Digital Agriculture Panel:
Peter Walter – Managing Director, LEK
Peter Walter is a Managing Director and Partner based in the New York Office of L.E.K. Consulting. Prior to moving to New York, he was the Southeast Asia Regional Director with L.E.K. for more than six years.
Peter has more than 20 years of global consulting experience, with a focus on strategy development and activation, M&A and performance improvement for both corporate and investor clients. He currently leads L.E.K.’s Agribusiness Practice in the Americas and works extensively across the farm-to-farm value chain. He also has significant experience in other industries, including industrials, business services, and transportation & logistics.
Prior to joining L.E.K., Peter worked with A.T. Kearney for ten years in North America and Southeast Asia. He received a B.S. in Zoology from Duke University and completed his Masters of Business Administration degree (summa cum laude) from the Kellogg Graduate School of Business at Northwestern University. He is fluent in Spanish and Thai, proficient in Bahasa Indonesia, and has basic knowledge of Khmer and Portuguese.
Michael Prorock – Founder, mesur.io
Michael Prorock is the founder of mesur.io, a company dedicated to enabling farmers to grow more sustainably, while increasing yield, understanding crop threats, and minimizing inputs.
Michael is an expert in scalable systems and analytics design and implementation. Most recently he served as Director of Emerging Technologies for the Bardess Group, where he defined and implemented a technology strategy that enabled Bardess to scale its business to new verticals across a variety of clients. Michael enabled marquee customers across the Fortune 100 to reinvent strategically important areas of their business via data analysis and augmented intelligence, and worked closely to build and maintain key partnerships. Prior to Bardess, Michael built the initial analytics platform for Compellon, and worked directly with early adopters to define the product and refine the predictive systems underlying the Compellon platform. Michael has filed multiple patents related to heuristics, media analysis, and speech recognition. At Altus, Michael built and led the team that rebuilt the legacy software solution, giving Altus a renewed competitive edge in the market. Michael not only designed the overall software solution but also worked directly with customers, such as Raytheon, Cisco, and IBM, to find and enable best-fit solutions for their needs. Prior to Altus, Mr. Prorock served as an independent consultant in the fields of Security, Cryptography and Unix/Linux Systems. Michael has developed a family of stream ciphers for embedded use, and worked on several other projects of note, including work on animal tracking, real-time video streaming, and simplified 3d model capture. Michael graduated from Cum Laude from North Carolina State University, studying English, Marine Sciences, and other odds and ends. Marine Biology fieldwork in college triggered what became a lifelong passion for tracking animals and environmental conditions to better understand human impact on our planet. Michael currently resides on a small farm outside Chapel Hill, NC.
Steven Valencsin – Founder and CEO, Growers
Steven Valencsin is Founder/CEO of Growers, a Raleigh NC based company that helps farmers and their trusted advisers utilize data and technology to help drive better agronomic and financial decisions on the farm. In 2018 Valencsin was selected as one of Forbes: 30under30 for his work at Growers in helping farmers all across the world make data-driven decisions that have resulted in the reduction of 100s of millions of tons of fertilizers, while greatly increasing on farm profitability and sustainability. His entrepreneurial spirit and passion for farming has led to groundbreaking advancements within Precision Agriculture.
Paul Bisset – CEO, Harvest CROO Robotics
Paul began his career on Wall Street, trading and managing bond portfolios. He left New York to obtain a Ph.D. in Computation Sciences, developing massively parallelized computer simulations for global warming studies, funded by NSF, NOAA, NASA, and the DoD. His research career included nearly 100 peer-reviewed articles. He became a Naval Oceanographer before founding his first start-up focused on predictive environmental models and high-performance imaging systems. After exiting this business through a sale to Northrop Grumman, he founded his second company focused on enterprise data management “in the cloud” on Amazon Web Services. As an alpha developer on AWS’s Elastic Compute Cloud, this company was recognized by Amazon as an early leader in cloud services and was a finalist in their first Start-up Challenge. This company was subsequently sold to Trimble, Inc.
Paul joined Harvest CROO Robotics as its COO in January 2018 and became its CEO in November of 2018.
Matthew Brown – International Farming Corporation
Matthew joined International Farming Corporation’s Agronomy Team in 2013 to help wrangle farm and operation data for a fast-growing private equity investment firm that focuses on farmland and other agri-business. Building on an experienced foundation in soil science, agronomy, and high-impact landscape management, he brings both an academic and applied perspective to agriculture and food production, utilizing technology and pro-active business strategy. Matthew has worked passionately with diverse stakeholders on a wide variety of projects ranging from venture development to farm research to full-scale business ERP-CRM deployments.
Automation in Food and Retail
Jared Resnick – Chief Operating Officer, Precision Fermentation
Jared leverages his 25 years of business development and operations experience to guide all major business functions of Precision Fermentation. He has owned, operated, and grown a number of successful businesses in North Carolina, gathering extensive experience consulting in the fields of technology, retail sales, business development, and business operations. He has taught classes on business development at local business schools, based on this wide range of expertise. In 2015 Jared became a partner in a new, Durham-based technology company, Mimetics, which focused on hidden patterns in complex time-series biological data. Precision Fermentation, Inc. was created from the results of Mimetics’ research, science and development. Jared received his degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alison Acera – VP of Nutrition, Chowbotics
Most recently, Alison was the National Director of Nutrition Strategy at Guckenheimer, one of the top foodservice management companies in the U.S. She began her career as a Culinary Nutritionist at Google before transitioning to Apple as a Corporate Wellness Dietician. Alison has co-authored a diabetes cookbook and often lectures to various groups including physicians and corporations.
Bryan Cohn – Food Safety Solution Engineer, FoodLogiQ
Bryan Cohn is the Food Safety Solution Engineer at FoodLogiQ, the leading SaaS provider of traceability, food safety and supply chain transparency solutions. A North Carolina native who’s enthusiastic about agriculture, food, and business, Bryan came to FoodLogiQ after serving as Vice President of Supply Chain and Market Development at Chapel-Hill-based Seal the Seasons, a company specializing in local frozen foods. Bryan has extensive experience in large-scale food-service and operations management, having held leadership roles at Couche-Tard and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Bryan attended North Carolina State University and has a degree in Agricultural Management and Economics.
Bart Creasman – Triangle Market Manager, Hungry Harvest
Bart Creasman is a graduate of Davidson College, former professional soccer player, healthy living entrepreneur, and proud resident of Raleigh, NC. He oversees market management for the North Carolina division of Hungry Harvest, a farm to door produce delivery company that pioneered the “ugly fruits and vegetables” movement. In just the last few years Hungry Harvest has connected over 8 million pounds of oddly sized or shaped fruits and veggies to customers seeking more affordable access to fresh produce while donating over 600,000 pounds more to hunger relief organizations like Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.
Amanda Bushell – Consultant, The Context Network
Amanda Bushell is a consultant with The Context Network, the premier consulting firm working exclusively with the food and agriculture industry. Before getting her MBA from Fuqua (LGD!) and MEM from the Nicholas School, she worked at the World Bank on fisheries and aquaculture. While at Fuqua (GTHC!) she interned at Walmart in global food sourcing for produce and at Trove Worldwide, a start-up consultancy tackling sustainability and nutrition. She got her BS in Biology at Yale, what feels like a million years ago but was, in reality, a decade ago. She spends most of her time learning about new-tech in agriculture and yearning for dogs.
The Future of Protein Panel:
Curt Albright – Managing Member, Clear Current Capital
Curt is Managing Member of Clear Current Capital, a new VC Fund investing in the Seed/Series A rounds within the dynamic plant-based food space, working to remove large numbers of animals from the food system. Mr. Albright is a financial expert, donor, and experienced investor who specializes in balance sheet management, risk assessment, start-up and early-stage enterprises with particular expertise in the financial and bank (lending and investment) space. From 1991 until August 2017, Mr. Albright was Sr. Vice President at Vining Sparks, IBG in Charlotte, NC. While at Vining Sparks, he focused on financial transactions with commercial banks in the $500mm – 5B asset range, crafting balance sheet solutions to interest rate and corporate balance sheet risks, focusing on increasing earnings and cash flow. Mr. Albright retired from Vining Sparks in 2017 to become Founder/Managing Member at Clear Current Capital in Vero Beach, F
Mike Fotinatos – Strategic Implementation Specialist, The Good Food Institute
Mike is working with The Good Food Institute to help foster growth and innovation in the clean and plant-based meat industries, providing strategic consulting to new food startups. He holds a B.S. in Biology & Society from Cornell University and has spent much of his career working in the cleantech space, providing behavioral science and software engineering experience to develop products that reduce global energy consumption. He has also worked at Google and joined GFI to maximize his impact on critical issues in the global food system.
David Swintosky – CFO, Improved Nature
David has twenty-five years of professional experience in executive leadership, investment banking and strategic consulting. His background includes M&A, capital markets strategy, IPOs and secondary offerings of debt and equity, private debt and equity transactions, restructuring, board positions, corporate development, and joint ventures. During his career, he has worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers (1992-1994) and Ernst & Young (1995-2000). In 2000, he founded Dunning Capital, LLC, a boutique strategy consulting firm and investment bank in Raleigh, NC. He holds board positions at Scriyb.com, MyDrugCosts.com, ZynBit.com, Ocean Hugger Foods, and several other companies. He has been a strategic advisor for Improved Nature since its formation in 2015, serving as Interim CFO leading fundraising efforts and business development.
Fanny Slater – Rachel Ray’s Cookbook winner and author of Orange, Lavender & Figs
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast with a passion for storytelling and licking the plate. She won Rachael Ray’s Great American Cookbook Competition and her cookbook Orange, Lavender & Figs, published under Simon & Schuster and Rachael Ray Books, is available online and in retailers all over the country. Fanny has appeared regularly on The Rachael Ray Show and has been featured several times in Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine. In 2017, Fanny was a co-host on the Food Network series Kitchen Sink and was featured on three episodes of the most recent season of Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Her Wilmington, NC based company Fanfare specializes in playful cooking videos, recipe development and branding, food writing, and sassy social media eats. Fanny cooks “comfort foods in a tuxedo”—eclectic twists on familiar favorites. Get your Fanny in the kitchen at www.fannyslater.com and @fannyslater
Cheryl Newman – Director of Strategy for No Evil Foods
Cheryl Newman is a strategy and communications professional with particular expertise in start-ups, the food and beverage industries, and non-profits. In addition to serving on the board of the Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company, she is a member of the Advisory Boards for Revolution Gelato and Farm to Freezer. She was the inaugural chairwoman of the Montgomery (MD) County Food Council, guiding the creation of a vibrant, sustainable local food system. She blogs about sustainable agriculture, business practice and global communities at www.journeywise.wordpress.com.
During her tenure as Vice-President and Deputy Chief of Mission at Honest Tea, makers of the first and best-selling organic bottled tea in the U.S., she helped develop and share the company’s mission, aligning sustainability efforts internally and externally to build the brand and ensure that the fast-growing company maintained its leadership role as a model for other mission-driven businesses. She is recognized for creating strong and productive relationships within fair trade, the green economy, and social innovation organizations, working with these like-minded groups to share knowledge and devise innovative ways to support their objectives.
Prior to returning to the U.S., Ms. Newman spent over twenty years in Asia and Europe, in roles ranging from guiding the growth of a software start-up as its COO, analyzing business opportunities for a private investor and providing content for private and public sector websites.
A graduate of Dartmouth College, she has served as a judge for the William James Foundation Socially Responsible Business Plan Competition, Green America, and Bethesda Green.
The Footprint of Food Panel:
Courtney Bell – President and Founder, Ungraded Produce
Courtney Bell is the President and Founder of Ungraded Produce, which is an “ugly” produce delivery service working to fight food waste and improve food access in the Triangle. While studying environmental science and economics at Duke University, Bell sought out platforms for creating solutions to local environmental problems and founded Ungraded Produce her Junior
year to address the dual issues of food waste and food access. Bell began running Ungraded Produce full time after graduating from Duke in May of 2017. In addition to winning the 2017 Duke Startup Challenge, Bell raised $250,000 in seed capital, and developed and executed strategies that resulted in an 81% increase in sales in a two month period. After intentionally operating every aspect of the business entirely by herself, she now manages a team of ten employees.
Seth Gross – Owner, Bull City Burger and Brewery and Pompieri Pizza
Seth grew up way north of Durham working in his family’s ice cream stores and deli, and in independent fine dining restaurants throughout high school and college. He graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in microbiology and cell science, but what he really wanted to do was cook. So, two weeks after graduation Seth started at the Culinary Institute of American in Hyde Park, New York, and graduated with a degree in the culinary arts two years later. After the CIA, he moved to Chicago to work in fine dining and it was here that he also learned to brew beer professionally at a small local brewpub called Goose Island Brewery. His IPA recipe won gold at the Great American Beer Festival and he brewed the first batch of Bourbon County Stout. Eventually moving to North Carolina, Seth became a sommelier in a four-diamond hotel, and then went to work in retail wine, wine importing, and distribution of wine until he opened his own wine shop in Durham. His goal was always to get back to brewing beer and to making fine dining quality food in a casual restaurant.
In 2011, Seth opened his first restaurant, Bull City Burger and Brewery in the “Foodiest Small Town in America” also dubbed the “Tastiest Town in the South” by Bon Appetit and Southern Living Magazine respectively. In 2013 he opened Pompieri Pizza, also located in downtown Durham. Today, Bull City Burger and Brewery and Pompieri Pizza are considered threads woven into Durham’s food-centric fabric. In 2017 Bull City Burger and Brewery won the NC Craft Brewers Guild Best in Show for the quality of its beer. Pompieri was awarded Best New Restaurant in Durham by Greg Cox of the News and Observer. Both restaurants are certified B Corporations and the first of their kind to be recognized by B Lab. Recently, Seth was awarded both the Outstanding Service Award by the North Carolina Business Council in appreciation for his “Visionary Leadership in Business Sustainability”, and the Community Contributor Award from the NC Craft Brewers Guild. Bull City Burger and Brewery is a finalist for best small business in North Carolina 2018. The winner is announced December 4th and the suspense is killing us.
Financing your Food Start-Up
Eric Smith – Investment Officer, Grantham Environmental Trust
Mr. Smith is an Investment Officer for the Grantham Environmental Trust where he co-manages a vehicle called Neglected Climate Opportunities. He leads investments in businesses and technology in agriculture and oceans that can sequester or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions at scale. He was previously a venture fellow with SJF Ventures and worked for BlackRock on climate finance. He is a graduate of the dual degree program at Duke University, having received his MBA and Master of Forestry, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica.
Tim Thomson – Director of Strategic Finance, Plenty
Tim Thomson currently serves as the Director of Strategic Finance at Plenty, an indoor farming company headquartered in South San Francisco. Tim is also a member of the Board of Directors at the SF Wholesale Produce Market, a nonprofit wholesale marketplace connecting growers and their produce to food businesses throughout the Bay Area.
Prior to these roles, Tim was an early finance hire at Stripe, a leading international financial technology company, where he helped build out the Finance & Strategy team. Tim has also spent time in private equity at ABRY Partners and in investment banking at McColl Partners (now Deloitte Corporate Finance). He holds a BS from Duke University, where he was recognized as a Robertson Scholar.
Riana Lynn – Senior Advisor, Cleveland Avenue
Riana Lynn’s expertise and passions meet at the intersection of food innovation, technology, and venture capital strategy worlds. A biologist turned serial entrepreneur, Riana’s experience working alongside the world’s top geneticists and nutrition experts at the University of Chicago drove her to develop high-growth, nationally recognized technology, and food businesses. First-hand experience working through problems and scaling a family juice company inspired her to develop supply chain transparency software and create FoodTrace. Her products significantly impacted thousands of food businesses across the US and beyond. Riana’s development and innovation strategies lead to some of the most innovative food and agriculture startups in the world, as well as working with Fortune 500 companies on new innovations. CNBC, Forbes, USA Today, Wired, TechCrunch, INC, Entrepreneur Magazine, Crain’s “20 in their 20s”, and many others have featured her accomplishments. Riana graduated with a B.S. in Biology and Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before pursuing two Masters degrees at Northwestern University.
Karen LeVert – CEO Southeast TechInventures (STI) and Ag TechInventures (AgTI)
Karen LeVert is CEO of both Southeast TechInventures (STI) and Ag TechInventures (AgTI). She co-founded both companies as technology innovation labs focused on further developing promising technologies from universities and spinning them off into the commercial marketplace. AgTI has a sole focus on technology innovation in agriculture.
Ms. LeVert’s business experience encompasses both corporate and entrepreneurial worlds with over twenty-five years of successful leadership experience in start-ups, technology commercialization, and executive management. She started her career at a Fortune-500 insurance company in positions of increasing responsibility over 14 years from computer programmer to controller, to general manager of a 500-person Property & Casualty service center. Her first entrepreneurial venture was launching a franchise bioremediation company in 1998 that she later sold in 2001. Before co-founding STI, Karen co-founded a Silicon Valley based software company focused on recruiting in collegiate athletics. Karen holds an MBA from the University of Dayton and an Information Technology undergraduate degree from Eastern Michigan University (EMU). Karen received All-Academic honors while captaining her Division 1 basketball team at EMU.
Along with her professional duties she serves as a Board member for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, North Carolina School of Science and Math, NC IDEA Foundation, and LCBA Life Insurance company. She also is on the Board of Advisors for The Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.
Food Branding and Policy Panel:
Jacob Boehm – Head of Snap Pea Creative Dining
Jacob Boehm is the chef and owner of Snap Pea Creative Dining where he takes experiential dining to new levels by combining surprising locations, storytelling and hyperlocal cuisine. His monthly pop-up dinners, having garnered a loyal following of 6,000 members, typically sell out in seconds. Each dinner takes place in a unique, undisclosed location, ranging from inside the full-dome theater of the Morehead Planetarium, to the Tesla dealership, to the Museum of Life and Science Butterfly House workshop. Snap Pea is built on a commitment to local agriculture, living wages, delicious food, and radical creativity.
Jacob grew up in North Carolina and New Zealand, before attending Stanford University to study music, theatrical lighting design & computer science. After graduating in 2012, he moved back to the Triangle to start Snap Pea. Culinarily, he is primarily self-taught, although he spent time at Pok Pok in Portland, as well as [ONE] Restaurant and Oakleaf in North Carolina. His work has been featured by Walter Magazine, ABC11, UNC-TV, The News & Observer, Indy Week, and more.
Jacob Burt – Senior Digital Marketing and eCommerce Manager, Mati
Jacob Burt is an NC State alumnus and the Senior Digital Marketing + eCommerce Manager at MATI Energy (a Durham-based company that makes natural, healthy energy drinks). Jacob has helped MATI through multiple packaging redesigns, line extensions, and reformulations. His latest work has been executing a complete revamp of the brands positioning for its 2019 kickoff as “The First Organic Craft-Brewed Energy Drink.” Jacob also leads the brands content creation and takes pride in his ability to keep one ear to the ground when making branding/product decisions.
Elisabetta Politi – Nutrition Director, Duke University Diet & Fitness Center
Elisabetta’s professional career has been dedicated to the prevention of chronic diseases through diet and weight management. She enjoys teaching nutrition classes and cooking demonstrations. She is also a certified diabetes educator and works closely with diabetic patients.
Elisabetta Politi holds a B. S. in Food Science and Technology from the University of Milan, and a Master in Public Health Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been treasurer for the North Carolina Dietetic Association and a past-president for the Durham Chapel Hill Dietetic Association.
Elisabetta gives several invited lectures and presentations. She has been interviewed and/or quoted by the “Today” show”, “The NBC Night News”. “The Discovery Health Channel” and several local television stations.
Iain D Kelly Ph.D. – Director, Regulatory Policy and Issue Management, Bayer
Iain has over 30 years’ experience in the agrochemical industry with Bayer and legacy companies, holding a wide variety of technical and regulatory positions relating to assessing and managing the risks and benefits associated with the use of crop protection products. He is currently Director of Regulatory Policy and Issue Management and is a Bayer Science Fellow. Originally a native of Scotland, he holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Leeds University, UK and has lived in the U.S. since 1986 and is now a citizen.
Iain has been an active leader in industry committees, workgroups and scientific societies to further the use of sound science and sustainable practices in the registration and use of crop protection products. He has participated in several national and international expert symposia on risk assessment as well as presenting widely on risks, benefits, and stewardship of crop protection technologies.