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David Rosenberg: Leveraging the Power of Disruptive Innovation in Farming

There has never been a greater need for innovative solutions in agriculture. As our population grows, arable land is decreasing due to climate change, soil erosion, and pollution. In recent years, the indoor vertical farming space has made significant progress to address these issues. The industry is enabled by advancements in technology, including the decreasing cost of light emitting diodes (LEDs), which is a key input for the plants to grow.

Ultimately, the work that is being done to build and operate indoor vertical farms is complex. While there can be more than one successful company, there will be many failed companies that do not master the complexity inherent in the industry. AeroFarms, under the leadership of David Rosenberg, CEO and Co-founder, is excited to play a leading role in solving the broken food system today and looks forward to continuing to take indoor vertical farming to a new level of precision and productivity in the years to come.

AeroFarms is a mission-driven company that builds and operates advanced vertical farms in urban environments. AeroFarms is widely considered a leader in the vertical farming industry, having been listed on Fast Company’s 2019 Most Innovative Companies, been featured on Inc. Magazine’s 25 Most Disruptive Companies, and received the inaugural Global SDG Award for Zero Hunger.

Since its founding, AeroFarms has built ten farms and raised over $200 million. With its innovative growing technology, the company produces fresh, flavorful, and pesticide-free leafy greens, which are available locally at retailers like Whole Foods and Shoprite and through FreshDirect and AmazonFresh.

In starting AeroFarms, one of the biggest challenges was working with biology,” says David. Unlike widgets, producing plants can be tricky; sometimes doing the same thing can yield different results. Today, AeroFarms overcomes these limitations through data. By collecting and analyzing inputs across multiple facilities, David and the AeroFarms team are able to be better farmers, all the while understanding plant science and why plants work the way they do.

Harvesting Success

Over the course of his career, David has been involved in four change-the-world start-ups, two of which he co-founded and lead in industries including fintech, internet infrastructure, nanotechnology, and ag-tech.

After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill, David began his career working as a financial analyst for a Wall Street bank where he gained an understanding of reading financial statements and microeconomics. After two years, he joined a fintech company, which disrupted the electronic trading space and gave David an appreciation for the power of disruptive technology.

Following this, David went on to work for an incubator focused on internet infrastructure companies. Through these early experiences, David learned to be comfortable with the key start-up quality of making decisions with limited information. He also appreciated the cultural quality of challenging colleagues’ assumptions rather than their intent.

After completing his MBA at Columbia Business School, David took these lessons and founded a nanotech company that among other things, commercialized the first Cradle-to-Cradle certified product in the world. Collaborating with Bill McDonough, co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, David was then inspired to start AeroFarms.

Outside of AeroFarms, David is a member of the World Economic Forum, where he co-founded and co-chaired the Young Global Leaders Circular Economy Taskforce and is a member of the Global Internet of Things Council. David was also a member of the United States delegation to the B20 Sustainable Resource Taskforce, which advises the G20.

He serves as a Managing Trustee of the Liberty Science Center, a prominent U.S. interactive science museum, and is on the Board of Directors of Aspire, the leader in insect proteins, and Clara Foods, the leader in non-animal-based egg proteins. In 2019, David was named one of the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs at Goldman Sachs’ Annual Builders and Innovators Summit.

Planting Excellence

For an ideal CEO, listening is an important characteristic. This means incorporating what one hears while oscillating between evaluating situations at a ground level and at a level thirty thousand feet up. In doing so, the CEO can communicate a common vision that brings people together at all levels of the organization.

David continually moves between the details and the broader strategic discussions to help drive AeroFarms. Having been involved in four change-the-world companies, David is a serial entrepreneur who actively brings people together to solve problems, appreciating that business is an ideal tool to drive massive positive impact in the world.

As CEO, David guides the culture at AeroFarms by reinforcing company principles and keeping energy high. David can frequently be found walking the production floor or huddling with teams at the corporate office to problem solve and understand what each department is working on. In this way, David helps instill a collaborative environment and create a culture that is vibrant and engaged.

In the last several months, AeroFarms announced two major projects to expand its local and global footprint. First, in conjunction with Jersey City and the World Economic Forum, AeroFarms is partnering to launch the first in the nation municipal vertical farming program. The program will include 10 vertical farms located in senior centers, schools, public housing complexes and municipal buildings.

AeroFarms has also announced a project to build the world’s largest R&D indoor vertical farm in the UAE as part of an investment by the Abu Dhabi Investment Office. “Together with these initiatives, AeroFarms has seen critical advancements in its growing process and technology, which indicate a strong future of further developments for the company,” shares David.

David’s advice to new CEOs and leaders is, “Surround yourself with great people in and around the organization and enable and lean on them.”