Episode 46: From Eighth-Grade Science to Leading AgTech Startups
Nadilia Gomez is the executive director of Iowa AgriTech Accelerator. A former research scientist for Corteva Agriscience, Nadilia has been involved in the industry for a long time. Her experience is an integral part of helping to prepare new startup businesses for a successful future. Nadalia sits down with the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Startup Stories host, Mike Colwell to discuss her journey to a female leadership role.
A Start in Plant Sciences
With a PhD in applied plant sciences and plant breeding and genetics, Nadilia’s love for science is evident. Her father had once told her to combine something that you really love with something that has a big impact on humanity. As an eighth-grade student, she knew she loved science and decided there was no bigger impact she could make than solving world hunger. Before moving to the U.S., Nadilia got a degree at the University of Panama. She received her PhD from the University of Minnesota where she was able to study and combine the concepts and practices of ecology, conservation science, plant breeding and genetics and agronomy.
The Evolution of Plant Breeding
At one time, plant breeding was done through growing a lot of plants, measuring them, selecting the best ones and crossing those — or hybridization. This was back in the time of one of Nadilia’s heroes, Norman Borlaug, founder of The World Food Prize. The challenge for researchers became constraints of space and the number of plants you could grow and measure. Through progress in computer science and data driven approaches, opportunities within research information management jobs grew within plant breeding. Nadilia, with her background in plant breeding, was sent a job position early on in her career that would call for helping to bridge the gap between software developers and scientists, an important connection in agbioscience.
Nadilia explains that precision agriculture is the collection of concepts and practices that allow a farming operation to apply just what is needed, when it is needed in the amount that is necessary for the plant or livestock to grow. Imagine a big truck carrying a container of water, she says. The truck is driving closely to the plants and someone would be scooping out water and applying it to just the base of that plant. This is an early example of precision agriculture. In the 90s, geographical precision systems in tractors could tell you where you were located on the surface of the Earth, the amount of moisture on the ground, the plant’s stage of life, etc. This has advanced precision agriculture to where it is today and allowed it to become more precise.
Leading a Successful Team
By practicing leading smaller teams — or lower risk teams — Nadilia explains she had the opportunity to gain experience to get where she is today. By the time she led her own team of breeders and agronomists, she had the right level of knowledge and skill to do so. The last 18 months she spent working for Pioneer Dupont, Nadilia was able to build smaller entrepreneurial teams within the larger company. Those skills were transferrable and paved the way for Nadilia to seamlessly move to her current role within the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator.
Moving to the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator
Having been a mentor with the Accelerator, Nadilia knew that she would regret it if she passed up on the opportunity to lead it. She’d experienced the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs and was aware that the ag industry was evolving. She saw the need for clean water, soil quality and health. The opportunity for growth within the industry was huge because of this urgency to solve big problems. In a way, Nadilia came full circle, asking herself: What motivates you? What are you passionate about? The same questions she had asked herself as a young middle school student.
Listen to the entire podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/162832/2839285-nadilia-gomez.mp3?blob_id=9774751&download=true
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Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.