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Meet the Ethiopia-born Morgan Stanley vet who’s using AI and data to revolutionize agricultural trading

For using artificial intelligence to create agricultural models that are essential for farmers, investors, and food manufacturers, Gro Intelligence founder and CEO Sara Menker is one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People of 2019.

Meet the Ethiopia-born Morgan Stanley vet who’s using AI and data to revolutionize agricultural trading
[Illustration: Artur Tenczyński]
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During the government shutdown in early 2019, the USDA announced that it would delay its monthly report on supply, demand, and trade for 20 crops. The result would have caused chaos among farmers, investors, and food manufacturers, so Sara Menker, founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence, released her company’s forecasts for 35 crops (more than 90% of which matched what the government later reported). Gro, founded in 2014, uses artificial intelligence to generate daily agriculture reports, scraping the web for weather forecasts, satellite imagery, and government and industry reports across hundreds of sources and languages. It generates more than 1,000 models, including specific regions and crops, compared to the 55 estimates generated in the monthly USDA report. This data helps companies decide what to sell, where, and at what price, and informs lenders, insurance companies, and policy makers. Ethiopia-born Menker was inspired to start Gro while working at Morgan Stanley during the 2008 financial crisis. As she looked for investment opportunities, she realized that traders focus on only six crops, leaving thousands of others unaccounted for. “Our product and platform are there to solve unexpected problems at extreme speed and scale,” Menker says. “That’s what our food system needs.”

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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