20 years ago Woodside’s Noel Perry made an appearance on this menu discussing his venture fund based on financing socially beneficial businesses. He and his wife Claire were proactive in a variety of local and global causes; for example helping to found Conservation International, an organization promoting biodiversity. They were also known as the folks who donated Barkley Fields and Park in Woodside. One of Noel’s projects that is sometimes overlooked today was the planting of the oak trees along Cañada Rd. 25 years ago Cañada was a much more barren stretch where there is a thriving forest today.
Beau with Geronimo
Their egalitarian work became a model for public service that their five boys have grown up with. The eldest, Beau Perry, is devoting his time to making the world a sounder place. Beau took an MBA in sustainable business management from the Presidio Graduate School and based on his love of surfing, diving and all things related to the sea founded the nonprofit Olazul in 2009. This organization has worked in Mexico and Indonesia innovating market solutions to some of the ocean’s big problems. Their programs are all based on direct partnership with indigenous fishing communities. Olazul plans to do for coastal fishing populations what fair-trade has done for small-scale coffee farmers on land. But instead of modifying existing land-based farm models, these new ocean-based livelihoods need to be built from scratch.
It may surprise you to learn that wild and farmed seafood industries are roughly the same size. And aquaculture is growing rapidly every year while the world’s wild fisheries are either already harvested at capacity or are rapidly declining. Farmed seafood and beef are pound for pound the same sized industries worldwide. Farmed seafood has its bad actors, but compared to beef it is clearly easier on the planet. If aquatic ranching is done right it can be a substantial part of the solution to sustainably feeding the world. In fact certain forms of aquaculture can yield remarkable quantities of healthy food with minimal environmental impact. A few aquaculture models such as seaweed, oyster and clam farming even have positive impacts in that they provide economically significant ecosystem benefits such as cleaning inshore waters, mitigating ocean acidification and coastal erosion as well as providing critical nursery habitat that contributes to wild fisheries restoration.
We all know about the degradation of the oceans and the seemingly insurmountable task of reversing the increasing levels of plastic, temperature and acidification. But what can one do? One option is to wring our collective hands and lament; the other is to roll up our sleeves and do something. Beau is doing something.
Beau has launched a number of programs including developing alternatives to the cyanide/bleach reef poisoning method used in marine aquarium fish harvesting. He believes that where there are big problems there are big opportunities, and the ocean has more than its share of both. While it takes some investment to realize lasting solutions, there is also money to be made in upgrading and even replacing some of the broken elements of the world’s marine economy.
Beau and I met up to discuss one specific venture he is just beginning to roll out. He recently established a for profit, Premium Oceanic LLC, to work with Olazul in creating a whole new sea vegetable farming industry in Mexico’s Baja California. The fisherfolk there are dealing with the local consequences of global overexploitation of wild fisheries. The coming generation is being left high and dry on the beach without viable livelihood options. Beau is working with these communities to develop a regional network of independent sea farms, which his business will supply with seed and then buy and distribute the harvest. This contract farm model is a strategic choice. He intends to maintain a lean business with a small number of employees, yet one that can scale up production rapidly. The fishermen already have fleets of boats, knowledge of the sea and the political position to get aquaculture permits. They also have an increasing desire to explore new ways of making a living as long as it involves producing food from the sea. Beau has several farms in the region setting up sea vegetable farms in their adjacent waters taking the entrepreneurial leap with him into the depths and into the unknown.
Until 2013 Beau had been working on a new community model for farming shrimp fed with seaweed. But seeing a spike in demand for seaweed products in North America he realized a more immediate opportunity was to develop cultivation of the seaweed itself for direct human consumption. Beau has seen the success of seaweed farmers in Asia (and more recently in Maine) and believes that community grown fresh sea vegetable products will be popular with Americans.
The broader aim is to design, innovate and develop new conservation-compatible livelihoods, as opposed to merely creating jobs. Catching fish is a dying industry. It’s an arduous, dangerous job and a poorly paid one. But having alternative coastal livelihoods balancing managed fisheries with low impact local aquaculture give these coastal communities a way to ensure that future generations thrive.
Green chilies stuffed with abalone over sea lettuce
To grow seagreens Premium Oceanic is doing the hard science right now by identifying the most effective species and techniques. Farming seaweed is, in theory, a magnitude less complicated than open ocean farming and the technology will be easier to deploy to small operations.
The market for high quality seaweed in North America is new, so Beau plans to complete the value chain by developing a brand and building a new sea vegetable market for American consumers. Make a market? Is this possible? Sure. Not only possible but probably inevitable.
But will people really eat it? Well they already do, but the US market consists almost entirely of dried forms imported from Asia, including the valuable Nori used to wrap sushi rolls. And these imports are generally made with the lower grade material not acceptable for the more sophisticated tastes of the Asian market. The difference between the fresh and dried is much like the difference between fresh and dried food of any kind. There is a wide range of leafy brown, red and green sea vegetables and they’re packed with essential vitamins and minerals many of which are harder to find in terrestrial plants. It is as close to wild gathered food as one can get short of foraging in the woods and needs no irrigation, no fertilizer and no arable land.
Many folks encounter seaweed as a decomposing mass on the beach but fresh seaweed comes in a variety of shapes, colors, textures and in many cases delicious flavors. Fresh seaweed includes species that look like soft lettuce but denser and richer with a mild flavor. There are also sea grapes, kelp noodles and Ulva tortillas- even ice cream! Farming vegetables in the ocean won’t solve all the problems in the world’s oceans, but the partnership between Olazul and Premium Oceanic definitely points the way towards a better future.
Having started the new venture in January of this year, he believes he will see the first product harvested later this fall; with exports to the US beginning in 2015. By the end of the decade he hopes to have launched dozens of community seaweed farms across northwestern Mexico, creating hundreds of new livelihoods, producing large quantities of nutrient-dense seaweeds for North American consumers. Beau believes that the economic opportunities that emerge from this effort will create lasting local incentives to protect and restore marine ecosystems.
Beau is creating a new industry from scratch on the West Coast but he is confident that he can make this work because he was brought up to think big about helping the world be a more graceful and fair place for us all.
So here we are full circle. Noel planted a forest in Woodside and Beau is planting forests under the sea. I agree with Beau that seaweed farming in North America is an idea whose time has come. Will you be seeing fresh seaweed on the menu at Buck’s? Absolutely.
AUTODESK’S PIER 9 WORKSHOP
Carl Bass is the charismatic CEO of Autodesk, the leader in computer aided design software. I had the good fortune to go on a tour of his new workshop recently with my good friends and business partners from ConXtech.
First ConXtech is the space frame steel construction and technology firm that Bob Simmons and Kelly Luttrell launched nearly 10 years ago. ConXtech designs and builds the steel frames for large structures from hospitals, condos and office buildings to mining and refinery racks. And all this is designed with Autocad tools from Autodesk.
Autodesk’s Carl Bass with ConXtech’s Bob Simmons and Kelly Luttrell
The Autodesk Workshop is on Pier 9 in San Francisco and is a shop where software and hardware meet. There are studios devoted to laser and water jet cutting, welding, woodwork, fabric labs, and computer controlled cutting machines. One of the most fantastic is an 11 axis mill that uses a drawing to cut out stainless steel or other metals in fantastical shapes.
Of course there is a lot of 3d printing and it is here where Autodesk is now making a stand as a hardware manufacturer with their own branded 3d printer. There are dozens of 3d printers of all sorts available today. There are a good many low-end machines used to print simpletchotchkes like toys and amusing food products.
At the other end of the market are firms like Siemens and GE who are growing metal and ceramic turbines in shapes not possible using traditional machining methods. Sintering, selective laser melting and other additive techniques are changing that industry.
Autodesk’s 3d printer, called Spark, can make parts of remarkable precision down to about 25 microns. Both the hardware and the software are open sourced. This is a critical aspect. By group-thinking the system it will grow like a wiki and is good for Autodesk and good for users.
Autodesk is famous for egalitarian public outreach. They make their software available free to students and teachers and the new shop is accessible by all Autodesk employees as well as a great many artists in residence working on projects of their own devise. Many of them are supported with stipends allowing them to even quit their day jobs and for a fixed period of time focus on the intersection of art, craft and society.
MAROONED ON A DESERT ISLAND … SORT OF
This summer I found myself on a desert island with three lonely palm trees and no Man Friday to keep me company. Would I die of thirst? Would I be forced to eat my sandals? No, the sandals were made of rubber so that was out. Maybe a coconut from one of the palm trees? Hey, wait a minute. These trees are plastic. It seems the real ones keep blowing down so Richard Branson has put artificial ones in their place. Pretty funny.
Instead of perishing I hopped back in our launch and we sped the 100 yards to the dock at Necker Island in The British Virgin Islands.
Several years ago the man who launched Virgin Records, Virgin Airlines, Virgin Cola and countless other Virgin branded products ending up in what he no doubt thought of as a brand extension. His 74 acre paradise is what most folks envision a tropical island billionaire’s fantasy to be. There are flamingo ponds and a remarkable collection on other animals. When we were there the lemur population was exploding.
Lemurs are from Madagascar and they are very unlike other monkeys I have met. They are very affectionate, slow moving and even though they wear thick fur in the tropics they have no smell. They love to jump up on your shoulder and make eye contact. Their young cling to their backs and they are happy to have hold their babies.
Am I getting one? Well I’d like to but monkeys are not legal to possess in California though they are legal in many states and there is a vigorous trade online. We also can’t possess armadillos, pangolins, piranha, dugongs, elephants or flying squirrels. Well zebras and camels seem to be OK so that might be enough to keep me from moving to Texas. One can get special permits for lions and tigers but I think I’ll just dress up the dog.
Branson also has a pretty handsome giant tortoise collection. The biggest one was about 700 lbs and was as old as your grandmother or more. We were able to rub their heads and we tried to play with them. They move at the speed of a rock (on flat land) and have about as much personality. Still it is pretty cool to fondle their necks, which are actually made of tortoise leather.
Sir Richard or just Richard as he wants to be called had just arrived that morning and he is most convivial host known for hanging out with his staff and guests. The place is called a private island but you can actually rent one of the houses or the entire island. It goes for about $50,000 for the whole place for up to 28 guests (not including your personal staff such as your hair and makeup people) plus the usuals like food and gratuity. The resort is Balinese style and the main house looks like a movie set which it sometimes is. It is also pretty new, the original one having burned down from a lightning strike in 2011.
I’m not kidding about hair and makeup, some do come with these people. Personally I prefer to go native and never travel with staff though I probably should. In fact none of us paid for anything. We slowly walked out backwards and the Necker staff thought we were just arriving. This is the same technique I used to get of prison back in the 70s.
If you find yourself in the area you can visit the island as you are, or pretend to be a big shot. Just tell them you are a friend of Richard’s but make sure he isn’t actually there unless you are a friend of his. On the other hand he would probably welcome you with good cheer as he really is a right fellow.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
I was asked to speak to the students at Singularity University recently by Neil Jacobstein, the Co-chair of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. I do a good many impromptu talks at Buck’s and in more formal setting from TEDx to Stanford but being asked to speak at Singularity University is certainly a highlight in my somewhat unconventional speaking career.
First a little history. Back in the spring of 2000 several folks from Yahoo came in for lunch and asked to meet me. I sat with them and they told me about a three day conference about the future they were holding with top brand managers for all over the country. Tim Koogle, Jerry Yang and the rest of the big dogs from Yahoo would attend as well as the top people in marketing from Procter and Gamble, Walmart, Taco Bell and dozens of other companies. This sounded interesting and it emerged they wanted me to come. Then it seemed they wanted me to give a talk. Finally they explained that they wanted me to be the keynote speaker to kick things off. I asked how long I had and what they wanted to speak about. They said take all the time you need and talk about anything you like. I have zero stress around public speaking so I said OK.
This did put me very much in mind of the Roman emperor Claudius who was installed more or less by accident. But hey, if they were paying for the mini bar I was game.
I don’t remember exactly what I said but I did have two costume changes and I got some laughs. It was just a few days later that the air went of the internet stock market. Yahoo dropped from $250 to about 25 and we all ran in from the rain under the banana leaves. Ahhhh, good times.
But now it was 2014 and I was at Singularity and these students (really carefully recruited seminarians) would be more skeptical. The height of irony is pretending to be yourself and being worried about being found out. Neil asked me to speak about the community focused around Buck’s and what I have learned during my tenure in The Valley. It is has been said that Buck’s is a place were a many businesses have had their origin. I like to say that the founding of a business is when the money meets the entrepreneur because before that it’s just talk and after it’s all work.
Singularity University is part think tank, part education nerve center, part incubator, and a place were the future is being invented. It gives a data jammed Graduate Summer Program and executive programs that are focused on teaching leaders to understand the technical, business, and ethical implications of exponential technologies (like AI, robotics, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology) that double in price performance every 18 months or so. The participants are encouraged to use these technologies to address humanity’s grand challenge problems (like illiteracy, global health, climate change, poverty, energy, security, etc.). I did talk about Buck’s, but what I found really compelling was my chance to ask some 80 super engaged men and women in their late 20s (who had been selected from a vast number of applicants from all over the world) what they thought the future held. One question I like to ask is, “Do you feel that preserving human life in its current form into the deep future is imperative?” To my surprise only about 30% thought this was important. But then they are attending Singularity University, after all.
Ray Kurzweil is the man most identified with the notion of the singularity as well as the University. He cofounded the university with Peter Diamandis of XPrize fame. Peter wrote the best selling book “Abundance”. The term singularity was first applied as the astronomical name of the event horizon at the edge of a black hole. It now also now refers to the juncture where machine intelligence meets or exceeds human intelligence, and the future becomes very hard to predict. Is such a thing possible? Well, Ray thinks it will happen in less than 40 years. Ray has accurately predicted many other events; so when he talks people listen.
Critics of this notion and of many other predictions can be heard to say, “This will never happen.” I have noticed that the impossible seems to fruit up shortly after being declared to be “impossible”. Of course timing is always the main issue. All those marvelous Star Trek inventions will show up given enough time. Gottfried Leibnitz predicted the arrival of the computer 300 years ago.
Me, I just had to make it through the student’s questions. Keep in mind we are now in the arena of big ideas. “What do you worry about?” one student asked me. There are sooo many problems to fret over, but the one that concerns me now is unemployment. I asked for a show of hands of who among them were creating new businesses and protocols that added more jobs vs. eliminating them. None. In spite of this, several spin out businesses from prior Singularity University summer programs have already created new jobs. Also, many at Singularity think exponential technologies will generate vast wealth, which could lead to a society willing to distribute some of this abundance. We shall see.
Aubry DeGrey was to follow me at Singularity. He proposes that the human body can be scientifically reengineered to live far longer than today. He is shooting for nothing less than to live forever but he is starting with 1,000 years (I must take better care of my skin). He is talking about the human body not the singularity. Hey Aubry, do you realize how hard it will be to get a table at Evvia then? Alternatively Ray proposes that we live in server farms – which is good because I like the country.
The Singularity University campus is located near the hollowed out corpse of the old dirigible base at Moffett Field. How elegant that this new enterprise emerges from the ashes of a failed dirigible technology. Soon, though, I expect Singularity will be moving from their physical campus into the cloud.
Most of the new acts that come out of Singularity will not work as businesses but as long as there is learning they will not be failures. A few of the spin outs may make a real difference either economically or socially. I count myself lucky to have been a tiny part of this noble enterprise.
Can you hear me in the cheap seats?
MICRO STORY – BERNIE HAS BREAKFAST
Bernie sat at his kitchen table and stared at the picture of the missing child on the milk carton. It was 2% milk though he didn’t mind what sort of milk he used. The child stared back. Then moving slowly the girl grabbed the edges of herself and very carefully peeled free of the container and stood before him on the table. “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Her hair looked funny. Bernie looked down at her and thought for a long minute and said, “I don’t know anyone named Kenobi.” and he brushed the cardboard girl to the floor and called his cat; who whisked her through his little door.
Bernie thought, “I really don’t care if the milk is 2% or whole milk. Either is fine.”