As a nonprofit in a startup-dominated field, we are frequently approached by entrepreneurs seeking advice, support and funding to get their companies off the ground. In the early days of New Harvest, this meant that our staff had a lot of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in front of us at any given time.
Five years ago, New Harvest decided not to sign NDAs. Here’s why:
- NDAs don’t align with our values.
As outlined in our strategic plan, one of New Harvest’s strategies for impact is to “default to open.” Just as our staff commits not to sign NDAs, our grantees commit to keeping their intellectual property open as well (see page 9 of our grantee handbook). Openness is a core guiding principle at our organization.
NDAs and non-disparagement clauses also exacerbate power imbalances and can be used to hide inappropriate practices and behaviors. Signing such agreements would signal our tacit support for these practices.
- 2. NDAs conflict with our role as a public charity.
According to US nonprofit guidelines, a 501(c)(3) organization cannot benefit private interests. For a member of our staff to sign an NDA during the course of their work at New Harvest would challenge this rule.
- 3. NDAs compromise our independence and reputation.
Independence and reputation plays an outsized role for nonprofit organizations. It is what allows us to open doors and talk to all kinds of stakeholders in order to advance cellular agriculture. Compromising New Harvest’s reputation by sharing confidential information—intentionally or accidentally—would hold back the entire field.
- 4. We talk to competing companies and laboratories.
Our goal at New Harvest is to transcend private interests to work towards the public good of cellular agriculture. In order to do this, we talk to everyone. As might be expected in a burgeoning field, New Harvest is exposed to countless similar if not identical ideas. It is not up to us to stand in the way of competition.
If New Harvest signed NDAs, we might appear to trade information across competitors. This could turn into a legal mess that prevents us from achieving progress in cellular agriculture and fractures in the ecosystem.
- 5. Venture capitalists don’t do it!
What really made the decision easy was learning from a seasoned VC that no respectable VC will sign an NDA either, for reasons similar to our own.
At the end of the day, New Harvest’s policy to not sign NDAs has not hindered our work. As evidenced by our safety initiative—where 50 private, competing cultured meat companies shared their manufacturing process—our policy of not signing NDAs has actually heightened our ability to work alongside academia and industry to collectively advance cellular agriculture.