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Responsible innovation and a call to action

Dubbed “food’s Erin Brockovich” by Bloomberg and the New York Times, Robyn O’Brien is a globally renowned speaker and author on food innovation and entrepreneurship. Here Robyn observes the challenges our big, bold innovators must overcome to design solutions that will shape the future of our food systems.

Image of a lightbulb and seedling

In the 1930s an inventor named Chester Carlson developed a new system made of cat fur, black powder, iron, wax paper and a steel plate, among other things. He reached out to IBM, Kodak and over 40 other companies with his new idea.

Forty rejections followed. Forty companies didn’t understand his vision.

Except one. Haloid Photographic Company.

Haloid not only developed Carlson’s idea but would go on to change the company’s name, after the wild success of Carlson’s creation (according to Manuel Bermudez, PhD, at the University of Florida, Paradigms and the Future of Computing, accessed October 10, 2023).

So, what did Carlson invent? Electrophotography, now xerography, meaning “dry writing”.

The new name? Xerox.

Robyn O’Brien shares how she began shifting her attention to what’s in food.

In business, and in life, there’s a few phrases that become all too familiar when first sharing a new idea. “That’s not the way we do it here”. Or, “If you had my experience, you’d know that wouldn’t work.” And the most condescending? “Good luck with that.”

RELATED: Three WA innovators harnessing the power of seaweed 

It’s why inventors like Sara Blakely of SPANX share how important it is to keep your concept and new idea close for the first year. Not so much to protect the concept, but to protect your determination to see it through.

Rejection and negativity can kill a concept as quickly as a lack of funding.

You need supportive scaffolding around you, those who understand the challenges of the current moment and the opportunity.

Professor Scott Galloway writes, “A vision that’s not widely derided likely isn’t much of a vision.”

I couldn’t agree more. Plenty of people thought I was nuts when I first highlighted the level of corruption in our food system and called for transparency, change and labelling. Now films like Rotten, Poisoned, Common Ground and others echo and amplify this message around the world. Entrepreneurs and investors are devoting their lives to cleaning up the food system, exploring ideas across the entire industry, from blockchain to alternative proteins.

RELATED: Sustainability and improving access to innovation are top priorities for 2024 Future Young Leaders 

Was it nuts to call out a failing food system? Plenty saw it that way back in 2008, but what’s nuts is to accept a status quo that we know is hurting us, our children and the planet.

Galloway also shares, “Martin Luther King was a radical reformer who had a 63% disapproval rating at the height of his activism. Women were perceived as physically incapable of the demands of flight, until Amelia Earhart landed her Lockheed Vega in an Irish farmer’s field.”

Big visions are often called crazy and radical, but it’s impossible to imagine a world without them. And that’s precisely why I am so excited to be joining AgriFutures Australia at its annual agrifood tech and innovation event AgriFutures evokeAG. and keynoting at its 2024 conference in Perth from February 20-21, 2024.

The theme? Exceptional Edge.

With a world so clearly in crisis, political crisis, climate crisis, a mental health crisis, the importance of coming together in community to collaborate, co-create and innovate, cannot be emphasised enough. evokeAG. brings together farmers, investors, entrepreneurs, multinational corporations, startups and policy makers from around the world.

RELATED: A cutting-edge cohort: evokeAG. 2024 Future Young Leaders announced

From the mind-bending possibilities of artificial intelligence with keynote Nina Schick, Founder, Tamang Ventures; to responsible investment with my keynote; to innovating for good with food systems entrepreneur Abi Ramanan; to balancing the social tensions and emissions budget with Dr Lewis Akenji, Director, Hot or Cool Institute, evokeAG. offers an exceptional line up of thought leaders and change makers who will explore the exceptional edge of agrifood tech innovation.

We hope to see you in Perth in February!

Want to hear more from Robyn O’Brien on the importance of following your vision in responsible innovation? Join us at AgriFutures evokeAG. 2024 on 20-21 February in Perth Western Australia. Tickets are on sale here.

View the full two-day program, including all speakers and partners making evokeAG. 2024 possible. 

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