A fresh approach to climate tech
Written by Michael Yang, Managing Partner OMERS Ventures
A year ago, we brought onboard Christian Ebersol as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) to start a company that could help address the climate tech challenge. It was our first time running an EIR program; it was Christian’s first time as a founder; and neither of us were particularly deep in climate. It also didn’t particularly fit with our stated investment strategy in the US of Series A to C opportunities in health tech, proptech, insurtech and B2B workplace tech. But it was the perfect opportunity for OMERS Ventures to draw outside the lines and try something new and different — because, that’s what we do. That’s why I’m particularly proud to share today that OMERS Ventures has led a pre-seed round in 99 Counties, the company that Christian has started with his cofounders, Mike Adkins and Nick Wallace. We are excited to collaborate with Union Labs (Nate Williams), Supply Change Capital (Shayna Harris) and GV (Andy Wheeler) on this journey — institutional investors passionate about food tech, ag tech and climate tech.
It was a few months into Christian’s time with us before he turned his attention to regenerative agriculture, a form of farming that integrates livestock with crop growing and by virtue of that, enhances the opportunity for carbon to stay in the ground. Christian really got conviction around the opportunity after he started to visit farms around the country — on the West Coast, on the East Coast and in particular, in the MidWest. Fulfilling my duties as his early thought partner, I found myself joining him on some California farm visits, which allowed me to appreciate the dynamics of their businesses and also see the excitement build up in Christian.
From there, two instrumental people came into Christian’s life — Nick Wallace, a second generation Iowan farmer at the forefront of many trends from grass-fed beef to regenerative agriculture whom Christian met on his farm tours, and Mike Adkins, a technologist looking for his calling in climate tech after successfully building tech for Wall Street for years. This trio came together and spent a lot of time together noodling on various ideas until they congealed on 99 Counties, a direct-to-consumer sustainable meat marketplace connecting consumers in the Midwest, to start, with product from Iowan farmers who practice regenerative agriculture.
What Nick has really impressed upon us is that farmers know they can farm in a manner that is more environmentally friendly, more climate-conscious, but the economic envelope that these famers operate in, (eg, the market dynamics vis-a-vis the meat processors), prevents them from optimizing for that.
Alternative avenues for bringing a farmer’s livestock to market are necessary to unlock more regenerative farming. Under Nick’s tutelage, 99 Counties will be curating a network of the right farms and the right processors in Iowa and bringing their output to an American consumer that is increasingly focused on where and how their food came to them (and of course, how it tastes 😊). Meanwhile, Mike will be building out a new tech stack for our key constituents — our farm producers and processors. 99 Counties will be bringing product traceability, supply & demand forecasting, and logistics optimization to bear, in addition to the product table stakes of a modern consumer user experience.
I first met Christian around 8 years ago when we worked together in a different context. To have the chance to work with him again, helping him bring a new venture to life is exactly the company-building ethos that we subscribe to at OMERS Ventures. The mission of enabling farmers to pursue regenerative agricultural practices is too important in the greater climate change battle.