Investing in the Changing Face of Food
Noramay Cadena, SB ’03, LGO ’11, and Shayna Harris, MBA ’11, have always been deeply committed to paving the path for more women and women of color to launch into management and STEM fields. The duo met in 2009 at MIT Sloan when they were placed in the same small study cohort. They had different career paths and life experiences, but commonly rooted values. After graduation, the classmates set off on their own career paths, working in industries as varied as food and supply chain operations and aerospace engineering. They later transitioned to venture capital, where their professional trajectories and personal admiration for each other came together in 2020 when they co-founded Supply Change Capital.
The early-stage venture capital firm invests at the intersection of food, culture, and technology to catalyze early-stage sustainable businesses that modernize the food system. Specifically, Supply Change Capital invests in founders who are often from overlooked or underinvested backgrounds in food and technology-focused venture capital.
“We’re often asked if Supply Change Capital is simply investing in ethnic aisles at grocery stores,” says Cadena. “But that’s not what we’re doing at all. We want to eradicate ethnic aisles. We are about redefining and reconceptualizing the food system from farm to fork so that it is more representative, resonant, and relevant for the modern-day consumer.”
Harris and Cadena’s work is the culmination of everything they learned in their system dynamics, sustainability, and leadership courses at MIT Sloan. It is also a direct result of their shared desire to build a bold, compelling, and unapologetic organization that serves multicultural America—a growing demographic which, according to a 2015 Nielsen report, will become the new majority in 2045.
“Multicultural founders are underrepresented in today’s food system, despite having the fastest-growing demographic in America. The majority of food brands and food technology founders are not run by female or BIPOC entrepreneurs,” says Harris. “We believe there is an opportunity to make an impact by investing capital in diverse founders across the supply chain in technology, sustainable ingredients, and culturally-resonant brands.”
With Supply Change Capital, Harris and Cadena set their sights on food trends and food systems. The global food system is an attractive and critical area to invest in, especially when it comes to investing in founders from underrepresented groups.
“We want to help bring about the next generation of iconic brands that will be authentic to women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, immigrants, and more cross sections of the U.S. population,” says Cadena. “Because we believe in a future of food that is better for you, supply chain efficient, sustainability mindful, and culture rich.”
Since its inception, Supply Change Capital has invested in a plethora of early-stage food technology and consumer packaged goods businesses. For instance, AYO Foods is the first national brand bringing West African food, flavors, and ingredients nationwide to grocers like Target and Kroger; Aqua Cultured Foods is a sustainable seafood alternative that uses microbial fermentation to develop fungi-based microbes into an alternative protein source; and Agua Bonita produces traditional Mexican aguas frescas without added sugar, using upcycled fruit as a key ingredient. All three of these businesses are women-owned and run, and two of the three are run by women of color.
Harris and Cadena believe emerging food brands and technologies like these will garner greater mainstream appeal as American demographics continue to change. They also think the efforts of these founders to diversify ingredients, technologies, and supply chains will have the greatest impact on revolutionizing our current food systems—and society at large. As they explain it, these companies are representative of a sustainability-rich, polyculture, polycrop world.
For these reasons, Harris and Cadena suggest that manufacturers, retailers, and other stakeholders in the food industry should put in the work to understand what is happening if they want to win over this growing body of diverse entrepreneurs and consumers. To this end, they launched the New American Table Coalition in 2021 to bring together founders, funders, media, and industry to develop new approaches for a more sustainable and inclusive food system.
If major players take the time to learn about the changing nuances of the American population and its many food cultures, they will possess a significant advantage in the decades to come.