15 Voices: An Interview with Peter Erickson

Peter Erickson

Peter Erickson is General Mills’ Executive Vice President of Innovation, Technology and Quality. Our paths first crossed in 2010 as General Mills was launching Partners in Food Solutions, a nonprofit organization that brings together the business and technical expertise of global food companies to improve the capacity and expertise of local food processors in Africa. Peter has been a champion of our work and valuable thought partner ever since, and we’re thrilled to have him help us celebrate our 15th anniversary by participating in our 15 Voices blog series.

Root Capital: When did you first encounter Root Capital?

Peter: I don’t remember the first time I heard about Root Capital, but it certainly came when we were aspiring to build General Mills’ philanthropic effort that eventually became Partners in Food Solutions. We found that Root Capital was incredibly knowledgeable about the opportunities and the pitfalls of working with small businesses in Africa. Willy, Brian and other folks at Root Capital were wonderful coaches and mentors for us in the early days of our journey in deciding the best way to apply our capabilities and capacity to best make a difference in the developing world.

Root Capital: Why have you been involved with Root Capital?

Peter: When Partners in Food Solutions first launched, we realized the businesses we were working with needed financial capacity as much as they needed intellectual capacity and business expertise. In other words, many of the small and growing businesses that we encountered were not only in need of a solution, but they also needed the finance to implement those solutions. Root Capital is a wonderful organization that helps augment our work: we provide some of the intellectual capital, and Root Capital provides some of the financial capital.

There’s also a huge synergy between us and Root Capital in finding the right companies with which to work. As we were working with companies that needed capital, Root Capital was looking for companies that wanted access to capital. And vice versa: As Root Capital was finding their pipeline of potential companies they could invest in, many of those, they would discover, needed technical help as well, and so we would share those leads.

Our partnership has really been founded on the basic premise that together we can do more than either of our companies can do individually.

Root Capital: What is one word that summarizes Root Capital in your mind? Can you share a story from your relationship with Root Capital that reflects that word?

Peter: “Catalyst” and “connector” are two words I can certainly and easily attribute to the great work of Root Capital.

“Catalyst.”  I certainly view Root Capital as an organization that can create sparks and catalyze change. That change is evident in its work with small and growing businesses around the world, but also in the way its made people think differently about the right model for philanthropy and the right model for growth in the developing world. Making investments in tiny companies in very remote areas around the world is tremendously high risk. Root Capital proves that when those investments are done well, you can absolutely manage risk, and have a huge impact. We’ve had a chance to see the catalyst benefit of Root Capital make a big difference, even within General Mills. General Mills is an investor in Root Capital because Root Capital has done a great job of helping us to see the world differently and understand that our investment can make a big difference.

“Connector.”  One of the things that I have observed in this broad space is the incredible opportunity to connect people together. Root Capital has been an incredible connector for General Mills, helping connect us with companies and other terrific organizations that are doing great work. As we thought about the name for Partners in Food Solutions, I was adamant about it having the word “Partner” in it. The only way you’re going to make a big difference in the world today is by connecting people, connecting companies, connecting organizations, and connecting governments. I think Root Capital is one of the very best at building deep and broad networks and leveraging those to create advantaged connections by bringing individuals together.

Root Capital: What excites you most about what Root Capital can achieve in the next 15 years? 

Peter: I think that the model that Root Capital has pioneered is a model that really is catching fire. While the approach that Root Capital uses has made a big difference, it has also inspired lots of other organizations and companies to take a similar approach and try to make a similar kind of difference. I also think that Root Capital will continue to be a real thought leader in this area and will continue to bring others around to their way of thinking. Over the next 15 years we’ll see an exponential level of impact that Root Capital can make in the areas of the world that are most vulnerable and most in need. To me, that’s the most exciting part about the relationship that we enjoy with Root Capital.

We’re very excited to find ways to continue to grow our partnership and to make bigger impacts together.

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