One of the nice perks of getting undergraduate and graduate degrees from a number of academic institutions – aside from filling your mailbox with flyers encouraging you to connect with the school and donate money(!) – is the chance to occasionally interact and connect with a wide and interesting network of alumni. Over the last couple of months, I have had the chance to meet up with a variety of alumni from my graduate alma mater, Emory University. Earlier this year, I was honored to be chosen as a recipient of the Emory Entrepreneur Award and attended an award celebration in Atlanta hosted by the Emory Alumni Association and the Emory Entrepreneur Network (EEN). It was an amazing evening and great to hear all the entrepreneurs talk about their challenges and breakthroughs.

Two Key Questions – What’s your story? and Who’s on your team?

What I observed as I listened to each of the entrepreneurs’ presentations were two recurring themes, which can be summed up as follows: “What’s your story?” and “Who’s on your team?” It occurred to me that as entrepreneurs, we are the central character in a story that we create, shape and share in a way that no one else can. And by telling our story we have the opportunity to share our “why” – what it is that we are passionate about, what it is that makes us tick. While the entrepreneur is the central character in the narrative, however, it’s not just about one person but rather a team of people who believe in and support the entrepreneur, be they employees, parents, siblings, spouses, customers, investors or partners.

Now that I was apparently on the Emory alumni speakers circuit, the Emory Alumni Association invited me to speak last week at a local alumni gathering in Durham about the challenges and opportunities in agriculture and public health and how innovation is providing potential solutions in that space.

Innovation is not an either-or, but both-and…

While it was a bit daunting to speak to such a widely informed group of alumni (lots of medical professionals and public health experts in the audience), I found the discussions to be quite stimulating and engaging. One of the interesting threads of discussion was the dilemma about feeding a growing world population without excessive use of chemicals or antibiotics that could negatively impact the health of future generations. I raised the example of the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal production, while helpful in establishing the poultry industry post-World War II, has been linked more recently to antibiotic drug resistant pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella.

So, do we completely ban antibiotics and all the benefits they offer, or just keep doing what we’re doing until antibiotics lose their effectiveness? What I shared with the group that evening is that innovation is potentially a pathway out of the conundrum – from “either-or” to “both-and.” I posited that as long as companies like BRI can innovate new, life science driven solutions, there is a chance that the agriculture industry can both produce food and fiber for the world and maintain a sustainable future!