Dr. Dávid Mészáros – living and working in the Netherlands and constantly traveling the world – is the founder of SMARTKAS, an agricultural technology company creating a new strategy for improving crop yields and producing at premium quality. Utilizing AI, robotics and clean energy, his company designs, owns and operates smart farms that are airtight, with inputs automatically controlled, enabling a pesticide-free, all-year-round production line. Dr. Mészáros has been awarded by Forbes as one of the top 30 brightest young entrepreneurs in the world on the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. We caught Dávid after the conference to share his thoughts about the impact ecosystem and the food industry he knows very well.
What motivated you to become an impact entrepreneur? How did you start this journey and where are you now?
I always dreamed about having a positive impact on the world. When I was younger (and more naive!), I thought I could alleviate poverty. I told my best friend that my goal in life was to tackle poverty. I quickly realized it might be too big of a bite to chew on so I settled for world hunger instead!
I essentially built my career around what I could do to have a positive and sustainable impact on humanity and create a world without hunger while also respecting the planet.
You were born in Hungary, but now live and work in the Netherlands, so you have an external perspective of the CEE region. How do you see the strengths and weaknesses of this region compared to other parts of the world in the impact ecosystem?
I can only speak from personal experience but I would say one of the biggest differences between doing business in the CEE and outside the region is the attitude towards entrepreneurship and startups. As a Hungarian who lives abroad, I am often considered a foreigner (albeit one who speaks Hungarian). As such, I have found it easier to do business in Hungary, Serbia and Romania as an international entrepreneur.
Sadly, I don’t think Hungarian entrepreneurs are permitted the same access to decision makers as international parties.
In the West, things are also definitely more structured and official than in the CEE, which has its pros and cons!
The present geopolitical crises pose several risks to the food sector. What do you think the impact ecosystem can and shall do in this situation?
A lot of the food industry would have you believe the current food crisis is a result of what is happening around the world right now. But in my opinion, we have to look back to the 1960s.
Rising prices and availability are a culmination of factors including climate change, rising population, increasing reliance on pesticides and their declining efficiencies, the current energy crisis and ongoing instability within the supply chain.
Governments claim technology can solve all of these problems. As head of an innovative company, I agree that technology can address many of these issues. But it means nothing if it is not supported by the right investor sentiment and that has to include impact and green investment opportunities. We also need to educate people and governments to let go of old expectations and not expect a year of new technology to solve everything, all at once.
we need to be consistent in working every single day towards a better, brighter future, regardless of what is happening in the world.
Looking further, where do you think the food- and agricultural ecosystem will evolve in the next 5-10 years?
In the last 15-20 years food and agriculture – especially CEA (controlled environment agriculture) – has undergone tremendous change. Some of the biggest developments in this field include artificial light development and LED grow lights, which have helped quadrupled growing efficiency.
The cost components have drastically decreased, thereby increasing the possibility of growing without daylight. Meaning even in a greenhouse, during the winter or at night, growing without daylight is becoming more affordable. This leads to both direct and indirect innovations. When I say innovations, I don’t necessarily mean technological innovations, I am referring to process innovation or the way people view crops. Why is this important? Because,
access to these systems and technologies becomes easier and more accessible, resulting in the introduction of new cultivars and crop types such as wheat, rice, potatoes, onions, carrots and stable foods being grown in so-called controlled environments.
The next five to ten years will be critical for the introduction of new cultivars and the widespread adoption of these solutions in developing countries.
What advice would you give to a social entrepreneur looking for an investment – what to focus on and what to avoid?
It’s easy to explain but not always easy to execute. Green investors, impact investors, modern sustainable hedge funds,venture capitalists and family offices are all looking for new and sustainable solutions that are going to change the world. But what they really want is a profitable, stable and risk-free vehicle that also positively impacts the world. Impact investors are becoming more risk aware because of the current world order.
Because of this, they are investing less in application and software-based companies and more on bricks and mortar companies. They are always more likely to invest in a physical, tangible product rather than a service. This, together with a stable and forecastable revenue is becoming the new norm. The type of investor who invests in SMARTKAS is less interested in a big exit in 5-8 years and more keen on stable revenue generating assets on an annual basis.
I would advise aspiring entrepreneurs who want to have a positive social impact to create a scenario and highlight the aspects of their business model that create stability, security, sustainability and forecastability.
Dávid Mészáros was one of the moderators at the CEE4Impact Day, where he led a discussion about the consequences of the present geo-political crises in the food sector. As he said, he was honored to moderate the Food Panel, which included big brands, such as Nestle.
I’ve heard some very impressive numbers in terms of chocolate and food production and I was curious to hear more about what Nestlé does in terms of sustainability, particularly in Hungary and the wider CEE region.
If you are also interested in hearing more about what our panel said about food security, keep an eye on your mailbox or subscribe to our newsletter.