2018 Speakers

We’re hard at working putting together our 2018 stellar lineup! For an idea of what to expect, check out the 2017 roster below and sign up for our newsletter for our latest programming announcements.

Keynote Speakers

Arama Kukutai
Co-Founder & Partner

Investing in Innovation – The Ag Tech Effect

Arama Kukutai is a co-founder and Partner at Finistere Ventures, a pioneer in the Agriculture and Food technology sectors founded in 2005. Mr. Kukutai has over 20 years of experience in the Agribusiness sector as a founder, entrepreneur, investor, and corporate banker.

He served as Executive Chairman of PKW Farms, a successful agribusiness and diversified investment entity involved in dairy farming and aquaculture activities in New Zealand, Asia and Australia. Arama also led the New Zealand government’s Trade & Investment agency in North America, and had a successful career in corporate banking prior to emigrating to the USA. Mr. Kukutai serves on the boards of current portfolio companies CropX and Zeakal.

Steve Rhodes
Chairman & CEO

Renowned for its technological prowess and more than 100 years of success in solving agricultural challenges from drip irrigation to pest control, Israel has been attracting increased attention from ag tech investors, leading companies, and entrepreneurs. With a unique and successful business model that encompasses incubation and government support, Steve lends his thoughts on why entrepreneurship continues to thrive in this vibrant market.

Under the direction of Steve Rhodes, Trendlines International has grown into one of Israel’s leading business consulting firms. As an innovation commercialization company, Steve brings decades of business, finance, and banking experience that has expanded the Group’s activities internationally, including raising funds for Trendlines’ portfolio of companies around the world. Learn more about Steve, The Trendlines Group, and their portfolio of incredible companies here.

Tom Droog

A Successful Exit: The story of Spitz Sunflower Seeds’ sale to PepsiCo!

In 1972, Tom Droog immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands with $125 and a piece of advice from his father: “You can spend it once”.  With a dream of owning his own farm and growing crops he could market himself, Tom and his wife moved to Alberta, and eventually decided on sunflowers.

In 1989, they bought their first roaster and started Spitz Sunflower Seeds, a brand synonymous with the tasty treat. After 25 years of continuous innovation and a strong dominance over the competition, Tom and his wife were picked up in a Learjet and flown to Dallas where they sold the business to Frito Lay, a division of PepsiCo, in 2008.

Through his inspiring success story, Tom shares his love for farming and agriculture, why he thinks Canada presents a tremendous opportunity landscape for agriculture, and a few secrets on building and operating an outstanding agribusiness.

Alumni Speakers

Ben Chostner
Vice President, Business Development

Robotics, Automation and Machine Learning: The Next Leap in Precision Farming

Ben Chostner was drawn Blue River’s vision of a robot in every field caring for every plant and joined the team in its early days as the second employee. He has played a key role in bringing the smart machines to life by linking the needs of growers on the farm to research and product development in the lab. These machines have cared for billions of plants over their first few years in the field. Today, Ben spends his time forming technology strategy for the next set of smart farming machines and forging partnerships with farmers and suppliers.

Prior to joining Blue River Technology, Ben worked as a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group where he served clients across the logistics, healthcare, wine-making and manufacturing industries. In this work Ben focused on corporate strategy, distribution, global growth, marketing and new market entry for Fortune 100 companies.

Ben earned a BS Mechanical Engineering from University of Illinois and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Ben grew up in northern Illinois and comes from a long line of Illinois farmers.

Andrew Pylypchuk
Account Executive - Agriculture

Planet Labs: An Earth Observation Revolution

Andrew Pylypchuk is currently an Account Executive with Planet Labs. He began his career in the Remote Sensing industry as a Project Manager with Pacific Geomantics in British Columbia. In that role, he was very involved in creating imagery databases for full motion aviation simulators which were used for both military and civilian training.

He later took a position with BlackBridge Geomantics where he quickly moved from Senior Project Manager to Regional Sales Manager. At BlackBridge, Andrew supported channel partners in their sales efforts and developed new business verticals.

In 2015, BlackBridge was acquired by Planet Labs. Today Andrew’s focus is on the agriculture industry. He works directly with visionary industry leaders to leverage the world’s largest constellation of Earth imaging satellites. With more than fifteen years of experience within the geospatial industry; Andrew knows how to combine business development and product management to develop and deliver customer-oriented solutions. His understanding of the science behind satellite imagery and image processing, as well as his ability to utilize new technologies, has been especially useful in driving growth for both Planet’s partners and customers.

Alumni Companies

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Aryn Guthrie
Project Manager
Direct: (587) 350-3309
Email: aryn@criticalpathgroup.com