Yuan Shi joins The51 as Food and AgTech Fund targets $50 million

Shi launched the climate stream at CDL-Vancouver.

The former Vancouver director for the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) has joined The51. Yuan Shi comes to The51’s previously announced Food and AgTech Fund as a principal.

Shi joined The51 after five years at CDL-Vancouver, where she founded and launched the climate stream at the accelerator, and where she claims to have led her team to reach over $3 billion worth of equity creation from portfolio companies. Before that, Shi worked in global banking and markets at HSBC following a three-year senior role at Tesla. The51 described Shi as a mergers and acquisitions expert.

“I wanted to solve that problem because it means a lot to me,” Shi said.

Shi told BetaKit that she brings both experience and expertise in the climate, food, and agriculture ecosystem, from a technical and business perspective. “I can really help the team close the fund,” she said, adding that she has a strong track record in scaling teams.

“I am keen to support the team, and really expand the team, whether it’s from fundraising, team management, leadership, or a network building perspective,” Shi said.

Shi joins The51’s second fund as it has received soft circle commitments of $50 million from retail and institutional investors, and has secured a lead LP. When the fund was first announced in 2021, The51 said it hoped to raise $25-to-$30 million. Fifty million became the new target as retail investors doubled their commitments, and more interest came from institutional investors. The51 expects the fund to close at the end of May.

At the fund, Shi is responsible for ecosystem building, deal sourcing and due diligence, as well as leading portfolio management.

“Yuan’s exceptional track record will amplify our Food and AgTech Fund efforts and add to The51’s leadership position in this sector,” said Alison Sunstrum, Food and AgTech Fund managing partner. “Her experience in climate technology acceleration and commercialization, global markets, and North American M&A is an integral addition in our fund’s mission of identifying, funding and championing ventures that are building the world we want to live in.”

Shi said she’s passionate for personal reasons about working in the food and agriculture sector, which she views as part of the climate ecosystem. While she described the village she was raised in, in China, as a beautiful place, it was also poverty-stricken. Shi said she saw first-hand how people developed the economy and built factories, but ended up sacrificing the land, and subsequently the climate, the environment, and agriculture.

“I wanted to solve that problem because it means a lot to me,” Shi said.

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Shi immigrated to Canada at age 17. She studied environmental engineering at the University of Alberta before embarking upon her professional career.

Shi said The51 is using investment to drive social and environmental change while providing a return for its investors. “We do believe financial return is important, and I think there is so much potential in building and scaling significant companies in this space that generate strong returns to the investor and our economy,” she said.

The Food and AgTech Fund is The51’s first sector-specific fund. The fund is focused on investing in women and diverse founders from across Canada and the United States, and is particularly interested in companies that are early-stage, have diverse leadership teams, and the potential to scale globally.

Sunstrum, of Builders VC and formerly GrowSafe Systems, joined The 51 in December 2021 as a general partner. Kookai Chaimahawong joined as a venture partner at the same time, bringing with her four years of experience from Pangaea Ventures and her work as a partnership consultant for the United Nations Development Programme. Chaimahawong has since moved from the Food and AgTech fund into the position of venture partner for The51.

Shi expects that there will be at least three to four people dedicated to the Food and AgTech fund, and that the firm is hoping to hire one or two associates or senior associates. The extended team at The51 will provide operational support.

RELATED: Alison Sunstrum, Kookai Chaimahawong join The51’s new AgTech fund

The cheque size the new fund issues will depend on whether The51 is leading or co-leading a round, but Shi expects a typical cheque will be $500,000. The51 is still working out the details as to the longevity of the fund.

While The51 hasn’t deployed any investments from the fund yet, it is in close due diligence with a few companies. Shi said The51 will be ready to invest as soon as it has finished deciding on the structure of the fund.

The fund intends to invest in early-stage companies, at the seed, seed extension, and Series A levels. Shi opined that the VCs she sees in the food and agriculture space tend to typically focus on Series A or Series B raises.

“We always talk about where the promising companies are in the early stages of the pipeline,” she said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. There has to be a team doing it. So therefore we wanted to support a company from the early stage and grow them.”

Contrary to Yuan’s claim that most VCs in the food and AgTech space focus on Series A and B rounds, both Builders VC, and Conexus Venture Capital Inc., through its Emmertech fund, invest in early-stage AgTech startups. But where The51 promises to stand out with its Food and AgTech fund is its focus on climate and diversity.

“Investing in The51 Ventures’ Food and AgTech Fund means investing in women and diverse teams who are driving change and innovation in Food and AgTech and seeing enormous success,” The51’s website reads. “The next generation of agriculture is more than just food—it includes new forms of proteins, textiles and cellular agriculture, and a significant focus on improving food systems and sustainability all at a moment when climate change has so drastically shown how much a shift is needed.”

UPDATE: April 29, 2022: This article previously incorrectly stated that The51’s Food and AgTech Fund has secured $50 million. Based on additional details from the firm, the article has been updated to reflect that the fund has soft circle commitments for the $50 million.

Feature image courtesy of Yuan Shi.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in Wired.com, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.

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