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Speakers

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Jodi DeJong-Hughes
Regional Extension Educator & Professor
University of Minnesota

Jodi DeJong-Hughes has been a Regional Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension since 1996. Her work addresses relevant tillage and crop management solutions through research, tillage and soil trainings, workshops, field demonstrations and educational materials.  Her research focuses on reducing soil erosion and building soil quality to improve the grower’s bottom line and to reduce the movement of soil and nutrients to our natural waterways.  Jodi works alongside many growers, Ag. industry, equipment manufacturers, and government agencies to bring high quality, educational programs and research to the people of Minnesota, surrounding states and Manitoba.

Kelly Smith
Director of Microbials Development
AgBiome

An experienced biotechnology innovator, Kelly Smith returned to the entrepreneurial community in 2014 after serving as Head of Pasteuria Bioscience for Syngenta Crop Protection. She was a co-founder of Pasteuria Bioscience, where she was principally responsible for development of the proprietary Pasteuria manufacturing process. At AgBiome she founded the fermentation and formulation teams, lead the early manufacturing development and registration of the Howler fungicide project, and currently serves as a research and innovation leader for all of the company's biological product development projects.   She holds an MS and PhD in Environmental Engineering Science from the California Institute of Technology and a BS in Chemical Engineering from Michigan State University. 

Day Two

Wednesday, February 26

9:00 am | Novel Biologicals and Combinations for Crop Protection

Marthah De Lorme
Fermentation Scientist
Agrinos

Marthah De Lorme has more than fifteen years experience in microbiology and fermentation. Prior to joining Agrinos, Dr. De Lorme served as the Senior Advanced Microbiologist for Ciris Energy, leading the team in developing fermentation scaleup processes for biochemical production from agriculture crop residue. In addition, Dr. De Lorme has researched various unique fermentation platforms such as syngas fermentation and coal biodegradation to methane. Dr. De Lorme received her Bachelors of Science from Oregon State University, followed by a Masters of Science in Veterinary Science at Oregon State University and a Doctor of Philosophy in Microbiology at Oregon State University.  

Mylavarapu Venkatramesh
Chief Technology Officer
Agrinos

Mylavarapu Venkatramesh has more than three decades experience in plant pathology, soil microbiology, plant biochemistry and metabolic engineering, including 17 years leading biotechnology discovery research. Prior to joining Agrinos, Dr. Venkatramesh served as the New Technology Leader for the Seeds and Biotechnology Platform at Dow AgroSciences. He has also served in roles across engineering, project management and research and development functions at Exelixis Plant Sciences, Monsanto and Renessen. Dr. Venkatramesh received his Bachelors of Science from Bangalore University followed by a Masters of Science in Botany from Madras University and a Doctor of Philosophy in Botany from S.V. University. Dr. Venkatramesh came to the U.S. for postdoctoral research in plant biochemistry and biotechnology, which included a 2-year visiting scientist position in Germany through an Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation fellowship. 

Day One

Tuesday, February 25

9:00 am | Microbiome Leaders Panel Discussion

Leonard Lerer
CEO
Back of the Yards Algae Sciences

Leonard Lerer MD MBA is the founder and CEO of Back of the Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS). Dr Lerer is the inventor of BYAS core technology for microalgae extraction and leads BYAS general and cellular agriculture R&D programs.  He has over 20 years of experience as in life sciences finance and research. 

Day Two

Wednesday, February 26

11:15 am | Discovering the Role of Microalgae for a Healthy Plant Microbiome

Sarah Hovinga
Principal Scientist
Bayer Crop Science

Sarah is passionate about sustainability and the effective and efficient use of agricultural tools.  A Principal Scientist for Bayer Crop Science’s Biologics Division, based in West Sacramento, California, Sarah leads a laboratory group focused on supporting research advancements for current biological products and products to-be.  Sarah studied plant biology and biochemistry at the University of California, Davis, and California State University, Sacramento, respectively.  With fifteen years of diverse experience in research and field development for Ag biologicals, Sarah brings a holistic and global perspective to the topic of current and future agricultural practices.  In her free time, Sarah is an avid gardener, an outdoorswoman, and enjoys spending quality time with family and friends. 

Marcus Meadows-Smith
CEO
BioConsortia

Marcus Meadows-Smith is an experienced and successful executive in the specialty chemicals and biologics space, with a passion for innovation in sustainable agriculture. Marcus currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of BioConsortia Inc.  Prior to BioConsortia, Marcus held the position of Head of Biologics for Bayer CropScience. He assumed the leadership role following Bayer's purchase of AgraQuest, where Marcus was also the CEO. Within four years, Marcus and his team had transformed the small biopesticide company, AgraQuest, from financial distress to the technology leader in the biological market, closing the sale at $425 million plus milestone payments.   Previously, Marcus had a 14 year career at Chemtura Corporation, assuming multiple managerial roles ultimately becoming EVP for a $2 billion portfolio of businesses: crop protection, consumer products and plastics additives. Earlier in his career he worked for Sumitomo Corporation.  Marcus holds a degree in Biological Sciences, Genetics from the University of Birmingham, UK. 

Day One

Tuesday, February 25

9:00 am | Microbiome Leaders Panel Discussion

Omri Finkel
Post-Doctoral Research Associate
Dangl Lab, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

A native of Israel, Omri Finkel completed his BA in biology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. He went on to receive a Masters and PhD in environmental science at the same university under the supervision of Prof. Shimshon Belkin. His PhD work focused on the study of microbial communities on the leaf surfaces of a salt secreting desert tree, using shotgun metagenomics to discover novel functions of the phyllosphere microbiome. In 2014, Omri joined Prof. Jeff Dangl’s lab at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he was awarded the NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service potdoctoral fellowship  to study plant-microbe interactions under controlled lab settings. He is currently still at the Dangl lab as an HHMI Postdoctoral associate, using Arabidopsis together with synthetic bacterial communities as a model system for ecological interactions. 

Anthony Finbow
CEO
Eagle Genomics

Anthony has achieved success over many years as a CEO of technology businesses. Having occupied every seat at the board table: Chairman, CEO, CFO, NXD and Investor Director (for both public and private companies), Anthony is uniquely qualified to assist Leaders and their management teams in meeting and overcoming the most significant challenges that they will encounter on their journey. Currently CEO of Eagle Genomics, Anthony is also guest lecturer at Henley Business School and Leadership Development Coach at 360 Leaders. 

Day One

Tuesday, February 25

10:20 am | Microbiome Data as the Bridge Between Sustainable Agriculture and Functional Food

Peter Christey
CEO & Co-Founder
GALT

Peter Christey, Ph.D., is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of General Automation Lab Technologies, Inc. (GALT). Peter has extensive experience developing and commercializing instrument based solutions for life science applications. Prior to GALT, Peter was at Applied Biosystems/Life Technologies in various roles including leading the DNA forensic product line and General Manager for the flagship Sanger DNA sequencing business.  Peter holds a B.Sc. in biochemistry from the University of Otago, New Zealand, a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Cambridge, England and an MBA from INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France. 

Day One

Tuesday, February 25

9:50 am | A New Era in Microbiome Research: The Prospector High-throughput Microbial Cultivation & Screening Platform

Kellye Eversole
Executive Director
International Alliance for Phytobiomes Research & Eversole Associates

Kellye Eversole is President of Eversole Associates, a science and technology consulting firm, located in Bethesda, Maryland. She received a B.A. with distinction and special honors in Political Science from The George Washington University in 1983 and pursued Masters Studies in political philosophy at Georgetown University. After working in the US Senate on agricultural, environmental, trade, and budget issues for 10 years and serving 2 years as the head of a Federal study commission, she established Eversole Associates.  Since its inception in 1991, Eversole Associates has specialized in U.S. and international science and technology and agricultural, environmental, and economic development issues and projects. Ms. Eversole assists companies and industries in establishing long-term strategic visions and designs and implements methods for accomplishing the visions. She has extensive experience in agricultural genomics and biotechnology. Eversole has led several U.S. and international animal, plant, and microbial genome sequencing projects.  Most recently, Eversole helped to develop the sequencing strategy for the swine genome sequencing project and, currently, is leading the development of a strategy to sequence extremely large, complex, polyploidy species, such as the bread wheat genome. Eversole, a long-time advocate for agricultural biotechnology as a mechanism for enabling agricultural prosperity, serves as the Executive Director of the Specialty Crop Regulatory Assistance initiative. Eversole has been involved actively in various aspects of the agricultural industry that began as a child growing up on a wheat, cotton, and cattle farm in southwestern Oklahoma.  She is also President of the International Alliance for Phytobiomes Research (Phytobiomes Alliance), an international industry-academic collaborative initiative focused on building a phytobiome-basedfoundation for accelerating the sustainable production of food, feed, and fiber.  

Amit Vasavada
Senior Vice President, R&D & CTO
Marrone Bio Innovations

Dr. Amit Vasavada is the Sr. Vice President of R&D and Chief Technology Officer at Marrone Bio Innovations in Davis, California. He received his doctorate degree in Applied Microbiology from University of California, Davis. Since his doctoral training, he has been involved in Translational R&D, Process Development and Manufacturing of Bio-based products in Agriculture, Industrial and Pharmaceutical sectors. Prior to Marrone Bio Innovations, he gained valuable experience in biotechnology industry leaders such as Monsanto, Chiron (Novartis), and Diversa over the last 30 years. Currently, he leads Marrone BioInnovations’ R&D efforts to discover, develop and deliver smart, natural and sustainable biocontrol and plant health products as part of the integrated pest management programs for Agriculture. 

Oliver Baars
Assistant Professor
NCSU / Center for Integrated Fungal Research

Prof. Baars is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Entomology & Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University. His research investigates the ‘biochemical interactome’ - molecules that are secreted by plants and microorganisms for communication, for monopolizing or sharing of common resources, and for antagonistic interactions. His laboratory focuses on the impact of environmental or pathogen stress on metabolic interactions between plants and microbes. His research so far has studied trace-metal micronutrients in the environment and consequences of trace-metal availability for small-molecule microbiome interactions and biogeochemical cycles. After B.Sc. and M.Sc. studies in Chemistry at the University of Leipzig (Germany), Prof. Baars graduated with a Ph.D. in Chemical Oceanography from the University of Kiel (Germany). In his Ph.D. research, he studied the distribution and speciation of trace-metals as micro-nutrients in the ocean and how they can control microbial growth and the cycles of the major elements of life. In the following years as a Postdoc at Princeton University (NJ), he developed chelomics – a new metabolomic approach for discovery and characterization of metal-chelating compounds in complex samples. The application of chelomics has revealed unprecedented structures of secreted bacterial iron shuttles in cultures and environmental samples. 

Nandini Mendu
Senior Director, Agriculture Sector Development
North Carolina Biotechnology Center

Nandini Mendu has been the Senior Director of Agriculture Sector Development, at NC Biotechnology Center since March 2016. In this role, she works to strengthen and grow the ag ecosystem, crops and animal health & nutrition cluster.  Nandini previously held senior roles at Embrex, Pfizer and Zoetis. Her background also includes launching innovation programs, obtaining non-dilutive and cost-sharing funding, technology and IP assessment, business development and alliance management.   Nandini holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in Plant Biology from the University of Delhi, India and a Ph.D. in Genetics, from the University of Minnesota. 

Day Two

Wednesday, February 26

2:15 pm | Panel Discussion: Forging Meaningful Collaborations for Successful Agbiological Development Strategies

2:00 pm | Connections & Collaborations – A Non-Profit’s Toolkit for Technology Innovation

Jacob Parnell
Staff Scientist
Novozymes

Earned PhD at Michigan State University’s Center for Microbial Ecology in Soil Science and Microbial Ecology. Researched environmental metagenomics at Utah State University for five years before joining the staff as the terrestrial microbial ecologist at the National Ecological Observatory Network in Boulder Colorado. Currently a scientist at Novozymes and lead of the core microbiome project. 

Day Two

Wednesday, February 26

10:45 am | Investigating the Ecology of Corn & Soy Microbiomes

Tuval Ben-Yehezkel
CEO
Loop Genomics

Tuval Ben-Yehezkel, PhD is a scientist-entrepreneur focused on applied genomics and synthetic biology. He has authored key patents, publications and book chapters in synthetic biology and genomics. Tuval has also founded and secured $15.3M in funding for two biotech start-up companies (Loop Genomics & SynVaccine Ltd). 

Day Two

Wednesday, February 26

9:30 am | The Long & Short of Microbiome Sequencing

Kent Wood
Director of Plant Biology
Pivot Bio

Kent Wood is the Director of Plant Biology at Pivot Bio, an innovative agriculture technology company that identifies and fine-tunes microbes with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen for use by cereal crops.  At Pivot Kent is responsible for testing microbial candidates for efficacy. Much of this work is centered around the evaluation of microbes’ ability to populate the rhizosphere and to transfer nitrogen to the developing plant.  Prior to joining Pivot Bio, Kent held the position of scientist at DuPont Pioneer.  At DuPont Pioneer Kent first worked to develop plants with increased nitrogen use efficiency.  He was later involved in the discovery and validation of microbes with the potential to increase plant productivity, working in a group responsible for trait phenotyping in controlled environments and in the field. Kent received his BS in Genetics from the University of Georgia, and later his PhD in Genetics and Genomics from Duke University. His postdoctoral experience focused on increasing nitrogen uptake and assimilation in plants. 

John Kruse
Chief Technology Officer
Plant Response Biotech

John earned his doctorate in Soil Fertility and Soil Chemistry from the University of Georgia (USA) in 2005. He has worked in the agricultural industry with Koch Agronomic Services, developing products that enhance nutrient use efficiency, as well as developing biological products that enhance crop performance. Previously, he was a Crop Specialist for the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, with statewide responsibilities for research and extension programs in corn, cotton and grain sorghum. Prior to earning his doctorate, John worked for the Scotts Company as a Tech Rep in their Professional Turfgrass Division.  At PlantResponse™, John is focused on the strategic plan for developing greenhouse and field trial data for the company’s products and product candidates. This includes trials in major food and feed crops, such as corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, alfalfa and rice, as well as vegetable crops such as tomato, peppers, potato and onion.   

Day Two

Wednesday, February 26

9:45 am | Translating Scientifically Validated Microbial Hits into Functional Products

Tom Snipes
CEO
Plant Response Biotech

Tom is a business graduate from the University of South Carolina. He has over 25 years’ experience in global agriculture across the ag value chain, including crop protection, primary and secondary plant nutrients, specialty products, manufacturing, retail/distribution and business development. Over the last 5 years Tom has worked closely with the agricultural startup and biotech industry in business development roles. He has a passion for the agricultural industry and the new opportunities it is bringing to producers globally. 

Day Two

Wednesday, February 26

2:15 pm | Panel Discussion: Forging Meaningful Collaborations for Successful Agbiological Development Strategies

1:45 pm | Sharing Experiences of Working with Large Ag Strategics & Traditional VC Companies

Boris Vinatzer
Director of Field Development
Sound Agriculture

Dr. Vinatzer leverages DNA sequencing and bioinformatics to develop new tools to precisely classify and identify bacterial pathogens and agricultural biologicals for applications in plant disease diagnosis, disease prevention and control, biosecurity, and regulation. 

James White
Professor of Plant Biology
Rutgers University

James F. White is Professor of Plant Biology at Rutgers University where he and students conduct research on beneficial microbes that inhabit plant tissues.  Dr. White obtained the M.S. in Mycology and Plant Pathology from Auburn University, Alabama, and the Ph.D. in Mycology from the University of Texas, Austin in 1987.  Dr. White is the author of more than 200 articles, and author and editor of reference books on the biology of endophytes, including Biotechnology of Acremonium Endophytes of Grasses (1994), Microbial Endophytes (2000), The Clavicipitalean Fungi (2004), The Fungal Community: Its Organization and Role in the Ecosystem (2005, 2017), Defensive Mutualism in Microbial Symbiosis (2009), and Seed Endophytes: Biology and Biotechnology (2019).  Dr. White is a fellow of the AAAS, and Associate Editor for journals Fungal EcologySymbiosisMycoscience, and Scientific Reports, and also serves on the editorial boards of MDPI journals Biology and Microorganisms. 

Bruce Luzzi
Director of Field Development
Sound Agriculture

Bruce Luzzi is the Director, Field Development at Sound Agriculture. He brings considerable experience and expertise in custom design and management of field trials. Throughout his career, Bruce has worked across numerous crops and many continents implementing trials to support product discovery and development, commercial expansion, and registration. Bruce is skilled in analyzing and interpreting field trial data, supporting research and development, as well as identifying the best environments to maximize product performance and grower return on investment. Prior to joining Sound Agriculture, Bruce held global managerial and operational positions in the crop development departments of Monsanto, DuPont, Stoneville, BASF and Syngenta, and supported both chemical and microbial R&D programs at Plant Impact and Indigo Ag, respectively. Bruce was an assistant professor in the department of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph in Canada. He earned a PhD in agronomy from the University of Georgia, and a B.S in agronomy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Elizabeth Rieke
Project Scientist
Soil Health Institute

Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Rieke serves as the soil health indicators assessment project lead scientist for the northern Midwest and northeastern United States. She also leads the assessment of microbial population dynamics using genomic tools to identify microbial soil health indicators. Most recently, Dr. Rieke served as a postdoctoral research associate, Iowa State University Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. Dr. Rieke is a member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. She received her B.S. in Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, her M.S. in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and her Ph.D. in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering from Iowa State University.

Colin Steen
Head of Operations & Managing Director
Syngenta Ventures

Colin Steen joined Syngenta Ventures as Managing Director in January 2018. Throughout his 24+year career, Colin has held multiple Sales and Marketing leadership roles at Syngenta. His experiences have provided him a deep understanding of farmer needs. In addition to this experience, Colin was an Investment Manager at LSP BioVentures in Boston from 2006-2009. His work there included investments and board observer roles with Pasteuria BioSciences, Cobalt Biofuels and BioProcessors.  Colin serves on the Board of Directors for Premier Crop Systems and Sound Agriculture and as a board observer for Greenlight Biosciences and Power Pollen.   Colin holds a B.Sc in Agriculture from the University of Saskatchewan (focus in Crop Science) and a MBA from the University of Guelph. 

Day Two

Wednesday, February 26

2:15 pm | Panel Discussion: Forging Meaningful Collaborations for Successful Agbiological Development Strategies

1:30 pm | Corporate Venture Capital Investing – Working with the Business and R&D for Success

Doug Kremer
CEO
TerraMax, Inc

Mr. Kremer has over thirty-eight years’ experience with agricultural and horticultural businesses.  He has been involved in all aspects of the agricultural technology business world from research scientist to founding a successful 21-year-old business based on microbial inoculants. His background with cutting edge technologies started at the University of Minnesota in research and development with cell biology, genetic engineering and microbial formulation. He is responsible for the product development of the wide variety of TerraMax’s current microbial products and has the vision for future microbial technologies. Mr. Kremer has developed previously patented technology for the formulation of microbial technologies and continues to be a strong influencer with  microbial product concepts and markets.  

Ann Hirsch 
Professor & Principal Investigator
UCLA

Dr. Ann M. Hirsch joined UCLA in 1988 and has been a full professor in the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology since 1992. Dr. Hirsch earned her B.S. degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry at Marquette University in Wisconsin and earned her Ph.D. in Botany at the University of California-Berkeley. She did her postdoctoral research at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, where she began her research on plant-microbe interactions. Dr. Hirsch has been actively involved in both graduate and undergraduate education and also in international education and research collaborations. 

Colin Stewart
Assistant Director - Pests, Pathogens & Biocontrol Permits Branch
USDA APHIS PPQ

Colin earned his doctorate in entomology from the University of Georgia focusing on pest management urban landscapes. He was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland before serving as an assistant professor/homeowner greenhouse IPM specialist at the University of Maine. Colin joined APHIS in 2005 as an entomologist for Veterinary Services. He later joined the group which he now supervises evaluating permit applications for the movement of arthropods affecting field crops, forests, and other areas. Colin served in temporary roles as chiefs of staff, critical issues manager, and in supervisory positions. Colin then accepted the position of lead chief of staff for APHIS PPQ. He now runs a group of entomologists, plant pathologists, and support staff who evaluate permit applications for the importation and interstate movement of plant pests and biological control agents. In his spare time he can be found in his kayak with his camera. 

Day Two

Wednesday, February 26

11:55 am | Audience Debate: Understanding How Regulatory Requirements Feed into Specific Considerations for the Agbiological Product Development Cycle

11:25 am | Understanding How USDA APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine Regulates Organisms in the Phytobiome and the Changes in Plant Pest Regulation

Eric Triplett
Professor & Chair
University of Florida, IFAS

Professor and Chair of the Microbiology and Cell Science Department in the Institute of  Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida.  Studies the drivers of  microbial diversity in a wide variety of environments including soil, plant, and human. Received PhD from the University of Missouri, Columbia followed by a postdoc stint at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.   Joined UF in current role in 2003. 

Andy Renz
Vice President, Business Development
Vestaron Corporation

Andy leads Vestaron’s business development and brings over 20 years of industry experience in agricultural innovation and business development. He held management positions at BASF, was Vice President of Business Development at Benson Hill Biosystems, and is on the industry advisory board of ag tech start-up’s, incubators and ag innovation conferences. He has a strong network in agricultural solutions and is an expert in international negotiations. Andy studied biology and received a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Bayreuth, Germany. 

Bruce Caldwell
CEO
3BarBiologics

Bruce Caldwell is the founder and CEO of 3Bar Biologics, a seed stage spinout from The Ohio State University dedicated to improving yield and productivity in agriculture.  Prior to starting 3Bar, Mr. Caldwell served as Senior Vice President of R&D for ScottsMiracle-Gro, where he led a global organization in the creation and delivery of a broad portfolio of innovations in the consumer lawn and garden category. Prior to joining ScottsMiracle-Gro, Mr. Caldwell worked for The Procter & Gamble Company where he held roles of increasing responsibility in Food, Beverage, and Beauty Care R&D.  Mr. Caldwell holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and an MBA from the University of Cincinnati. He has served as an executive mentor at Ohio State’s Center for Entrepreneurship, the Vice President’s Advisory Council for the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences, and the board of trustees for COSI Columbus. He also currently serves as a 4RN auditor for the Nutrient Stewardship Council.  

Day One

Tuesday, February 25

9:00 am | Microbiome Leaders Panel Discussion