Curating a world class wine summit is an ambitious endeavor, especially when the bar has been set high and attendants come expecting an element of innovation each year. MUST – Fermenting Ideas strives to deliver on this expectation by, in the words of co-founder Rui Falcão, looking for “something or someone from outside the wine sector that will challenge people’s minds.”
One such person is Rodrigo Sepúlveda Schulz. Rodrigo is a digital native, former strategy consultant, serial entrepreneur and business angel turned venture capitalist. As a co-founder and Managing Partner at Expon Capital, he looks for innovative companies to invest in, being particularly interested in blockchain, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and Internet infrastructure.
His profile is surely interesting so we set ourselves on a mission to dig a little deeper in this interview and give you a small preview of his upcoming keynote at MUST.
Many people were curious about your profile when we announced you’d be joining our speaker line-up for MUST – Fermenting Ideas 2019. Can you give our readers a sneak peek of what you’ll be talking about at the wine summit?
Rodrigo: Sure. As an investment professional in digital technologies, I see over 1500 new investment opportunities every year, and regularly some of them are either linked to or could be applied to the world of wine. I expect to give you an update on how the Internet world is evolving, and the latest trends in terms of technology that could be applied to the wine industry.
You’re an investor who bets on new technologies disrupting entire industries. How can Wine, as an industry so deeply rooted in tradition, foster a culture of innovation and stay ahead of the curve?
Rodrigo: Wine has a deep history and has reinvented itself a few times in the past thousands of years, adopting new technologies, new terroirs and new processes. In the past decade, there has been an exponential acceleration of technologies (for example, we all have a powerful computer in our pockets), with unprecedented instant distribution to over 3.9 billion Internet users – that’s more than 50% of humanity.
Multimedia and crowdsourcing tools can easily and cost-effectively increase customer understanding of what they’re buying, and access a wealth of data at their fingertips. Social media brings fantastic opportunities to create businesses with tens of millions of dollars in just a matter of years. Artificial intelligence leverages big data to create new jobs and displace old ones. Robots and drones can take over some of the more tedious tasks in agriculture, not to mention the opportunities brought in by space technology in weather forecasting and precision viticulture. Finally, the blockchain has yet to prove its effectiveness at a large scale, but is being tested to fight counterfeiting in a number of industries. I look forward to discussing these technologies and their impact at MUST.
Is there a company, trend or technology in the wine industry that you’re particularly excited about? Any 10x growth opportunities currently untapped?
Rodrigo: We have just invested in a nano-satellite company, named Spire Global. This company is trying to reinvent weather forecast, and expects to add 2 days of accurate forecast. They actually now have the most accurate model in the world since December 2018. They currently have 72 satellites in orbit, and will be fully operational when they reach 120 satellites in the next 2 years. The implications for all sectors of agriculture, insurance, maritime navigation, etc. will definitively bring an order of magnitude in impact.
Blockchain is one of your areas of interest as an investor. Do you see it playing a role in the wine industry, say, in preventing counterfeits? What other applications of the technology could we see in the future?
Rodrigo: Blockchain is a young technology with a lot of hype and potential applications. Currently it has only been used effectively in the launch of cryptocurrencies which have their own issues.
Indeed, there are a number of initiatives to create a distributed ledger to prevent counterfeits, for example in the luxury world for jewelry, watches, etc. Although a distributed concept, implementing these ideas require a federation of producers / brands / manufacturers to all agree on a standard, the protocol. This will take time. Somehow, at this stage, a trust ecosystem could also be implemented without the blockchain, with a centralised industry-wide association, very similar to the foundations that each blockchain initiatives try to implement.
Outside your professional interests you’re a man of many hobbies like photography, travel and snowboarding. How did you develop a passion for wine? And what compelled you to go for the WSET Level 4 Diploma?
Rodrigo: Over 20 years ago at a dinner, a guest brought 2 wines that I thought tasted nice. I had no knowledge of wine whatsoever, and when the guest told me what they were (Haut-Brion and Cheval Blanc), I felt stupid being so ignorant about wine, whilst living in a wine country (France), and coming from a wine country (Chile). I then enrolled in a wine class, went on my first field trip to Burgundy, and started visiting wineries every summer and holidays with my family. I even joined the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin at the Clos-Vougeot! A few years ago, I met a Master of Wine who recommended I get a formal education in wine. I thought that indeed she was right and that’s how I started. I’m enjoying learning more about wine every day. And so do my friends who drink along!
As a wine enthusiast, what do you look forward to the most about coming to Portugal next June for MUST – Fermenting Ideas?
Rodrigo: To me, it’s always an incredible experience to meet like-minded people in the wine world, with so much passion for their trade. In a way, it’s very similar to my work with entrepreneurs who live for their product, but with the added benefit of not dealing with 0s and 1s, but with nature, landscapes, history, geography, culture, chemistry, marketing, physics, sales, etc. I look forward to more fruitful discussions, and to sharing what I can about my world of technology with the world of wine.
We hope you’ll add to these fruitful discussions with your peers by joining Rodrigo Sepúlveda Schulz and a carefully curated list of speakers at the third edition of MUST – Fermenting Ideas, happening June 26th-28th in Cascais, Portugal.