Podcast #29: Andrew Speaks With Big Idea Ventures CIO Tom Mastrobuoni about his Work at BIV and the opportunities in alternative proteins

Big Idea Ventures has launched our very own podcast “The Big Idea Podcast: Food”. Each week Big Idea Ventures Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space and talk about the exciting projects they are a part of. 

To listen to the episode click the links below!

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SUMMARY KEYWORDS

fund, people, food, companies, countries, focused, plastics, ventures, talk, big, challenges, build, deals, rural communities, solve, water, governments, protein, straws, interested

SPEAKERS

Tom Mastrobuoni, Andrew D Ive

 

Andrew D Ive  

Welcome to the Big Idea podcast where we’re focused on food. Today we’re going to be talking to Tom Mastrobuoni, the chief investment officer of Big Idea Ventures. Great conversation. Hope you enjoy it. Let’s get into it. Thank you

 

Andrew D Ive  

Tom ….

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Andrew,

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

How are you, sir?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

I’m excellent, how are you?

 

Andrew D Ive  

Very well. Welcome to the Big Idea podcast where we focus on food. We’ve had a lot of questions from people who have been listening to our podcasts, all three of them, and they basically asked, well, you know, you’re this kind of founder of Big Idea ventures. You’re focused on food and food innovation but what is Big Idea Ventures. So rather than talking to myself for 30 minutes, which would just be a regular day, by all accounts, I thought we would bring on the Chief Investment Officer of Big Idea ventures, and get it from the horse’s mouth. I’m not sure if that’s a nice expression, but it just seems to work right now. So welcome, Tom Mastrobuoni, chief investment officer of Big Idea ventures. How are you, sir?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Great. Thanks for having me.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So, big title, Chief Investment Officer, before we sort of get into Big Idea Ventures, why don’t we cover off what you do at BIV? You know, what is the Chief Investment Officer? Typically, day to day?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Yeah, absolutely. So my typical day to day is keeping tabs on all the deal flow that’s happening at the firm, whether it’s through follow on investments for the accelerator companies, I don’t get involved in the accelerator selection process, we leave that up to you and to the program directors who know that far better than I do. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

When the companies mature a little bit, and they’re ready for fall in capital, then I’ll start to get involved there. And then Abby, Lyle and I, of course, are on the special projects team, where we’re coming up with new innovative products, fund offerings, special projects, as well as those one off opportunity deals that new protein fund can do, as well as some special purpose vehicle deals that we do, including new way of gathered nugs. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

And then she and I worked together on the Wild Earth investment for new protein funds. So it’s it’s a fantastic spot. And I’m grateful for it because I get to do a lot of different things. It’s it’s definitely time consuming. You’re dealing with multiple geographies, different strategies, and you have to sort of take your take your okay, this is a growth stage company had off this is an accelerator stage company have put that on, think about things a little bit differently. But it’s been a ton of fun and the first year went by incredibly fast.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So what do you like about it?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Just the the freedom that we have to create, I mean, the culture that you’ve built here is really one around, if you see an opportunity, go for it as much as you can until it doesn’t make sense and then we’ll stop. But there’s far less meetings to have meetings to figure out if this is on strategy or not. We know what the strategy is, to solve the world’s greatest challenges – done. Okay, so let’s go figure out how to do that. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

And there are innumerable ways to go do that. We of course, have chosen food as our first first method of doing that, because everyone interacts with food multiple times a day, or at least inspires to multiple times a day. So the ability to touch people’s lives, many times a day, every single day of their life and also make a lasting impact. To save those beautiful glaciers behind you. It’s a pretty unique opportunity.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And is mission part of it for you. I mean, obviously…..

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Yeah, I mean, sorry to cut you off. But I mean, if you don’t, if you’re a safe, sentient being who has some level of empathy for others, let alone a father of four and a husband and a son, and a brother and a cousin, like why would you not want to do what you can to keep the planet around longer? I think people who don’t are just not very good people.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Obviously, there are some of those but we get to choose who we do business with, which is amazing.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Exactly. We’re very lucky. Yeah.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So obviously, you’ve been involved with the fundraising side, i.e pulling funds together so that we can then use those funds and solve those big kind of global challenges that we’re focused on. Talk to us about some of the motivations of some of those kind of LPs or those investors, what’s making them step up and get involved with a fund like ours?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Sure. In fundraising, we talk about greed buttons and not greed in a bad way, but everyone has a reason that they get out of bed for deals. It could be mission, it could be a personal connection either to a particular animal or particular geography, a particular climate, it could be a passion around, I moved to a plant based lifestyle, and my type two diabetes went away and my vision was restored. So I want to do everything I can to motivate others to do that. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

And to perpetuate that part of the market. It could be strategic, right, we have a number of strategic investors in our new protein fund. While they may have parts of their business that are mission driven, the likelihood that the folks who made the commitment to the fund, their motivations, probably much more strategic in nature, trying to solve for a capability gap, trying to fill a spot on their strategic roadmap down the street, to solve for a potential need product, geography, whatever it might be. So our job as fundraising people is really to identify what that green button is, again, not a bad way greed, and then just press it over and over again, and touch on it but touch on it in an authentic way. That’s that’s the key part, you have to be authentic.

 

Andrew D Ive  

What does that mean? I was gonna say, what does that mean touch on that?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So, and this is not to deride your car salespeople

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

They are not listening so go ahead.it.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

They are actually a great source of sales experience. If you want to understand sales go talk to someone who has to sell large ticket items to people who don’t necessarily need them. Car salespeople. If you walk into the car dealership needing a car, you’re dead in the water because they can see that coming a mile away there. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

They are fantastic observers of body language of how people walk and interact with vehicles etc. are you hiding in the corner? Are you just peeking at the label? Or are you like in the car trying the wheel out? Right? How dedicated of a buyer are you? And usually in the first five minutes of interacting with an LP, we can tell? Right, we can tell? Are they asking the right questions? How do you identify the best companies? How do you as a GP, bring value to the companies you invest in?

 

Andrew D Ive  

And would you mind very quickly in case the people are new to the terminology LP GP?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Oh, certainly. So limited partner, those are the folks who invest in funds like ours, we use the term limited because your liability is limited to the amount of capital that you invest into the fund. GP or general partner, if Limited is limited general is general and we have general liability for everything, including the operation and fiduciary responsibilities of the fund. So limited partners provide the capital, general partners bring the talent and the deal sourcing, and we execute the transactions on behalf of the limited partners. So when you’re meeting with limited partners, and trying to get them to, you’re basically trying to separate them from their money, which they’ve all worked very, very hard at  earning and saving, or they are entrusted with it as strategy folks within an organization. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

I’m trying to make sure that what we’re offering aligns with what they need.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Exactly. So we need to understand their motivation is. Are they mission driven investors? Fantastic, then we will of course, address the mission alignment between investing in alternative proteins, the positive impact on the environment, the positive impact on human welfare issues and concerns. That’s what we will highlight, we talk about everything.  

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

You have 30 to 45 minutes of this person’s time. In reality, you probably have about five before you lose their interest, and they go on to check their phone or in the days of zoom, they’ll minimize your window, and they’ll just do that. Uh huh. That’s interesting. Uh huh. When you do this several 1000 times, you can tell okay, you know, I’ve got their full attention. They are engaged. They’re interested, or as we refer to them, they’re buyers of what we’re selling. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

And if they’re not, we’ll simply say, you know, look, do you have any questions? No, I don’t really. Is, it something you’re interested in. No, not really. And we always say this and people laugh but a fast No, is the second best answer you can get when you’re fundraising. The maybes will kill you. They’ll drag you out forever. The yesses are by far the best. Yes, let’s do it. The best answer you can get. No, not for me. Second best answer you can get.

 

Andrew D Ive  

The funny thing is that because we spend a lot of time also going through due diligence and looking at companies to invest in, companies who are probably you know, actively going through their fundraising, because we’ve been through it ourselves with the fund. I really appreciate how to not screw around with a founder and just sort of be really honest with them and really succinct, and I wish, you know, when I was raising funds from my first couple of companies, the investors had been just a bit more sort of direct and forthright. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

You’ve mentioned LPS being motivated by a strategic imperative. So for example, wanting to learn about innovation in the space or keep tabs on innovation, you’ve talked about mission alignment. You’ve talked about a personal alignment. So diabetes and a plant based lifestyle, maybe a concern about the ocean and something by I think it’s fair to say that in the last 12 months or so, we’ve been getting engagements from multiple countries slash governments, who are seeing a lot of the things that we’re dealing with as solutions for food production in the long term over the next X number of decades.

 

Andrew D Ive  

 Protein production and the movement towards sustainability from a country wide perspective. From your point of view, do you see that becoming more and more important to governments? And do you see them getting more involved in our space? Do you think were you know, having the right conversations? Sometimes it’s it seems to be job job related. But that’s actually I would think less? So. I mean, yeah. Tell us about, you know, what governments and countries are thinking.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Absolutely. So we’re starting to get into this a little bit on our team. Abby’s in my team as well, right now. So again, you have different levels of government, with just like any other organization, there are different levels. The jobs are really important, we’ll say to the local county and state governments, that’s really important to them, because that generates a tax revenue base and that’s the income for those states. When you think about the federal level, we use it we’ll just use federal to refer to national governments for ease of conversation between federal …

 

Andrew D Ive  

This is outside of the US as well, right? 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Exactly. Yeah. So when you think about food, and food innovation opportunities outside of the US, at the federal level, it’s very much a matter of national security. So let’s go back to the pandemic Hydra, the pandemic borders are shut down. Countries like Singapore, countries like Bahrain, and countries like the UAE, that are highly dependent on imports and by highly dependent I’m talking over 90% of their food that their citizens consume has to be imported into the country. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So if you shut down shipping, you shut down ports, you shut down borders, and you stop allowing product into the country, you stop allowing the merchant marines who run the vessels actually dock at your shores and unload, you’re talking about shelves that are going to start to go bare. Now, some of those countries will use cold storage, they’ll use dry storage to build up some strategic reserves. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

ºRight, we have a strategic petroleum reserve here in the US prices are getting too high and we’re starting to release some of that. The question for me is, are country’s going to adopt that sort of strategy as it relates to food? What happens when the next zoonotic pandemic hits and Malaysia and Thailand and Indonesia stop shipping food to Singapore? What does that look like?

 

Andrew D Ive  

It could be now with omachron. We don’t know yet.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Correct, it could be now with Omicron. We don’t know yet. But I think what’s interesting is you’re seeing governments react much faster to cases and lockdown. We’re not messing around. We’re not going to wait and see, we’re going to shut it down. You know, Israel shut down, done. And I don’t think they have any cases in their country yet but like they don’t want it so they shut down. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So we’re seeing what some people are calling knee jerk reactions. I think it’s natural. We’ve seen what happened when we didn’t act in a very responsive way and let’s let the pendulum swing in the other direction. Usually, I’m not a big fan of big pendulum swings in policy, they tend to have negative and almost reverse consequences, to what you intended. This one I’ll live with, you know, I’ll live with being wheels down for a couple more months, until we figure out this new delta, this new variant of the Delta Omicron.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Says the guy who is about to fly to Paris, and maybe stop maybe stuck in France over Christmas,

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

There are far worse places to be stuck in for Christmas. To stay maybe. Indeed, indeed. But in all seriousness, when you think about the fact that experts will tell you that we’re about nine days of no food from rioting in the streets like that, sort of. If you talk to people who specialize in this stuff, you’re nine dinners away from seeing people in the streets, rioting. So food is very much a national security matter when it comes to countries that are heavily dependent on imports. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So when you talk about new innovative ways of making food that aren’t as dependent on massive amounts of arable land, like animal grazing, that aren’t requiring as much water and resources, as urban farming can help alleviate. Those are interesting solutions for countries that are resource constrained. And I think it’s really compelling to see projects like neon take hold and building the future. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

The future food centres of the world. In the US, you know, we’re less dependent on importing of food, but very much on supply chain. So we’re seeing a lot more focus on infrastructure, a lot more focus around how do we ensure that bare shelves, which I never thought I would see in my lifetime? I mean, I never thought my kids would see that. But I mean, going into a supermarket, they’re not being milk, they’re not being bread on the shelf, which is just surreal. So how do we build a more resilient supply chain that isn’t as dependent on long range transportation of food, which, by the way, is heavily GHG generating as well, so.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So I think you’ve done a really good job of summarizing the strategic / the challenges and why it’s necessary to be thinking about these things, especially for countries that are heavily dependent on imports. So you mentioned Bahrain, Singapore, etc. I think there’s a positive or a sort of, the other side of the coin, as well, for food innovation, alternative protein and other areas, in the sense of we’re sort of recreating, we’re bringing new technologies to bear which is allowing us to be more sustainable, more efficient in the production of protein and other food sources. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

The lines are going to be redrawn in terms of market share revenues, and so on, there’ll be a potential redistribution to small, faster moving medium size, fast growing companies, who are going to be taking share from the large global food companies out there, who are not innovating, who are not moving quickly forward, but are relying upon the history or the heritage of their brand and their comm companies. So I think there’s a lot of upsides as well. Are those coming through in the conversations with these governments with these corporates?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Yeah, I think they are. I think people who aren’t in the business and don’t do we do, don’t have a great appreciation of how food is made. You know, how does food get from here to there? How does the steak get from the farm, because in everyone’s mind, it’s a farm. That’s not how steaks are actually raised. They don’t start out on what we call a cow calf operation, where they’ll raise animals from a young age, but then it moves through much more of a highly industrialized process by the time it gets into your meat case. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

I know I didn’t have a good appreciation of the food system. So I think a lot of that is understanding that impact and going back to how do we get food produced to your point more efficiently and more sustainably. And actually does that mean, the amount of water that’s used in producing food is stunning, stunning to the point that large food companies operate their own wastewater treatment facilities, because some of the chemicals they use are so nasty, that municipal wastewater streams that handle our human water that goes through our homes, and some of our smaller businesses can handle. So they have to build systems just for that

 

Andrew D Ive  

Can’t handle won’t handle,

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Can’t handle. There are some materials that are used in the industrial production of meat products, for instance, where those plants are located in more rural communities. And they don’t have as sophisticated wastewater treatment facilities, right. They’ll build them around a farming community, which uses a lot rainwater, but they also have irrigation systems and water goes in the ground then evaporates and it goes into a sort of a cycle. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

When you talk about bringing water into a plant and now you’re adding certain chemicals to that water. The system that was built to handle in ag based industry now has to handle chemicals that will eat through their piping through their systems, or they just don’t have the technical expertise to handle. So you’ll see big food companies manage their own wastewater treatment facilities, and then give the water to the municipalities who will then treat it from that point because they can handle it from that point. And then you buy it back. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

The problem is you add every foot of pipe for an irrigation system is an ecological disaster waiting to happen. Right did you have to have elbow connectors, and you have filtration systems and collection basins and all the technology that goes into just water. The most basic thing, we turn our faucet, water comes out and that’s all we think about it. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

But the food industry is so reliant on it. It’s not even an ingredient, as we’ll talk about, you can talk about beverage companies and their use of the water system. If you’ve ever seen a commercial, if you ever seen a bottling plant for bottled water, I mean, these things are massive, and all they do is pump water out of the ground, put it through a filter and stick it in a bottle and we buy it, it is the most ridiculous thing ever, it’s a really good witness to think, you know, we had to do all of this for the water, like it’s basically the water that comes out of your tap. But they’ll filter it, they’ll add some minerals to it for taste, and then they’ll sell it back to you. That’s crazy.

 

Andrew D Ive  

I was kind of hoping you were going to go towards the entrepreneurship side of things. So I, you and I, get to see some, I would say crazy, but crazy is not the word, we get to see some companies who are just doing things today that I just never imagined could be done from a food invention, innovation production perspective. Three years ago, five years ago, in precision fermentation, we’re just seeing amazing things happening. You know, in cell based in all sorts of different parts of the food industry. And you’re getting to touch a lot of these companies. How crazy is it? How blown away are you almost on a daily basis by some of the companies that are looking for fun, and are able to just do some incredible things.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

It’s, it’s truly like I said, this is one of the best jobs, because you do see a number of different opportunities. I mean, we’re seeing a company, we started out with liquid plant based eggs, right, and the fact that someone could take a number of vegetable based ingredients, put them together with some emulsifiers and create a product that performs the way the liquid eggs do, that was pretty cool. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Then you see people turn it into a frozen Patty, and they can serve that in food service wow that’s also pretty cool. And now you’re seeing things like poachble eggs, plant based eggs that when you pop them they run as Benedict would, it’s just like, I grew up with a biology professor for a mother. So like the stem cell stuff, of course, that’s going to work because that’s what they do, you feed them, you trigger the reaction, and they’re just going to grow because that’s what they’re supposed to do. So that stuff, at least the science part of it makes a lot more sense to me. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

I am constantly blown away by the ability of these founders and scientists to take plant based ingredients, rearrange them molecularly, add new ingredients, and then create a product that looks, tastes, performs the way that you know it’s meat based or seafood based cousin does, it is truly truly remarkable.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And, I think that’s from my point of view, why these governments need to be really engaged in this stuff. Because you know that they are able to provide for their people in a way that’s far more sustainable in the longer term. And that’s not to say we want the old industries to go away, I mean we’ve actually got a fund that you’re working on, which is very much about bringing this sort of future of food technology, together with the rural communities who are the mainstay of our food production system over the last century, or two, or three or four or five. No one is out there intending to get rid of the farmer, if anything, we need the farmer more than ever and, let’s bring those more sustainable approaches together with those people who are the holders of our food system.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Absolutely. Like they have fed us for centuries, they’ll continue to feed us into the future. And the fund you’re referring t,o a rural partners fund, very much focuses on identifying those next great inventions at an even earlier stage before acceleration stage almost at the ideation stage, or right before they’re ready to be patented and turned into something commercial. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

You know, we’ve seen so much, as a firm, in the areas of food protein in agriculture, because can’t talk about food without talking about the Ag side of it. We don’t right now focus on or invest in the ag segment but if you don’t have an appreciation, especially as we move more towards plant based, if you don’t appreciate the Ag side of it, it really doesn’t matter what you do further downstream. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

If you’re not thinking about the ingredients, you’re not thinking about the regenerative ag court, how do we, okay, you want to move to a fully plant based protein supply chain? That’s great. And I’m here to help you. But how do you ensure that the crops are there to provide the core ingredient for you? You know, do you have enough diversification in the in the seed population? 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Do you have enough arable land? How are we taking care of the topsoil. And that’s important, too, it’s important to remember, if we are not good stewards of that soil, she will not produce the vegetable bases that we need to provide enough core ingredients. So taking a look at that, from a research perspective, and going to the universities that have very focused ag programs like Purdue, like Penn State, like NC State, coupled with folks who are very focused on sustainability, like the University of Hawaii, like Maryland, like LSU, and taking those best pieces there but creating companies to build those technologies and keep them in rural communities to your point, to incentivize those folks to keep pushing forward. You can have a really great lifestyle and live in a rural community, it doesn’t have to be a stereotype. We’re trying to bring that to life. So it’s a fun project.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Big Idea Ventures launched our Asian office the same day we launched our North American one. In the last six months or so we’ve set up shop in Europe and I’m hoping that we can help join the dots globally between this very early stage IP that you’ve identified as being the source of a lot of these sorts of new approaches, and not just help to deploy them in North America, particularly or, or even in Asia, but actually start bringing the best of this IP to places around the world where it’s necessary.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Yes that would  be a great iteration of what we’ve started to see a lot of when we talk to folks globally, and we do the whole, who is B IV, what is it that we do, and all the programs, we talked about the rural Partners Program. And they’re very interested in what’s going on with new protein fund, because it has an active portfolio, and they want to know how things are going in that space and everyone loves alternative protein. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

They’re really interested in the research angle of it. Israel does a fantastic job of IP commercialization from the university level, the US is does a good job, but not as good as we could do and a lot of that has to do with bandwidth and pools capital and we’re trying to do what we can to change that. But we’ve had inbounds from Asia, from Canada, from Europe and from South America, where folks like what is this rural partners, what is this thing you’re doing? Because I think that there’s sort of a built up amount of creativity that’s waiting to burst out, but they’re sort of hesitant. They feel I have to go to Israel or the US if I want to take my research and commercialize it, because that’s where the market is for. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Now, to your point, if we can export this model, and do it now, we may not do a fund for Ireland and a fund for France, it may make sense to do the continental focus fund or, or Nordic focus fund, we’ll figure that part out. But I think this model is going to prove to be pretty successful. And yes, we want to make really nice financial returns. We’re all here for that. But this fund in particular is very much focused on can we drive economic growth and development in areas that historically have relied on major infrastructure projects or government subsidies to do so. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

And if we can create a self sustaining cyclical economy, right, because if we found businesses in these communities, those businesses, those people who work there are going to need restaurants to go to they need schools for their kids to go to they need theaters to go watch shows that there’s any there’s a system that builds up around, right. And if we can locate a few new businesses, and plant those seeds, pardon the pun, in these rural communities and grow those economies up. I don’t any geography that wouldn’t be interested in having that program. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

So the rural partner fund, it’s right now focused on an optimal terrain right?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

It’s focused on the US. That’s right. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Perfect. I guess over the next two to three years, we’ll get some sort of initial data to understand whether it’s a successful kind of approach, and then we can start talking about, are there other places? Are there other places that could take a similar approach and benefit from matching the IP together with developing future of food in companies and industries in new countries, regions, etc?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Yeah, absolutely typical. So yeah, it’ll take about two years to get that kind of feedback. But I think it’ll also take at least that amount of time to hit our contractual thresholds where we’re actually allowed to go and do similar funds, but in different geographies. But yeah, we’ve had inbounds from foreign governments that are interested in being in the US fund, because hey, they’re interested in the technologies coming out of US universities around food, protein and agriculture. But they also want to get a feel for how does this model work? And how could it work in our country, or in a group of countries that were a part of? Is this something that could thrive in our geography? So it’s really exciting to be a part of that one? 

 

Andrew D Ive  

So given we’ve had reach outs from Middle East, Europe, South America, and various other places around the world. How does a company like ours determine where it focuses?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

It’s very much a challenge to do that. Because there are so many great opportunities. And you don’t want to say no, when a country calls you up and says, I love what you’re doing with Project X can you come here and do that? The answer you immediately want to give is, and Richard Branson will tell you say yes, and figure out how to do it later. I’m not a great fan of that approach because if you can’t figure out how to do it, you got to go back and tell someone, yeah, I said I could, but I can’t. Especially when people and time are sort of your two biggest challenges in terms of resources. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

So you say people and time and not people and money and time?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Yeah, I mean, great ideas will find capital. But finding a good solid team to execute that program, that’s, to me the biggest challenge, right? We never have a lack of ideas at the shop. Capital, we’ve been fortunate in raising and finding great partners who can come back to time and again, really, it’s around the team, like you need to identify folks who are aligned on mission with you. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

The mission in this case, is building a new fund structure to commercialize IP from the university level and build it into something of scale that big food companies gonna want to buy or a technology business go on to buy. That’s no small feat, right? And then to do that at scale, and to do it in a way, the drive that has an extra mandate of rural development, and economic growth, no easy lift. So finding a team that can go execute on that, and then do that at a global scale. That’s a huge challenge.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So two things, one, I totally agree with you, it’s a huge challenge. Getting really, really good people is tough. But the second part is, I get the distinct impression, given the amount of resumes and people we get reached out from, that people are looking for more than a job, people are looking for more than, you know, making enough money or a lot of money to buy the next toy, whatever that toy might be. People are increasingly focused on how does what I do matter. And invariably, if it’s, you know, in food, or if it’s in innovation, they find their way to us one way or another. So you know, we do get a decent flow, not that, you know, we need more, of course, we do get a decent flow of people reaching out to us or for jobs and things.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So people who are watching this, we want more of you. So send in your resume, send in your CVs. We’re happy to talk with you about that. Because yeah building that network. is key. We’re talking to one gentleman about joining us on the rural partner spot. I’ve known him now for about five years but when I met him, I didn’t know how we’d end up. He was working for one organization, I was working for another and you just find people you like, well, if I could do, if I have a chance to work, if I could pick who I work with and I build something that’s interesting to that person and to me, I want to bring that person in and work with that person. And we’re just really fortunate that we get to build a lot of those things right now.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Absolutely. So tough times. Have we had any tough times that you can think of?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Sure, I mean, there there are times when you make investments and you don’t know how they will turn out. Do you mean, investment tough times or personal tough times?

 

Andrew D Ive  

Take it wherever you want, man.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

I don’t know how therapy session we want to get, I don’t have a couch in here to lie down. No, look, you always make investments decisions based on the information you have at that time. And it’s always easy to look back and say, Man, if I knew that, I wouldn’t have done what I did, or I wouldn’t have had it that term or, you know, I wish I knew what those persons stripes really looked like, before I got in the business with them. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

But you can’t think about that, you have to keep focused on what you did wrong, so you don’t do it again. Right? The only way we get better is by learning from mistakes not repeating. Absolutely. But that’s where it has to end. You can’t dwell on it, you have to move forward and say, 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Okay, I made an investment, we took the firm in a particular direction, or we started out looking at a generation food around sustainability and engineering, and plastics and water, like, yeah, it’s a really great idea. And then we sort of sat around well, well, who do we know who knows this stuff? Like really knows this stuff? Do we know anyone from the bio plastics industry who could run this fund? The answer was no, we don’t know anyone right now, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to come along down the road.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

 And we’ll relaunch that and refocus on that. But what we do have is a team that’s really great at what we do right now and we’re heads down on that. So yeah, hard times, sure. There’s always hard times, there’s always frustrations, there’s always you thought something was going to work out and it didn’t. You have to be patient. Because as we’re seeing on another project, things have a way of coming back to you when they’re supposed to. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So just be patient. And trust your process. Like there’s a reason why you thought this was a good investment. Here, the timing might have been a little off. Maybe it wasn’t the perfect team. But trust your gut, trust your process, and then just make the best decision from that point forward. You can’t kill yourself. Now I say this. I’m the worst at it. I’m always hemming and hawing about the mistakes that I made. But you really have to push forward, get through the hard time, get to the other side and then don’t do it again. My wife always tells our kids like a real apology is I’m sorry. And you don’t do it again. If the second part doesn’t happen, it wasn’t a real apology.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And how does that work for you?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

I’m still working on it. I myself am a work in progress. Yeah, absolutely.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Yeah, absolutely. So where do you see Big Idea Ventures being in, and I asked this of the founding team members when we go through this podcast…. Where do you see this company being in 5 to 10 years time? What can it, if it reaches its potential, not that we can necessarily reach our potential in five years or 10 years, but what kind of potential will it be able to realize in five to 10 years from your point of view? Where will we have more offices, where will we have a bigger team? Will we have more funds? Will we be solving the world’s biggest challenges by supporting the world’s best entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So I think about this question a lot and how do you measure success. It takes me back to, and I know people will think it corny, but when Matthew McConaughey gave his Oscar acceptance speech, he talked about a number of people, and I don’t remember the exact number . I’m not going to try and do it. But he said, the one that stuck with me is someone we chase, right? There’s always someone you want to chase someone you want to be like. And he always kept saying, well, that’s going to be me in 10 years, right? 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So I think, will we solve the world’s biggest challenges, we may solve a couple of the world’s biggest challenges as of today, will they be the same ones, I think new ones will emerge, whether that’s explosive population growth, whether it’s water as a critical resource, which it is, in many places today, just in our little bubble of the northeastern United States, water is plentiful, we don’t really think about it or deal with it. But you think about western states, even in the US and you think about more developing nations, having access to clean drinking water is a massive challenge. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Whether it is the atmosphere takes a severe turn for the worst and the air becomes almost unbreathable. I don’t know what those big challenges are going to be but I think that if we are at least there as a firm in whatever form that looks like the number of offices, number of team members, as long as we’re there investing in what we think are the best new technologies to solve those current challenges. I think that’s a success.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So it doesn’t matter how many people we have, how many offices we have, what our footprint, none of that kind of really matters. It’s are we tackling the most pressing challenges that were grappling with as a species at that particular point in time?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Are we doing whatever we can to solve those challenges? Right, like today it’s climate change. You know, I really think climate change is a huge challenge and I believe there are many other socio economic challenges out there. I know people will say, well, you know, I don’t think the alternative protein environment is a huge challenge. I think domestic abuse is a massive challenge. I think, child labor is, and I agree with you, they are, this is what we happen to be good at. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to know our role, stay in our lane, and try to row the boat together to try and solve what we can solve. And I know that there’s other people working on those other important issues, and they’re doing what they can. But yeah, I think, with the team that we have, we’re doing what we can to solve today’s challenges, tomorrow’s challenges are going to be different. Right? And Wednesday’s challenges, it’s Monday for anyone who’s counting and Wednesday’s challenges are going to be different. We just got to wake up, put our boots on and get to work. So that’s what we’re trying to do today and hopefully, that’s what we’ll be doing in 5 to10 15 to 20 years. But that’s it. I’m retiring after 20 I’m done. I’m gonna be 45 in January

 

Andrew D Ive  

45 to 65. Yeah, that’s good. But by the time you’re 65, you’ll be like, Oh, I got another 10 years in me. Do you play golf? I mean, what do when you’re not running around after? I don’t think you have time when you’re not running around after four children?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So playing golf is being generous. I guess play at golf is probably more what I do. But my wife asked me this the other day, she said, you know, what kind of hobby would you like? 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Like, it’s time to choose one?

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Like, is that like 2018? You’re both 21? You drink? 45? You pick a hobby? I don’t know, is that the new thing? No, I like coming up with crazy new ideas and pitching them at our weekly meetings and having having you go, Okay, go figure out how to do it.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And you do most of the time you do? Yeah, I think the only failure or not even necessarily a failure, but the only thing that didn’t kind of work out was we were hearing from the big food corporates that plastic water usage and co2 production were three big areas of focus for them. Two things needed to happen for us to get into that space. One was we needed really great people on our team that would help us to be at the cutting edge of what’s next, you know, what we should be investing in, in those three areas. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

So water, plastics, co2, and the other was having people that not only said they cared but actually stepped up and want to want to write a check wanted to partner on a solution. We were in the process of building the team. I didn’t get the feeling from from the corporate side, that there were companies willing to, to write a check around plastics, water and co2 today, at least we didn’t find them. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

I don’t think it’s for lack of caring on their part. I think a lot of them have internal initiatives. I know Nestle does, I know Unilever does, a lot of the big FMCG have initiatives around reducing plastics in their shop and in their supply chain. I think what will be interesting is when those deadlines emerge, whether that was 2030 2040 2050, whatever they might be, when those deadlines hit. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

>One was five, and one was 2030. I think the industry is kind of got those two days.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Yeah. So we’ll see what happens, some will hit their numbers and some won’t. The ones who wont will say, well, it was due to COVID. And, you know, we’re back on track, we’re focused on it. But I think as long as they continue to push for it, and they are, but a lot of this is going to fall on the consumer is that consumers keep the feet to the fire and tell these companies, I don’t want to buy your product if it comes in packaging that’s harmful to the environment. I’m not going to be a customer of yours if you’re not good stewards of the land or the water that you use to make my food. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Customers have the power here and brands will react to that. This is coming from someone who worked inside a brand for a couple of years. So brands will react to consumer sentiment. You’ll vote with your wallets and cast your vote because they do matter. And then you can get cut. You can get companies you can turn those supertankers and you can get them to change course. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

i agree. Funny thing is some of this becomes quite political at times where, you know, you get people worrying about straws and things like that, because it’s bad for the environment. And then you get other people who are like, what the fuck? Give me my straws back, how dare you take my straws away.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

The best example of what I call innovation theater, meaning innovating for the sake of innovating, but not really doing anything meaningful, or impactful. There was one brand, I’m not gonna say who it was, but one brand in particular, a coffee shop that wanted to get rid of, I enjoy drinking their coffee, so I’m not going to say who it was, they’ve since changed this. But when they wanted to initially get rid of plastic straws, they came out with paper straws, which I thought was great. And when I asked for a straw, and they handed it to me, and it was wrapped in plastic I just kind of looked at the guy like seriously, he goes, Yeah, it’s your paper straw and it’s wrapped in plastic to protect it. Like you did this to get rid of the plastic straws that were wrapped in paper. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Because like that is not going to do anything. But, you know, companies that completely eliminate the use of plastics in their packaging, or go to 100% biodegradable recycling is we can do a whole different segment on recycling and how underutilized the recycling industry is in the US and how if we don’t valorize the end product that a recycling no one’s actually going to recycle less than 10% of what you put in that blue bin actually gets recycled anyway, so don’t feel bad if you throw something out. It’s where 90% of it ends up anyway. But that’s another big challenge that I’d love to solve because that one frustrates the hell out of me.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Alright, new  fund, let’s go, let’s do it. 

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

All right. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Before we do that before we set up one more fun how should governments, countries, corporates, family offices, funder funds, etc ultra high net worth individuals if people have something they’re interested in an, axe to grind or they want to set something up, they want to partner or all of the above. What should they do? How should they reach out to Big Idea Ventures? Tom Mastrobuoni, Andrew Ive all those wonderful people, Big Idea ventures he says speaking in the third person.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Which he doesn’t do often, folks, I promise. Take a look at our website , www.bigideaventures.com you can find us there. You know if you want to send me an email, tom@bigideaventures.com I’m pretty accessible on LinkedIn, Twitter. Unless you want to see me on Twitter.

 

Andrew D Ive  

You tweet.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

I tweet. Occasionally I tweet. I am more a retweet kind of guy. But yeah.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Have your like football team stuff. Get to hear what’s going on with the local New Jersey teams that you support. Are you in New York or New Jersey fan? I forget.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Well, all the football teams actually play in the great state of New Jersey, although they both have New York names to them but I am a lifelong New York Jets fan. And we did beat the other worst team in the NFL this weekend. So we feel good about ourselves. Notre Dame is going to get cheated out of another college playoff spot because they lost to an undefeated team. I always have an axe to grind about that. But yeah I’m on Twitter. I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on Facebook, but that’s only for like Boy Scout stuff. My son selling popcorn or my kids won a gymnastics medal. Otherwise, I try to stay off of Facebook. I get what always tells me put my phone away. When I’m on Facebook. I’m like, this person wrote this thing. She saysput that down.

 

Andrew D Ive  

I’m not a big fan of Boy Scout Popcorn but when your daughters go into the Old Girl Scout cookie thing, I was gonna say I’m the Samoan you know, the coconut one. That’s the caramel toffee coconut one. That’s my jam.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

So far they have not expressed an interest in scouting, but my four year old wants to go because now Cub Scouts can be boys or girls. When you go to Boy Scouts, then you sort of separating the boys and girls. She’s expressing interest in the other two. They couldn’t be bothered if it doesn’t involve a trampoline. They’re not interested.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay, but you know, I’m not going to get my cookies unless they go so we got to start putting some pressure on them.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Well your daughter could go do Girl Scouts is never too late.

 

Andrew D Ive  

She’s 19

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Maybe too late

 

Andrew D Ive  

Tom,  it’s been a pleasure. I’m going to cut the day cuz I think I promised you a shorter time than this. So you have things to do.

 

Tom Mastrobuoni  

Not a problem. Not a problem. Any deals that we missed will be your fault.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Yeah. Awesome. Thank you, sir. Wonderful. Thanks. I’m going to press pause and then we’re going to encourage people to reach out to Tom at Big Idea ventures, all the spam you’re going to get now, that was your own fault. All right, one sec. Thank you for coming along to today’s podcast with Tom Mastrobuoni, chief investment officer of Big Idea Ventures. This is Andrew D. Ive your host from Big Idea Ventures. Please do like and subscribe. We’d love to hear from you. And that way you also get notifications when we have a new podcast. Thanks very much. Hope you enjoyed the conversation. Have a good one.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Bye.

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