the speed of a nano-second to the speed of nature, the process of a seed emerging from the ground and the health of the soil from which it emerges.
His newest project is Seed2Growth, or S2G Ventures, investment and innovation to transform our food system. This “soil to shelf” approach involves investing in several areas, from growing methods to scalable distribution of fresh foods to new products for our grocery store shelves. In other words, he’s looking for the new disrupters of the food industry, people who want to change our food system.
“We get paid to invest in the future,” Friedberg firmly states in front of an audience of sustainability-minded attendees at the Edible Institute conference in Chicago on Oct. 1, presented by Edible Communities, parent organization of Edible Chicago and nearly 100 other locally owned and edited food publications across the U.S. and Canada.
During the “Future of Food” conference held at the Chicago History Museum, two groups of local entrepreneurs made their case to him for feedback and possible funding.
The Chow Brothers have a line of fermented food products with hopes of expanding their operation into more retail locations and possibly their own storefront. Chris and Mark Choweniac make and market the line based on favorite family dishes made by their “babcia” or grandmother who lives in Poland. The duo told the story of growing up with the love of pickles and pierogi in their family, sharing it with friends and family and eventually coming up with their own product line.
“Your story is not just the icing on the cake,” Friedberg told them after their roughly five-minute pitch. “It is the cake.” Authenticity and ethnic food trends are on the rise, Friedberg noted. That knowledge, combined with the brothers’ desire to elevate taste in that sector, is positive for the brothers’ brand.
University of Illinois–Chicago students Jack Joers and Brian Yeung developed Gridless Gardens, a growing system with a vision to “bring fresh produce to retail partners allowing the point-of-harvest to be at the point-of-consumption,” according to their website. Joers and Yeung share a passion for sustainable design and lifestyle. “I believe that it is our duty to live lightly on this Earth and to innovate to build a more sustainable future for the next generation,” states Joers.
Friedberg says S2G Ventures looks at food as a system. There is a conundrum built in. “It is one thing to create better food—healthy sustainable, nutritious, traceable and transparent—on a small scale,” he says. The great challenge is “to do that at a large scale so that the most people have the most access to it yet so entrepreneurs and investment people have put the passion, money and energy can realize returns.”
He predicts that food that is real, healthy and sustainable will become mainstream. “Ten years from now, we may only be partially right.” But, he says,
“We’re making a bet that our systems approach to investing will create better food, better companies and better returns.”