Encouraging entrepreneurship as activism
HARNESSING YOUR OWN LIMITLESS POTENTIAL. Suma Reddy, Co-Founder and CEO of Future Acres, knows that she didn’t make it alone. This is why she puts humans first, in her leadership style and as an entrepreneur. Suma leads agricultural robotics company Future Acres,developing tools to aid farmers with their toughest chores. Future Acres’ goal is to increase farm operational efficiency, farmworker safety and environmental sustainability as farms aim to grow 50% more food with the same amount of land, and 75% less emissions, to meet growing population and climate needs.
“When I think about it, it's our challenges that shape us. Entrepreneurship isn’t the best place to get validation, or to make money, or be told you’re doing things right all the time,” she laughs, adding “but it’s an excellent place to challenge yourself, and express activism or create change, if that’s your goal. For me, it often is.”
Suma has had a rich and expressive path to her success, having served with the Peace Corps in Mali in West Africa before beginning her formal career at a microfinance startup in India, that achieved Unicorn status. These stints afforded her experience with high-growth startups, as well as ground-level practical lessons, and she thrived in the intersection between entrepreneurship, impact and community development.
Her interest in hybrid businesses drove her to earn an MBA at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. This was also the time when Suma came out as a lesbian.
“Outside of the professional experience I was quickly gaining, I was now also experiencing my most important personal and challenging journey: accepting who I am and coming out." After school, while she jumped into renewable energy investment and project development, she also turned her attention to helping lead organizations like the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of New York City and the LGBTQ arts and advocacy group, Asian Pride Project.
“I had always been an impact-driven entrepreneur, but all of a sudden I was entering this world of powerful social justice activism through the lens of my own queerness. To this day, it is as important as anything I've done in the traditional professional world.”
BRINGING YOUR WHOLE SELF TO EVERY TABLE. The first company Suma co-founded was an organic waste-to-energy company that used anaerobic digestion technology to turn waste into renewable energy. The second was a vertical farming company, building bookshelf-sized indoor farms that grew leafy greens and herbs. With her passion for agricultural tech, she was recruited by Wavemaker Labs to be the CEO of Future Acres... bridging the intersection of climate, agriculture, humanism, and technology.
Suma continues to have a vision for the future of entrepreneurship, which she refers to as entrepreneurship as activism, which explores how entrepreneurship can be a tool for equity, access and justice. For Suma, being a female LGBTQ leader of color offers a unique perspective on the entire sector. It also gives her a chance to reach higher than before. “The queer community is an incredibly supportive community. Often as an entrepreneur, you are left holding your own experiences, skills, and failures alone—but when you’re part of other communities, personal communities, you have places to go, places to fall, places to get enriched insights and support.”