Partner Perspective: A Q&A with John Guttery the Farm to Fork Corporate Liaison

Aug 02, 2023

The Techstars Farm to Fork team recently sat down with John Guttery, the Senior Vice President of Enterprise Initiatives at Ecolab. John shares his perspective on Ecolab’s involvement with the Techstars Farm to Fork Program over the last six years.

Why is Ecolab interested in partnering with Techstars and why is this something you continue to prioritize? 

Our company was built on innovation. Customers depend on us to provide innovative solutions to their stubborn challenges. We create value by helping them serve their customers better, and that requires innovative approaches and novel solutions. Working directly with Techstars and the entrepreneurs that participate in the Farm to Fork accelerator gives us new insights into how we can make the food system better for everyone.

Our company is focused on protecting vital resources such as Food and Water, so it makes perfect sense to invest time, money, and advice in this way. We also see this as a means to develop our team members and our future leaders by immersing them in an entrepreneurial mindset. We see this partnership augmenting our core innovation processes and it has been a valuable investment.

What is an unexpected value that Ecolab has gotten out of the partnership? 

We have invested in some really cool companies that are providing outstanding solutions to customer issues. Our eyes have been opened by the disruption potential of emerging digital technologies.

The diversity of the founders in every measurable dimension has been inspiring and fits perfectly with our values, culture, and priorities. It’s fun to see how intrigued our employees are by this work we are doing.

The level of enthusiasm that this is creating in our team members and leadership, domestically and internationally, underscores the strong alignment of our key priorities and creates value for our key customers! It gives us another opportunity to solidify our brand with our key customers by merchandising this unique approach to innovation focused specifically of stubborn challenges that are highly relevant to them and the industry at large. 

One other element that has become apparent is that the alumni who have completed the program and have gone on to build other successful companies have continued to provide insights into the ongoing development of their technologies and applied solutions. This also helps us stay in tune with customer priorities. 

Lastly, there is a huge brand building element to our partnership that resonates with existing employees, future employees, and customers.  Simply, this partnership underscores that we are an innovative company working on providing innovative solutions. 

John, personally why do you continue to be involved in the program? 

I love learning new things and am passionate about helping our customers and teaching our employees. This provides a platform for all of this. Since being involved, I continue to see opportunities to take the program to another level, finding additional ways for Techstars and Ecolab to positively disrupt the food system for a better world. And we at Ecolab are all about that! 

From your perspective as a corporate leader, what advice would you give startups in the space? Feedback is all around you all the time, pay attention. 

  • Be thoughtful about your questions and curiosities.

  • Focus on acquiring the capabilities and the know how you will need to be successful.

  • Become an expert networker.

  • Do not jump immediately into viewing ECL or other program partners as investors. Learn, soak up knowledge, and build capabilities. The rest will come organically, and capabilities can last a lifetime

  • Pay it forward!

Why do you think investing in the food value chain is important? 

From a sustainability perspective, our planet has limited resources and growing demand. This tension always creates opportunity, and it must be seized in a way that is sustainable. Food and water are two areas that we as a population we must get right. Getting a lot better is the first step to getting it right. 

What is a food tech trend that excites you?

 Artificial intelligence both excites me and reinforces the need for a vision and commitment to leveraging digital innovation to extend access to vital resources like clean water and safe food. In the hands of purpose driven, values based organizations, it will accelerate breakthrough outcomes. 

Also, reducing waste and eliminating destructive material from our environment really excites me. Food as a means for health and longevity is a personal interest of mine as well. I would sum it up by saying healthy, sustainable, and responsible consumption of resources is vital to the future of this industry. 

John Guttery is Senior Vice President of Enterprise Initiatives for Ecolab. He serves as the program liaison for Ecolab and has been active in the program since its creation in 2018 this marks his 6th year coaching and mentoring startups as they navigate the path to successful commercialization.  John has a depth of experience in the Food and  Beverage industry with a true passion for helping startups succeed to advance the food technology industry.