Intermediaries in Agtech Systems of Innovation: Between Entrepreneurship and Social Impact

The agricultural innovation landscape is rapidly evolving, and a host of new actors are diversifying a space traditionally dominated by government agencies, public universities, and established agribusiness firms. Globally, investments in agtech start-ups amounted to $30 billion in 2020, representing a 34.5% increase from just the year before (Investable Universe, 2021). Intermediary actors, often referred to as incubators (and accelerators), have arisen in this context to fill a gap in the innovation ecosystem. These incubators often position themselves as mission-oriented – that is, their goals are not only to spawn successful commercial ventures but also to produce positive societal impact by supporting enterprises that contribute to solving social and ecological problems. There is growing interest in metrics, oversight, and reporting protocols to address the challenges of securing and communicating social impact, but these practices are very uneven and very little is known about their performance. This research project stands to generate insights into how entrepreneurs, investors, and innovation intermediaries anticipate, negotiate, and address social impact goals in order to strengthen accountability in innovation ecosystems.

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