John Denniston Wants to Revamp Farming in Developing Countries

John Denniston and his wife were worried about their daughters. Looking around at the area where they lived in Silicon Valley, the parents of two realized the girls would grow up around many teenagers who would be driving fancy cars and leading lives of privilege.

“We became very concerned about their ability to have perspective on the world and we decided to do something,” said John.

The something they chose to do was take the girls out of their Silicon Valley life for the summer and take them to where the rest of the world lived.

“By serendipity, the place we found was Peru,” said John. “We went to Piura, basically the middle of the desert, and the experience was transformative for our entire family.”

John and his family worked in hospice care, in an orphanage and helped build homes in the developing country. But the real challenge came when John began to work with indigent farmers in the area. That experience was the beginning of Shared-X, a project John and his business partner Tony Salas are launching.

“I told people stories about how terrible the farming was and how there was hardly any crop yield and children as young as five were not going to school and working in the fields,” said John.

John wanted to help, but he didn’t know where to start. That’s when he met Tony, former Undersecretary of Agriculture for Peru and active participant in agribusiness startups. Tony agreed to help John diagnose the problem and begin to work toward a fix.

“Tony put the farmers into a different crop and four months later they tripled their annual income,” said John.

And Shared-X was born.

What is Shared-X?

“Shared-X is pioneering a novel means of developing rural agricultural land in developing countries to achieve three goals,” John said. “Those goals are to generate attractive financial returns for our investors, lift 12,000 people out of extreme poverty, and deploy sustainable agricultural techniques to a region of the world that has rarely seen them.”

So what exactly does this mean? In developed countries, agriculture crops achieve 80 percent of their theoretical yield potential. But in developing countries, that yield plummets to 20 percent. John and Tony hope to employ advanced and sustainable agricultural practices in low-yielding areas of Latin America.

“One way we’re doing this is helping them select the right crop,” said John. “These indigent farmers are growing what generations of farmers grew before them. Most of them are illiterate and don’t travel, so they lack the knowledge to grow the proper crops.”

Shared-X works to give these farmers the most advanced, sustainable agriculture technology. These include nutrient injection, highly efficient irrigation, and shading and pruning techniques. The crops that produce high yields and are profitable for the area are organic bananas, red table grapes and Arabica coffee.

John will share this potentially world-changing idea with participants of the 2015 TEDxNavesink conference April 11 at Monmouth University. His talk, “Shared-X: A Novel Impact Approach to Latin American Agriculture,” will focus on the business model for the project and aims to engage participants on how they can begin to think differently about poverty and work toward accelerating real change in the world.

“I’ll be tangibly demonstrating the reality of our business model during my talk,” John said. “ I hope it encourages others to follow suit, or otherwise inspires them.”

The chance to share the ideas of Shared-X with a wide variety of people was something that appealed to John. He said he hopes that participants take away an understanding that rural agricultural land is, when properly managed, a valuable asset.

“Shared-X will accelerate interest and participation in the Impact Economy as we accelerate profitable and sustainable agricultural practices in rural regions of in developing countries,” John said.

John is the President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of San Mateo County, a non-profit organization focused on poverty, and a former partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm. He co-founded and co-ran the firm’s $1 billion Green Growth Fund. He was also a managing director and head of technology investment banking for the Western United States at Salomon Smith Barney and served on the Investment Committee for Salomon’s venture capital direct investment fund and CitiGroup’s venture capital fund-of-funds. Early in his career, John was a partner at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison and was head of the firm’s venture capital practice group and co-head of its information technology practice group.

Want to learn how you can help the Shared-X cause and aid the fight against poverty? Hear more of what John has to say at the 2015 TEDxNavesink conference April 11 at Monmouth University. Tickets are on sale now and you can get them here!

Stephanie Eichmeyer is a content production and marketing intern for the TEDxNavesink team. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in communication from Monmouth University. Stephanie has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in journalism and PR for many years.