How This Two-Time Product Founder Is Building an Innovation Studio For the Food Ecosystem

How This Two-Time Product Founder Is Building an Innovation Studio For the Food Ecosystem

Jenn Goggin is co-founder and partner of Startle, an innovation studio for the food ecosystem. Goggin has built two tech products in the food space prior, an online marketplace for food producers and wholesalers called FarmersWeb, and a digital transparency platform for local food called Pippin Foods--this platform was acquired last summer. However, the industry desperately needs to evolve in order to meet the demand of our continually growing population and longer life spans. Gilbert: Why is it so important that we innovate in the food systems space? Gilbert: How is your innovation studio going to help the food system? These partnerships let us push new innovations forward farther and faster than we would be able to otherwise. Gilbert: What’s one of the biggest lessons you’re bringing to how you build Startle from the other two companies you’ve built? Goggin: It took me two companies to learn the importance of storytelling and messaging! Gilbert: Can you share your experience with being acquired? What I didn’t fully appreciate was that when you’re acquired, especially by another young company, you’re stepping into a whole other set of visions, plans, and priorities.

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Jenn Goggin, co-founder of Startle Connor Kuratek

Jenn Goggin is co-founder and partner of Startle, an innovation studio for the food ecosystem.

Goggin has built two tech products in the food space prior, an online marketplace for food producers and wholesalers called FarmersWeb, and a digital transparency platform for local food called Pippin Foods–this platform was acquired last summer.

Goggin and her two co-founders are on a mission to bring innovation to big food. The food and agriculture industry has not evolved as quickly as other sectors such as transportation, medicine, and media, in part due to perishable inputs and tight margins. However, the industry desperately needs to evolve in order to meet the demand of our continually growing population and longer life spans.

In building this innovation studio, Goggin and her partners seek to alleviate this pressure by bringing new and creative approaches to the way we conceive of, produce, transport and purchase food.

Goggin dives into why it’s so important to fix the food ecosystem and shares strategic and tactical product-building learnings–including insights from her experience being acquired.

Below is a condensed version of our conversation.

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Gilbert: Why is it so important that we innovate in the food systems space?

Goggin: There are two big areas of our food system where innovative technology, science and design could really help.

The first is environmental.

Growing and producing food requires resources: land, water, and power–and often results in a large amount of undesirable outputs: packaging waste, carbon emissions, pollution, to name just a few. Food, of course, isn’t a luxury product for which we can decide that the negatives outweigh the positives and simply stop producing it. We have to get creative to find ways of getting what our growing population needs out of the Earth while simultaneously improving it for future generations.

The second is human health.

I am a firm believer in the adage “we are what we eat,” and, unfortunately, what we now eat is causing a number of global health crises. It’s not as simple as being able to solve obesity by having everyone avoid high-calorie foods, solving diabetes by having everyone avoid sugar, or solving heart disease by having everyone avoid cholesterol. Our bodies are complex, nutrition is complex, and, like healthy soil in agriculture, the whole system works together in ways we don’t fully understand yet. Plus, there are other factors at work besides individual choice and willpower. The food we eat depends a lot on what is accessible to us, what we can afford, how it is marketed to us, and how it is produced behind the scenes.

Gilbert: How is your innovation studio going to help the food system?

Goggin: Core to our strategy at Startle is to work with larger existing food corporations to help them put their existing resources and structures to use in smart and innovative ways. These partnerships let us push new innovations forward farther and faster than we would be able to otherwise.

We have to balance using existing systems with approaching the future as a blank slate , which is necessary for radically different and truly innovative products.

Let’s take food retail, for example. Most of us still buy the majority of our food at our local grocery store or supermarket, although online grocery is becoming more common. So, of course, an immediate step for many retailers will be to add a delivery component to their operations. But we should also be designing other solutions that help food retailers provide convenience and personalization for their shoppers but aren’t necessarily based on either their current brick-and-mortar footprints or online shopping models. The more we can re-envision the seemingly simple act of…

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