Sara Menker was born in 1982, in Ethiopia. She is a black founder and chief executive officer of Gro Intelligence, an agriculture data and analytics company. Menker is also the trustee of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies and one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders. Her success story from humble beginnings is key to her categorization of black excellence.
Early life and Schooling
Sara Menker was born and raised in Ethiopia. She moved to the US and joined Mount Holyoke College in 2000, a private liberal arts college situated in South Hadley, Ma. While there she studied Economics and African studies. Menker later moved to the London School of Economics where she did her graduate studies. She would finally join Columbia University for her Master’s degree in Business Administration.
Sara Menker’s father worked in the IT department at the U.N Economic Commission for Africa while her mother was a seamstress for the Ethiopian airline. Shortly after her birth, Ethiopia was hit with a two-year famine which resulted in the death of nearly a million Ethiopians. Although she still had a grasp of what was happening, her childhood gave her a profound sense of how easily catastrophic events can disrupt our way of life.
Sara Menker was born and raised in Ethiopia. Shortly after her birth, Ethiopia was hit with a two-year famine, which resulted in the death of nearly a million Ethiopians. Her view of the catastrophic drought influenced Menker to start Gro Intelligence in 2014. The company is a startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to tackle the two biggest challenges humanity faces: food security and climate change.“It’s about getting ready for disaster,” says Menker. “It’s about hedging for the downside risk.”
“I think it’s important for women to know that they can do anything they want. I think we have to change the perception in our culture about women. As a woman, you have to go after what you want and what you need, but stay true to yourself.”
Menker has been able to reach success by following her own advice and making sure she is true to herself and not compromising on how she looks or how she feels. In 2018 the company received investment from Google Ventures.
Before she founded Gro Intelligence, Menker worked as the Vice President of Morgan Stanley’s commodities group in New York. Her career however began in commodities risk management. Her main focus was on all commodity markets before she later started specializing in trading through managing options and trading portfolios.
In the 1980s, when Wall Street firms began to recruit and hire women in droves, Sara Menker became one of the few women of color to work at Morgan Stanley. She was also one of the first female traders on Wall Street and held her own in an environment that was often hostile. Menker stayed with Morgan Stanley for 12 years before moving on to Alex Brown & Sons as head of global trading operations in 1996. While there as a novice, she tried to fit into the Western culture but her attempts were in futility. She initially did not have a grasp of the experience of African Americans and their daily challenges with racism.
“I did not try to fit in: My hair always looked like this. I dressed as I pleased. I brought my culture to work.”
In 2014 Sara Menker established Gro Intelligence, a data-driven platform that connects food markets around the world. This business is disrupting the way we think about the food industry. The information they have collected helps create a more transparent and efficient marketplace for sourcing foods. Gro Intelligence has managed to build a community of people who want to develop good food practices, as well as help farmers and food providers get their products in front of as many consumers as possible. This could be a good solution for the food industry, which is filled with hidden fees and extra costs. Gro Intelligence has identified this problem and wants to change the way people buy food.
Gro Intelligence was created to help the food market become more transparent to consumers. The platform provides an easy way to share information about food products, their origins, how they were farmed, and how they were packaged. Gro intelligence is working with over 2,500 producers of high-quality fruits and vegetables in one place. Their shared information about the food industry is valuable for buyers and sellers. The platform has an online community of entrepreneurs, merchants, and shoppers where they can share their knowledge.
Gro Intelligence has done 5 funding rounds and in the process, raised a total of $115.3M. The organization’s latest funding dubbed Series B round was done on Jan 8, 2021, and had 12 investors raising $85M. The total number of investors is `14 with its most recent being Rethink Food and EchoV Partners.
The company has 7 employee profiles inclusive of its Founder and CEO Sara Menker. It has 2 board members and advisors. It has 2 board members and advisors. The company is headquartered in the United States (San Francisco, California)
Sara Menker’s company, Gro Intelligence has been used to investigate the impact of natural disasters, including droughts, on food supply. It offers software that mitigates agricultural, weather, and climate data easily in an attempt to understand. The data is combined with satellite imagery and creates over 1,000 models a day.
The relationship between climate change and environmental damage is still a controversial debate, especially in regard to the food supply. However, it has been proven that this relationship is one that can be studied and maintained through the use of data collection applications such as Gro Intelligence.
Leadership roles & awards
Sara Menker 2014 recognized in 2014 by the World Economic Forum as one of its Young Global Leaders, a recipient of recognition given to just 1,000 people worldwide every year. She was named the FAST’s Most Creative People list in 2019. In 2020, she was featured in Goldman Sachs’ 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs list. In 2021, Sara Menker was in the Time 100, Time’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Menker delivered a TED talk in 2017 on the global food crisis. The talks have been watched almost 2 million times and speak of a possibility of a global food crisis less than a decade away. In the TV talk, she shared her view on how she sees Africa’s future as hopeful, not hopeless, and what we can do to help it achieve its potential. She also talks about how her upbringing has shaped her dreams for Africa.
“We might not know when the next global food crisis will happen, but as long as humans around the world rely on animals for their food and livelihoods, it’s never too early to plan for it,” Sara Menker said in the Talk.
Sara Menker has been a role model for the thousands of women entrepreneurs around the world who are breaking down barriers in traditionally male-dominated fields. She has also been an international advocate for women’s rights in the workplace. Her company Gro Intelligence and its aim in helping deal with food security as well as global climate change makes her an ideal fit for the “Black Excellence Series.”
Sara Menker is part of our Black Founders50 Series. Download the complete 2023 BBVA Founders50 list here.