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Farmers impact investor

Career path

Don’t believe the hype: there is life and purpose after the corporate world

Published 2 September 2022 in Career path • 5 min read

From a successful corporate career in the oil and gas industry to one as an entrepreneurial impact investor, alumni Chris Edwards (EMBA 2020) made a hard pivot mid-career and has not looked back. 

For many, a successful corporate career is an end in itself: an achievement that demands both talent and drive in equal measure. However, Chris Edwards, Managing Partner at Tall Grass Ventures, counts himself among those for whom a career path gets more interesting every time a milestone is reached.  

“Where I come from, many people have the same career for most of their lives. But to me that does not account for the fact that we have long, long lives and dreams that change,” he said.  

The Canadian started his career as an engineer on his home turf, enjoying the cut and thrust of M&A activity and developing oil and gas fields, like his father and grandfather had done before him. Soon after, Europe beckoned, and he took roles with an energy company in France and the Netherlands, as an Asset Manager with a formidable annual budget.  

Despite the challenge and fulfillment of his job, Edwards always spent time and effort looking into alternative careers that might inspire him. 

 “I’m a big believer in second careers, so I started taking courses in my spare time to understand other industries and to see what I wanted to do. It was at IMD that the idea of a change of career was cemented. I was introduced to impact investing, and the idea of being able to invest with social or environmental purpose and get a good return was very appealing,” he said.   

While in the past there was a negative trade-off for investors who chose to place capital in social-environmental innovation, that is no longer the case. Armed with this information, Edwards was ready to take advantage of the business space in his home country, when he returned there during the worst of the 2020 COVID pandemic.  

Scouting for new pastures  

Calgary, Alberta’s local economy has long been tied to the oil and gas industry. However, increasing recognition of the challenge posed by the climate crisis, coupled with a growing awareness around supply chain issues during the pandemic has led to a directed effort to diversify the economy. The timing was perfect for Edwards, who saw the potential for coupling his business experience and his passion for impact investing in his home territory.  

As a result, Tall Grass Ventures was created, with his business associate Wilson Acton, as a seed fund for innovative AgTech startups in the region. With 50,350,183 acres of farmland, and 40% of Canada’s cattle raised there, the market is considerable. For Edwards, the primary purpose was to encourage and support food production and agriculture in the region.  

Tall Grass Ventures funds promising young AgTech startups: specifically those engaged in new generation crop inputs, Technology 2.0 and protein production. From deploying AI and machine learning to give farmers an early warning of behavioral changes in their livestock that might signal illness or pregnancy, to using industrial hemp oil to produce an epoxy plastic that can be used to make turbine blades or snowboards, the creativity and dynamism of the local business space has Edwards hooked.  

Chris Edwards impact investor
"Every time I meet with a startup, it’s a different group of people doing a different thing, with a different purpose behind it, and it really keeps the days exciting," he said.

Fieldnotes from the non-corporate world 

Edwards is clearly enthused by the change of career. However, he is also pragmatic about the amount of planning required to make a success of an entrepreneurial project. When he looks back on the things he got right and the things he would do differently, he speaks honestly about the day-to-day challenges that others can prepare for.  

“The key thing in my pivot point was just planning. Make sure you have some money saved. On the other side, emotional preparation is important because it’s very scary making a change like this; it feels risky. So, you must be prepared emotionally for the ups and downs. Talking to as many people as possible is also important because there are many who have done this before and who can help you understand what you’re getting into and which of your skills can transfer,” he said.  

The one thing Edwards would redo differently would be forward planning more realistically. Having originally imagined it would take him a year to get the business up and running, he found that the timeline was twice as long.  

Entrepreneurial impact investor
“There are a lot of roadblocks that reveal themselves along the way that you must overcome on an ad hoc basis. It takes problem solving and resilience to overcome these hurdles and to prepare yourself for the next one,” he said.  

However, having found the corporate world could often be overly complicated, slow, and demotivating, due to its heavy reliance on executive buy-in for greenlighting innovation, Edwards embraces the highs and lows of the post-corporate career. 

“The biggest reward is I can really be myself. I can bring to the table what I do best, with transferable skills from the corporate world, but also utilize the skills and talents I never got to use. I’m a very creative person and I like to find new problems to solve, and this allows me to do it in a broad way where there’s all sorts of companies that I can contribute to,” he said. 

Ultimately he remains evangelical about the importance of a second career and champions all those who choose to pivot to a new path. His advice is simply to follow your dream. 

“There’s a lot of unwritten rules in the world that prevent us from chasing our dreams, and you must understand that those rules are not concrete. You can do whatever you want. It just takes hard work and planning. And there’s nothing that can stop you if you want it.  A hero of mine once said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” 

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