Sarah Nolet used the skills, experiences, and networks she gained at MIT and in the Sustainability Certificate to launch her own company, bringing sustainability to agriculture through innovation and technology.
Technology is disrupting agriculture, but the Agriculture and AgTech worlds are still not well connected or well versed in each other’s language and capabilities.
Connecting these industries is Sarah’s passion, and the reason she founded AgThentic, a firm providing strategy consulting services to investors, businesses, and government, as well as growth advisory support to high-potential agtech startups.
A native Californian, Sarah now lives in Sydney, Australia, where she and her team are working to help create a more sustainable global food and agriculture system through innovation and technology.
At MIT, Sarah earned a master’s in System Engineering and Management and a Sustainability Certificate. As a student, she ran the Food and Agriculture Club, co-founded the MIT-Rabobank Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize, co-led the Sustainability Summit, and wrote her thesis on “Accelerating Sustainability-Oriented Innovations in Agribusiness.” She also served as the Food Systems project coordinator for the Sustainability Initiative and spent a summer in Iowa on a consulting project with a wholesaler of spices and herbs. That summer, she helped develop a plan to shrink the organization’s environmental footprint, which she now uses as a case study with her AgThentic clients.
Originally trained in computer science and human factors engineering, Sarah started her career as a systems engineer in the defense industry. But a year living on farms in rural Argentina set her on the path to launching a business.
“It was this moment of, well, there’s all these people that live on this organic farm in the middle of nowhere and they’re really smart and happy, so maybe there are other ways I can apply technology than I’ve thought of,” she says. “It was a really hard decision to stay for a year, instead of 8 weeks as planned, but I’m so glad I decided to stay and spend some time with boots on the ground in the agriculture industry.”
Sarah spent the year travelling around South America, experiencing different farming systems. She harvested grapes for twelve dollars a day, did the books for an organic fruit and vegetable farm, and managed a goat dairy. She realized agriculture was an industry ripe for more innovation and technology, and wanted to serve as a catalyst for that change.
Today, Sarah’s firm brings the best practices of new venture development and technology to agriculture—helping those in agriculture to think more like entrepreneurs, and helping agtech entrepreneurs to connect with the agriculture industry.
“For example, one of the things we’re doing,” Sarah says, “is running an accelerator program for farmers who have an idea and want to start a technology-based business. We’re halfway through our second cohort.” Already, one of the teams from the program has shown to be competitive with traditional (i.e., not producer-led) agtech startups, having won “Pitch in the Paddock,” a shark-tank-style competition held at Australia’s national beef expo.
Sarah and her team also work with high-potential startups, such as Goterra, which uses modular, robotic insect farms to manage food waste. The food or animal waste is dumped into a modular system housed in shipping containers, and the insects do the rest. Not only does it provide an affordable waste management solution for farmers, Sarah notes, it also reduces environmental impacts.
It’s been an amazing experience, and it’s been hard,” Sarah says about launching her own business. “I’ve messed some things up and gotten some things right. Starting a company is not something I thought I would do. It happened a bit organically, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.