top of page

2022 Speakers

David Slaughter

Dr. David C. Slaughter is a professor in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department and director of the Smart Farm Initiative at the University of California, Davis. He is the winner of the 2019 ASABE Cyrus Hall McCormick-Jerome Increase Case Gold Medal for meritorious engineering achievement in agriculture. He received his Ph.D. degree (1987) at the University of Florida, his M.Sc. degree (1984) at North Carolina State University, and his B.Sc. degree (1982) at the University of California, Davis. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

ARAMA KUKUTAI Final Headshot.jpg
Arama Kukutai

Arama Kukutai is the CEO of Plenty. He is also the co-founder of Finistere Ventures, one of the pioneering venture firms dedicated to Agrifood investment.

Arama has been an investor, company founder and entrepreneur in the Agribusiness sector for over 20 years. Previously, he served as founder and Executive Chairman of PKW Farms, developing and operating sustainable grass-based dairy farming and aquaculture activities across New Zealand, Asia and Australia. He has also led the creation of Finistere’s international portfolio and expansive global network in AgTech.

An active speaker, writer and thought leader in Agrifood sustainability, technology innovation and investment trends, Arama brings vast global operating experience to Plenty as it transitions from research to commercial operations. Arama holds law and business/agronomy degrees from the Victoria University of Wellington (NZ).

MWall 2021 A.jpg
Marisa Wall

Dr. Marisa Wall is the Center Director of the U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, Hawaii. She has been a scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for 20 years, specializing in postharvest physiology, quarantine treatment and export, and value-added processes for tropical crops. As Director of U.S. PBARC, she coordinates multi-disciplinary research programs in plant genetic resource management, crop improvement, pest and disease management, and postharvest technologies for tropical fruit, nut, vegetable, and ornamental crops.

Nicholas Comerford

Nicholas Comerford joined the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources as Dean in September of 2017. He came from the University of Florida where he was the Director of the North Florida Research and Education Center and Professor in the Soil and Water Science Department. Dr. Comerford earned his PhD in Silviculture and Forest Influences from the State University of New York and Syracuse University, his master’s degree in Forestry from the University of Minnesota, and his bachelor’s degree in Forestry from the University of Illinois.

Robbert Blonk

Robbert Blonk Ph.D., is Director of Research and Development with Hendrix Genetics Aquaculture B.V., the Netherlands. He is responsible for the Hendrix Genetics aquaculture breeding programs and product development for Atlantic salmon in Scotland and Chili, Rainbow trout in the U.S.A., and whiteleg shrimp in the U.S.A. and Ecuador, as well as the management of genetic support to major third party programs for several major salmon production companies in Scotland and Chili. Robbert did a Ph.D. in quantitative genetics in aquaculture at Wageningen UR, Animal Breeding and Genomics group and works with Hendrix Genetics since 2016.

Bruce Mathews

Bruce Mathews is dean and professor of soil science and agronomy for the College of Agriculture, Forestry & Natural Resource Management at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and has worked there since 1993. His areas of research are plant nutrient cycling and soil fertility as affected by environmental conditions and crop management; assessment of the impact of agricultural and forestry production practices on soil, coastal wetlands, and surface waters; and development of environmentally sound and economically viable nutrient management practices for pastures, forests, and field crops in the tropics.

Megan Hochstrasser

Megan Hochstrasser is a science communicator and CRISPR expert with a passion for making complicated scientific topics accessible to anyone. Dr. Hochstrasser has a B.A. in Biology from Brown University and received her Ph.D. from Jennifer Doudna's lab at UC Berkeley, where she studied natural CRISPR systems. She joined the Innovative Genomics Institute in 2016 to lead communications and later, education and outreach. In 2022, she became the Lead Editor at Arcadia Science, working to advance open science and rethink research communication.

Blake Simmons Headshot.tif
Blake Simmons

Dr. Simmons is the Director of the Biological Systems and Engineering Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He also serves as the Chief Science and Technology Officer and Vice-President of the Deconstruction Division at the Joint BioEnergy Institute. A focus of his research is the development of novel technologies for biomass deconstruction, the process of breaking down and fractionating lignocellulose into targeted intermediates for the production of biofuels and bioproducts. He has over 350 publications, 50 patents and patent applications, and is the co-founder of two startup companies working in renewable energy and bioenergy. His work has appeared in the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, iBiology, Fast Company, and the KQED televised science program Quest.

Toru Mitsuboshi
Toru Mitsuboshi

Toru Mitsuboshi is the Senior Researcher at the Central Research Laboratory of Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd. (Nissui). Mr. Mitsuboshi joined Nissui shortly after completing his graduate studies and has been with the company for over 30 years. He has worked on developing technologies for the production of various marine species from nursery stage to harvest size in both land-based closed systems and off-shore large scale submergible cage systems. Toru has worked on salmon, halibut, grouper, pufferfish, amberjack and shrimp. Nissui is a Japanese multinational conglomerate and the world’s second largest seafood supplier.

Jan Yoshioka

Jan Yoshioka leads global blue economy investing for Conservation International Ventures LLC (“CI Ventures”), an emerging markets focused impact investment fund managed by Conservation International, a leading U.S. environmental nonprofit organization working in more than 30 countries globally. CI Ventures specializes in debt, hybrid debt and early stage financing solutions for enterprises delivering nature-positive outcomes across multiple land use sectors. Jan is a native of Hilo, Hawaii and currently resides in Washington, D.C.

Ku McMahan picture.jpg
Lanakila "Ku" McMahan

Dr. Ku McMahan serves as Team Lead for Water and Energy for Food: A Grand Challenge for Development in the US Global Development Lab at USAID.  He received his Ph.D. in environmental sciences and an M.P.H. in environmental health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under NSF and EPA STAR Fellowships. He received a B.A. in environmental sciences and policy. In addition, he developed a simple, low-cost water quality test for developing countries and emergency situations. Ku was recently a program executive officer for the USAID WA-WASH program in GLOWS and assistant professor of research at Florida International University.

Shu Watanabe

Shu Watanabe is responsible for the management and business development of CropScope at NEC Corporation in Japan. CropScope is a digital agriculture solution platform using AI and analytics to optimize the entire value chain. It has particular strengths in fertilization and irrigation. CropScope is currently being rolled out in nine countries worldwide to optimize tomato, spices, coffee and sugarcane etc. Mr. Watanabe has been with NEC since 2011. He has an academic background in mechanical engineering and has been granted several patents in optical design. Shu has served as an Executive Officer at GRA Japan and is now an Executive Advisor.

Rahul Thakkar

Rahul Thakkar is an Academy Award winning hands-on executive, thought leader and inventor of over 70 patents who specializes in developing technology to process large datasets in the Cloud. He has a long history as an expert in remote sensing and imaging. He has held multiple roles at Boeing, as their Director of Infrastructure Transformation, Director of Advanced Services, and Director of Commercial Cloud. Prior to Boeing, Thakkar was the VP of R&D at Brivo (acquired by Drako Ventures) and was the Chief Corporate Architect and VP of Technology at PIXIA Corp (acquired by Cubic). Prior to this he was a distinguished member of R&D staff at DreamWorks Animation where he created technology for films like Shrek (2002 Academy Award® for Best Animated Feature), Antz, and Legend of Bagger Vance. In 2016 Thakkar won an Academy Award for scientific and technical achievement for his "groundbreaking design" of the DreamWorks Animation Media Review System.

Richard Chuang

Founder of d1n0 a startup to leverage creative innovations using advances in technology.  He is advising various technology startups from bio-medical engineering to the latest AR applications.  Previously he founded Cloudpic, a technology company focused on digital content creation and multi-channel deliveries.   He consulted and served as CEO for studios worldwide for project and business development, directed studios and startups into new markets like AI/Machine Learning, AR/VR, Real-time production, mobile and gaming along with studio capacity and quality enhancement and talent development for film and television.   Richard was a co-founder of PDI (PDI/DreamWorks) over 40 years ago.  Richard pioneered the studio’s proprietary animation system, which received his first Academy Technical Achievement Award in 1998 and received his second in 2016.  Chuang’s expertise is in the latest computer technologies like AR/VR and AI/ML.

elemexcel-july21-315-headshots-ijfkeridgley-web (002).jpg
Mitch Rubin

Mitch leads Elemental Excelerator’s food, agriculture, and nature-based solutions portfolio. He has spent his career both operating and supporting a variety of startups, and helps Elemental's portfolio companies connect with high value partners and resources that address their most pressing needs. In addition to providing guidance to the portfolio, Mitch co-designs projects with Elemental's entrepreneurs and stakeholders, spearheads diligence and recruitment for the sector, and helps engage corporates interested in innovation and sustainability.

Michelle GGalimba.jpg
Michelle Galimba

Michelle Galimba is a cattle rancher in Ka’u on Hawaiʻi Island where she runs Kuahiwi Ranch with her brother, Guy.  Their family ranch provides locally grown beef to supermarkets, farmer’s markets, and restaurants on Oahu and Hawaiiʻi Island.  Having grown up in agriculture in Hawaiʻi, she has seen first hand the stresses  and constraints which make farming and ranching particularly challenging in Hawaiʻi. She is interested in the key role that agriculture, particularly small farms, has to play in addressing the big challenges of our time: economic inequity, political dis-enfranchisement, biodiversity loss, and climate change.  Michelle has served on the State of Hawaiʻi’s Board of Agriculture as well as on the boards of numerous agricultural organizations and conservation non-profits.

Greg Barbour
Greg Barbour

Barbour has been involved in economic development in Hawaii for the past 35 years. Barbour was appointed as Executive Director of Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in 2011. At NELHA, he is responsible for the operation, maintenance, development and expansion of the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park (HOST Park) in Kailua Kona on the Island of Hawaii. The innovative green economic development park is administered by NELHA, a self-sufficient State of Hawaii agency.

Ryan Ozawa

Ryan is co-founder and CEO of Smart Yields, an ag-tech startup established in 2015 to make precision agriculture accessible to small- to medium-sized independent farms. Smart Yields is an award-winning alumni of several accelerator programs, including Blue Startups and Elemental Excelerator, and was also selected to participate and present the first Vatican-blessed startup program in Rome. Ryan is also an independent journalist and veteran of the Hawaii tech and startup scene, currently publishing the Facebook-funded Hawaii Bulletin and serving as a community engagement specialist for Hawaii's Digital Currency Innovation Lab. An unabashed lifelong geek and proud father of three, he holds a degree in journalism from the University of Hawaii and is a graduate of Mililani High School.

Larry cropped.jpg
Larry Purcell

Larry Purcell is a Distinguished Professor of Crop Physiology at the University of Arkansas and holds the Altheimer Endowed Chair for Soybean Research. Dr. Purcell’s research focuses on optimizing the efficiency with which crops use essential resources of light, water, and nutrients through management and genetic strategies. This research has included screening thousands of ancestral soybean landraces for traits that confer drought tolerance and using genetic strategies to incorporate those traits into high-yielding, modern varieties. Dr. Purcell received his BS (1981) and MS (1984) degrees in Agronomy from the University of Georgia and his PhD in Agronomy/Crop Physiology from the University of Florida in 1992.

Richard Ha

Born and raised on Hawaii Island, Richard Ha is a Hawaii agriculture and renewable energy visionary and thought leader. Richard has more than 40 years of experience in banana farming and growing hydroponic tomatoes. In addition to building and operating the state’s largest commercial banana farm, Richard was also an innovative businessman by combining agriculture to renewable energy. As a Native Hawaiian, Richard is a proponent of aligning business practices to traditional Hawaiian values. Richard is a US Army Vietnam Veteran.

Kaeo Duarte.jpg
Ka'eo Duarte

Kā‘eo Duarte is the Vice President of Community & ʻĀina Resiliency at Kamehameha Schools, charged with stewardship of 360,000 acres of ʻĀina Pauahi (KS land holdings) on five islands.  He previously served as West Hawaiʻi Regional Director where he oversaw KS initiatives to unify and elevate people, programs, and land assets for greater community impact.  Prior to joining KS, he was a faculty member at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa where he specialized in indigenous resource management and hydrological sciences.  Duarte is currently Chair of the Board of Directors for Hawaiʻi Green Growth, and Chair of the Hawaiʻi Fresh Water Council.  He holds a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Princeton University, and Doctorate in environmental engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kyle copy.jpeg
Kyle Datta

Kyle Datta is currently a Senior Advisor at Rolan Berger and Finistere Ventures.  Kyle has deep and global expertise in transforming energy systems, with over 25 years of experience.   As a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he served as managing director of the Asia energy practice and the U.S. utility practice and oversaw the firms efforts to guide the utility industry through deregulation and the wholesale power markets.  As managing director of research and consulting at the Rocky Mountain Institute, he helped energy clients address distributed approaches to the utility sector.  As General Partner of Ulupono, he has led the firm’s investment and regulatory efforts to help the industry adapt to grid parity of distributed resources.

jesse_cooke-15 copy.png
Jesse Cooke

At Ulupono Initiative, Jesse oversees a team of investment associates and provides crucial guidance on the firm’s agricultural strategy. He provides financial and technical due-diligence for investment decisions on various projects, with a focus on seeking and supporting organizations working to increase local food production in the islands.

A graduate of St. Louis School in Honolulu, Jesse earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Emory University and a Master of Business Administration from the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. Prior to joining Ulupono Initiative, he worked at Hawaiian Airlines, The Walt Disney Company, Harren Equity Partners and the Wachovia Leveraged Finance Group. He is a recognized CFA® charterholder and is a member of the CFA® Society of Hawaii. 

George Kellerman_Woven Capital_2022.JPG
George Kellerman

George Kellerman is the global head of investments and acquisitions for Woven Planet and serves as the Managing Director of Woven Capital. Prior to joining Woven Planet, George served as CEO and Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Ventures and Managing Partner at 500 Startups. In earlier roles, he served as the Managing Director of Dell Japan’s consumer business, as the VP of International Business Development at Yahoo! JAPAN, and as Corporate Counsel at Yahoo! Inc. George received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of California Berkeley School of Law, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Walter Bowen

Walter Bowen is the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Having joined CTAHR in February 2019, Walter has more than 30 years of experience in higher education and international agricultural research, including research administration, project management, participatory research with smallholder farmers, human and institutional capacity development, and research to develop soil and crop growth simulation models. In addition to directing international agriculture programs at the University of Florida, Walter has lived and worked in several countries while carrying out research and development activities with Cornell University, the International Potato Center, the International Fertilizer Development Center, and the U.S. Peace Corps. Walter earned his PhD in agronomy from Cornell University.

Alapaki Nahale-a

Alapaki Nahale-a is the interim CEO for the Global Resiliency Hub at ‘Iole. Born and raised in Hilo, Nahale-a is a 1986 graduate of Kamehameha Schools and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Pennsylvania. Nahale-a spent 30 years serving the community in a variety of roles including as director and chairman of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. He also worked extensively for charter schools as president and executive director of the Hawaiʻi Charter School Network, director of Laupāhoehoe Community Public Charter School and Ka ʻUmeke Kaʻeo Hawaiian Immersion Public Charter School. He served on a variety of community boards and commissions including the County of Hawaiʻi Cultural Resources Commission, Hawaii County Charter Commission, and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. He is currently a Regent for the University of Hawaii. President Obama appointed Nahale-a to serve on the Presidential Scholars Commission.

Lisa Kleissner

Lisa Kleissner cofounded and chairs the boards of the KL Felicitas Foundation – a foundation that advocates its 100% impact investment strategy; and Hawaiʻi Investment Ready – an accelerator for Hawaiʻi impact enterprises. She is a board advisor and investment committee member of Aqua-Spark, a Netherland-based global sustainable aqua-culture tech fund, and a board member of Real Good Fish, a California-based community-supported fishery. Lisa is co-founder and past board chair of the Toniic Institute, a global impact investor network, and The Philanthropy Workshop, a global philanthropy network. She received her B Arch in Environmental Design from UH Mānoa and was the principal of The Kleissner Group, providing facility development services to technology and biotech startups in Silicon Valley.

bottom of page