We are continuing our blog series from last year where we interview program participants to learn more about their inspirations, business ideas, and also to share tips with future entrepreneurs.
The first interviewee of this year’s edition is Fabio Volkmann, Co-Founder of the Climate Farmers Academy, an educational content platform to help farmers transition to regenerative agriculture practices. As Head of Remote Sensing Community, Fabio is working on developing their technology further together with a group of volunteers. In the following interview he shares his approach and inspiration behind all.
Hi Fabio, tell us a little bit about yourself, what inspired you to take this entrepreneurial path in life. Did you always want to become a founder?
During my studies I didn’t expect to become a founder but after a lot of self-reflection and time looking for the real purpose of what I wanted to do, I got together with the team of the Climate Farmers Academy.
It all started with the urge of wanting to have an active impact on climate mitigation. I saw that there were a lot of organizations with that aim but I didn’t see the company’s intention to actually have a real impact. Instead they were rather profit orientated.
At Climate Farmers Academy, we all work with the same mission and motivation of having a climate impact rather than having profit being the main driver of our business.
Tell us more about Climate Farmers Academy. What’s your vision?
Our vision is to share best practices and knowledge with farmers all over the world. We specifically focus on the current state of the agricultural sector to find out what problems farmers face when changing from conventional farming to regenerative agriculture.
With the Climate Farmers Academy we take a holistic approach in understanding farmers and solve problems for them with our technology but also by being authentic and compassionate human beings.
You are responsible for managing the remote sensing community at Climate Farmers Academy. What does that mean exactly? What do you do?
We saw the potential of using remote sensing technologies to identify land practices and external impacts that are leading to ecosystem degradation but also to improving ecosystem health. We figured out that we could use satellite imagery and mathematical models in order to identify those that are both harming and beneficial to the ecosystem.
We also realized that we can’t do this alone. This is something we need to do with a broader community all over the world if we are to make it applicable. So, we decided to open up this approach and go open source and open access with our technology and data. We are now working together with 32 volunteers from all over the world on this project. That’s people from the US, India, Australia, Spain, France, Portugal, and Germany of course.
How did you manage to attract that many volunteers in such a short time frame and how do you make sure the team stays motivated?
It was a big challenge for us at the beginning to find the best way to involve people on a voluntary basis. We tell everybody who joins us that we aim to align their personal vision with our organizational vision. So that everybody experiences personal and professional growth while being with us.
We also point out that you can work within the horizontal organization frame. It’s not just the four of us co-founders on the top but everybody is looking with the same eyes on the problem and we are open to new ideas.
Engaging, motivating and committing them – that’s something else and it’s a little bit difficult but this is why I took the lead for our open source community. It’s all about being human and not leading anybody but being on the same level with them and not putting too much pressure on anybody.
It’s about giving them the feeling that they are contributing to a climate active project to have a real impact on this world and on the future of the society we live in. This is something we always try to highlight, that you don’t make anybody richer within the organization but you work to make this planet a better place.
Did you have experience with volunteer projects before?
I myself am part of two volunteering projects and so being in the same situation as our volunteers is very useful for me to understand their perspective.
(Laughs) I think our secret is the motivation behind all of this. It’s aligning with the motivation of the rest of the team.
Also, appreciation is the key to all of this, and working face to face. So, not working from top-down but being on the same eye-level with everyone and being authentic. We are all just human. This is one of the key factors for why we are getting such good feedback.
From my side it’s also a lot of human resource management: engaging, motivating, being there for questions and feedback – in Germany we would say “am Ball bleiben”. In general, we shouldn’t underestimate open source and volunteers because it’s still a lot of work.
I have a great memory with the open source community from a meeting we had two weeks ago: As a big surprise to me two people said that they had developed the Climate Farmers web application. But they had never talked about it, so they had planned it independently from me.
I thought this was a great initiative that made me realize: if you give people responsibility they create magic things.
What helped me a lot was being aligned with myself in order to align my team.
(Laughs). This is what I’m trying to reflect on during this whole process. I always try to find the inner peace within me to also reflect this to the open source community and the founding team.
The High-Tech SeedLab’s 10-month acceleration program is designed to help early-stage teams to test their idea and business model, build or finalize a minimum viable product, and successfully launch their business.
This program is financed by the European Social Fund (ESF), as well as the State of Berlin.