Q & A: Aidan Connolly, Alltech
In the last few years, Alltech has tripled in size, and 2017, says Aidan Connolly, was probably when it all culminated. “We’re very active not only in feed additives but also in premix, high-value feed solutions,” he says.
Headquartered in Kentucky, Alltech further expanded its portfolio with the acquisition of Keenan, an equipment company that provides feeding and mixing solutions for cattle producers. It has also developed Alltech E-CO2, an initiative that delivers and promotes sustainability programs to reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint. As the company stretches into fields that give it access to new customer interactions, Connolly shares how the global leader is accelerating disruption.
SF: We are constantly hearing that agriculture is ripe for disruption. In your point of view, what defines meaningful disruption?
AC: It’s been said that innovation is doing the same thing better, while disruption is doing something new that makes the old thing obsolete. We really haven’t seen that level of obsolescence in agriculture. However, we have been effectively doing the same things for thousands of years.
I would question whether we aren’t similar to what happened with Uber or Netflix in that we imagine it is going to be business as usual for the next 10, 20, or 30 years. It clearly is not. A lot of investment is focused on that at the moment.
We saw a lot of ag tech numbers increase threefold in the beginning of 2017. I expect that to continue as more and more people see the huge opportunity to bridge the gap between current efficiencies and transparencies and what the consumers and, indeed, the world will require from agriculture as we move forward.
SF: How is Alltech leading the charge to be a part of or to accelerate that disruption?
AC: Alltech would like to be the conduit in terms of bringing those new technologies to the marketplace, facilitating them, and being the pipeline in terms of thought leadership.
SF: Why lead The Pearse Lyons Accelerator for late-stage start-ups?
AC: The PLA is in direct response to accelerating disruption. Attendees of our symposium have been asking us to bring them the latest and greatest ideas. For the last five years, we have been helping them understand consumers and what they’re looking for. It’s clear there is a supply-chain issue, as well.
Many times agriculture is managing and producing based on very limited information. For example, in dairy we typically manage based on milk production. In chickens, we manage based on weight.
From my perspective, this is the right time to help these companies make that leap. Many technology companies do not have a background in agriculture, so it is important for them to find the right partners.
SF: Are ag tech start-ups important for the future of food and agriculture?
AC: I don’t necessarily think they are the future, but I do think they are part of it. The nature of innovation has changed tremendously. People are no longer looking to find innovation within their own research groups, and acquiring other people’s research groups is often a little better.
Innovation, in general, is coming from small start-ups that raise capital and look for the opportunities. The key concern they have is that they must take their technologies to the marketplace, probably globally, before somebody else chases them down and does what they’re doing. I believe this is very important. Therefore, it would be a fundamental part of what we see from an innovation perspective in the business.
Name: Aidan Connolly
Title: Chief innovation officer and vice president, corporate accounts
Background: Connolly has been with Alltech for more than 25 years. His expertise is in branding, agriculture, and international marketing. He is currently responsible for the commercialization of the company’s global research, in addition to its corporate account strategy. He is also responsible for the Alltech Global Feed Survey, which is released annually. Connolly received a bachelor’s degree in commerce from University College Dublin and a master’s degree in international marketing from the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, University College Dublin.