Hernán Castro is the Chief Financial Officer at GLOCAL. His roots in the industry stretch back to childhood, steeped in the surroundings of his father’s ag-input distributorship. From these formative years to a decade-long tenure at one of Argentina’s prominent Ag companies, Hernán’s trajectory intertwines personal experience with professional passion.
In this interview with tribu, he shares the vision fueling the organization’s mission to accelerate sustainable innovation within the agrifood sector. He also provides insights around the evolving landscape of agrifood tech in Latin America and offers guidance for aspiring entrepreneurs navigating this dynamic terrain.
tribu (T): Hernán, can you tell us about your background and personal connection to the agrifood industry? What motivated you to join GLOCAL as CFO?
Hernán (H): It is something interesting, because since I was born I have had many links to Agribusiness. My father is a vet and owns (with a partner) an ag-input distributor company in Formosa, so as a kid, when I finished my day at school, I would visit him there to go back home together. So, I can say that my first contact with the industry was when I was 4 or 5 years old.
Then I studied at the Law school in Buenos Aires, I got my degree and started working for CIAGRO, one of the most relevant Argentine Ag companies in the country those days. After more than 10 years there and a lot of learning in different positions, I jumped to GLOCAL thanks to Bernardo Milesy’s invitation. It was the beginning of 2019, and the temptation of being part of the solutions for the future of the industry called my attention.
(T): What is the core mission of GLOCAL, and how does it contribute to accelerating innovation in the agrifood tech sector?
(H): Our Purpose is to accelerate the development of startups and innovation in companies and organizations which enable an improvement in worldwide nutrition through sustainable production systems. To do so, we have decided to work on three different lines:
- Impact Investing: we invest between $100K and $500K in early stages LatAm startups that revolutionize AgriFood value chain.
- Accelerate Startup: we work with startups with MVP to get them ready to scale their business through a pragmatic approach in a 12 week program that, also works as a DD for our investment decisions.
- Open innovation: GLOCAL partners with the most relevant Ag&Food companies regionally and worldwide to help them reach opportunities in the startup ecosystem to boost their business. We have worked with Bunge, Bayer, LDC, Banco Galicia, Surcos, Cargill, among others.
At the end of the day, GLOCAL is an innovation platform focused on AgriFood that seeks and provides solutions to a wide range of stakeholders (investors, consumers, corps and startups).
(T): What sets these programs apart in the industry?
(H): Having a deep background in Agri Food business, we know about Ag & Food and that is the main asset we put on the table. So, we help startups to test their MVP with the top tier users/clients thanks to our early adopters network. Apart from that, Glocal connects the startups with mentors who share with the founders their experience and know how in specific sessions. In addition, we host open talks with specialists to talk about Scalability, Impact, Legal and Tax Planning and Fundraising.
(T): When considering potential startups for your programs, what specific qualities or innovations do you look for? What types of companies are an ideal fit for GLOCAL’s support?
(H): With Agrifood value chain being one of the most relevant, GLOCAL has a wide range of action and triple impact perspectives that always guide us when we select startups. Having said that, founding teams with a solution that is solving a huge problem in the value chain, especially if it contributes to fighting against climate change, would surely be interesting for us to meet.
(T): Could you share some success stories from your portfolio of startups that have gone through GLOCAL’s acceleration program?
(H): It would be unfair to mention only some of the cases, but we invite everybody to dive into our website and get to know every startup that we proudly invested in and see how these make up the most impactful portfolio in Agrifoodtech of Latam.
(T): From your perspective, how has the agrifood industry evolved in terms of embracing technological innovations over the years, especially in LatAm?
(H): We have had the chance of witnessing an increasing interest of regional and global corporations in LatAm innovation, thanks to GLOCAL GAME CHANGERS. For instance, more than 500 startups applied in 2023’s edition and many of them were in direct contact with Surcos, Banco Galicia, LDC and Bayer – main partners at the program. The common feedback from them was related to the amazing teams carrying out incredible solutions for a wide range of challenges found along the whole value chain.
This interest of many corporations, in my view, is linked with the fact that: on the one hand, farmers are actively seeking improvements in their yields and totally conscious of their preponderant role against climate change. And on the other hand, consumers demand for more information and transparency when it comes to food.
(T): How have you witnessed local startup innovation within the agrifood sector evolving in recent years in the region? Are there any notable trends you can share?
(H): This is totally related to my previous answer, so:
- Bio ag-inputs demand will continue to rise. But not just any solution, the ones that can co-exist with chemical products (at least for a while).
- AgFintech solutions. Not just lending, but technology infrastructure for current lenders too.
- Data management. For farmers, ag-inputs companies, CPGs and all other stakeholders in the agrifood chain.
- Bio ingredients for healthier and affordable food.
- Marketplaces and nearshoring platforms.
(T): GLOCAL places a strong emphasis on environmental and social impact. Where do you see the most promising areas for startups to make positive contributions within the agrifood industry?
(H): Environmentally speaking, regenerative agricultural practices are relevant, but need to be combined with logistics efficiency. Regarding the social impact, it is important to remember that, paradoxically, many farmers in Latam suffer from food insecurity, so fair trading and financial inclusion are crucial, too.
(T): In your experience working closely with startups, what advice would you give to founders navigating the challenges of the agrifood tech landscape and of the startup world?
(H): It is important for founders to detect a real problem which somebody is willing to pay to solve. To do so, they have to go and talk with users and clients. It is there, in the market, where they will learn the most. Don’t be afraid of the feedback, use it and improve your product and business model.
(T): Collaboration is key in innovation. How does GLOCAL facilitate collaboration between established agrifood companies and startups? Can you share any impactful collaboration stories?
(H): Yes, collaboration is key when solving a huge problem and GLOCAL is a platform where all the stakeholders can join. Farmers, corporations, startups, investors, non profit organizations and founders can meet each other and collaborate to make things happen. Through our six years of history, we have had the opportunity to join great startups with many different actors, which, fortunately a great number of them ended in real collaboration (investment, commercial agreements, etc).
Again it would be unfair to mention only some. I suggest any startup willing to learn more about GLOCAL not only to contact us, but to talk with any of the portfolio companies to have their opinion about the value you can find in GLOCAL. Actually, I suggest doing this whenever you are about to talk to a VC, try to do your own research first so as to get the most information you can beforehand.
(T): Are there any GLOCAL programs currently open that startup founders should be aware of? What can founders expect when participating in these programs?
(H): We are always looking for new startups to invest in and work with. Regarding GLOCAL GAME CHANGERS, the call opens in April 2024, so I invite all the founders to follow GLOCAL in social media to be updated about the news of the program and other activities.
(T): As we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience—whether it’s about GLOCAL’s future plans, the broader industry trends, or any exciting developments on the horizon?
(H): Yes, I would like everyone to be in touch with GLOCAL. It is said that the pace of investment in VC has slowed down and it is true, generally speaking. However, for the founders which startups are really game changers, with the potential to provide global solutions for such a big issue as food and climate change, the money is available. Go and look for it, and build the next startup that will revolutionize the status quo. I am sure that, many future global companies in the agrifood-tech space are out there as early stage startups right now.