© 2020
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Technology & Entrepreneurship

New Company, New Mission Brings San Antonio Tech Entrepreneurs Down To Earth

Employees at Scaleworks' Savoy building. Nick Honegger, right, will help manage PastureMap.
Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
Employees at Scaleworks' Savoy building. Nick Honegger, right, will help manage PastureMap.

Software and soil meet through an unexpected San Antonio company aimed at investing in regenerative farming.

Lew Moorman and Ed Byrne are recently known for their efforts in purchasing business to business software startups and moving them to downtown San Antonio under their company Scaleworks.

The two have raised $150 million in the last four years to that end. They have a half dozen companies in residence at their Savoy building headquarters and another four that have come and gone. 

But now, Moorman and Byrne are launching a new company called Soilworks, and it’s a little different. For starters, it is Benefit or B-corporation. That’s a designation for mission-oriented companies that balance profit and purpose. It is socially and environmentally responsible. The most famous example is Patagonia.

IMG_20180220_171611_0.jpg
Credit Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
Lew Moorman

What is the mission? Well, that brings us to another big difference. It is focused on replenishing the nation’s soils through regenerative farming. It wants to invest in and buy companies that support and grow the regenerative agriculture industry. 

Rather than talking about code, and talent ecosystems, Moorman is talking about biological ones. 

“We are extremely dependent on chemicals and synthetics, and the damage we're doing to the planet to ourselves, I think is quite severe,” Moorman said.

Regenerative agriculture is a set of farming and grazing practices that restores ecosystems.

Proponents highlight science showing these practices make food healthier and ecosystems stronger, and potentially ameliorating growing CO2 emissions.

“Grasslands are the largest carbon sinks in the world,” he said.

Rather than asking how the latest company that Scaleworks bought helps businesses —  a more efficient e-commerce solution or mass client mailing system — a reporter instead finds himself talking about how great a fertilizer duck excrement is. “Their poop is nitrogen!” 

Moorman doesn’t come from farmers, per se. His family goes back a ways in Texas and yes, there were farms at one point but that wasn’t part of his life in a real way, he said. No, what brought him to become passionate about ag starts right around the time he was stepping down from being president of Rackspace in 2013.

He had just bought a large piece of property outside Spring Branch and his wife, Laura, was battling cancer. The family became very interested in what they were putting in their bodies.

“She became extremely knowledgeable and interested in food quality. And the health impacts of food and grass fed meats were certainly a big part of that,” he said. “And so that was the start of my education about sort of what is going on with the food system and where we might be going wrong in lots of ways.” 

Meanwhile he was founding Scaleworks with Byrne in 2015, and according to Moorman their interests converged again as Byrne became obsessed with creating the perfect steak. Reading up on how the cows are raised and becoming engrossed in some of the same issues.

“We see a change coming to food that mirrors the cloud computing revolution in technology,” said Byrne in a statement. 

The past 18 months, Moorman has been incorporating the practices on his property. He has 50 head of cattle, more sheep, chickens and of course those ducks filled with nitrogen. 

He is quick to point out he isn’t a full-time farmer. He has full-time staff to manage his land. They will graze one section of his acreage and then move the cows, not returning again for 90 days.

The tool he said he used to track and manage that is PastureMap, which is Soilworks’ first purchase.

pasturemap_0.PNG

Pasturemap helps farmers manage their herds to naturally replenish soil’s nutrients and making better beef. It was founded by Christine Su in 2015.

“We are excited to see Soilworks take PastureMap to the next level,” she said in a statement.

Pasturemap will be housed in the Savoy Building with its Scaleworks brethren, but owned by Byrne and Moorman. They aren’t raising money in an investment fund like they have with Scaleworks. Moorman didn’t rule it out later.

Tuesday’s announcement, forming Soilworks, and buying PastureMap is just the beginning. He isn’t saying they will be as ambitious as General Mills, who last year committed to advancing regenerative agriculture on 1 million acres of farmland. But, it’s a young, wide-open space and he says consumers want more. 

“We don't know where it's going to take us.  We don't know how much capital we're going to deploy, but it's something we're very passionate about and where we can make a difference.”

Regardless of where they go, there is vast difference between the timelines code and the Earth.

Pressing the enter button takes seconds. Changing soil and ecosystems takes years.

“That's okay. I'm older now,” Moorman said. “I can be a little bit more patient.”

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.