Meet Our Board

Laura J. Kilcrease, C.M.A., MBA (Board Chair)

CEO, Alberta Innovates

Born in London, England, and recruited from Austin, Texas, where she had spent over two decades as the founding CEO of Triton Ventures, Laura Kilcrease served as a member of the Alberta Research and Innovation Advisory Committee for seven years prior to joining Alberta Innovates (AI) in 2017.

She is widely recognised as a key contributor to the transformation of Austin from its dependence on oil revenue to high-tech prosperity and ultimately becoming the United States’ #1 city of choice for entrepreneurs.

Having spent over 25 years commercialising technology, Ms. Kilcrease brings an extraordinary track record in innovation ecosystem performance and design. In addition to myriad accomplishments delivered during her time in Texas, since arriving at AI she has steered the organisation’s restructuring, spearheaded a program assessment initiative, and launched Inventure$, an annual gathering of innovators, investors, industry leaders, and global researchers, which PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated catalysed some $200M in potential deal flow in 2019.

These achievements have not gone unnoticed, and she has been formally recognised with the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the Austin Business Journal’s Profiles in Power Award, and the University of Texas McCombs School of Business Trailblazer Award.

A dedicated community builder, Laura has supported the Women’s Leadership Advisory Board of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, the Beyster Institute, World Congress for Information Technology 2006, and the IC² Institute at The University of Texas. She currently serves on the board of the University Federal Credit Union, one of the top 100 financial institutions of its kind in the U.S.

Micheline Ayoub, PhD

Agricultural Innovation Expert

The term “multiculturalism” was coined by a Canadian, and is the bedrock of our society, which is one of the reasons CAAIN seeks out diversity of background and experience. We want our staff and board to bring a range of views to the table. Micheline Ayoub epitomises this value. Her list of accomplishments includes earning graduate degrees in Agronomy and Plant Breeding from McGill University and a BSc in Biology from The Lebanese University, as well as an extraordinary history of volunteerism. We cannot list them all, but how’s this for diverse? She has served as a first responder in a war zone, as a board member of the McGill Society of Montreal, and as a special advisor on sustainable development and strategic environmental directions to the Mayor of Maasser el Shouf, in Shouf, Lebanon. Her international education has been bolstered by skills honed working on intellectual property, research management, partnership development, the legal aspects of collaborative research, technology and knowledge transfer, granting-system management, peer review processes, program performance assessment, and governance. In short, she is an ideal addition to the board of an organisation with the dual mandates of supporting agri-food innovation and building a sustainable sectoral network.

When she isn’t forging and nurturing partnerships for My Intelligent Machines, a Montreal-based start-up leading the way in life sciences AI software, Dr. Ayoub enjoys singing in a choir, supporting her children’s school in various capacities, and walking her family’s very large, very playful malamute.

David Bailey PhD, ICD.D

President & CEO, Genome Alberta

An award-winning researcher and the author of more than 60 peer-reviewed manuscripts, David Bailey was born and raised in the educational enclave of Lennoxville in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. He completed a BSc in Biology at Bishop’s University before moving on to the University of Alberta, earning a PhD in Genetics and Animal Breeding in 1985. Upon graduation, he joined Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) as a research scientist in Lethbridge, Alberta, launching a 21-year career that saw him appointed in 2003 to the role of Director General responsible for 11 federal research centres across the country. Dr. Bailey left AAFC in three years later to become the inaugural president and CEO of Genome Alberta. However, agriculture remains in his blood, and in addition to raising draft horses on his small mixed farm northwest of Calgary, he volunteers as a member of the Calgary Stampede’s International Agri-Food Committee and serves as a mentor in Sustainable Agriculture & Food Security with 4-H Canada.

Stuart Cullum, BA, BEd, MBA, ICD.D

President, Red Deer Polytechnic

A Central Albertan to his core, Stuart Cullum lives and works less than an hour from his native Three Hills, a small agricultural community located 130 km northeast of Calgary. He is well suited for his current role by his upbringing, his professional background, and his education, which includes bachelor’s degrees in Arts and Education from the University of Lethbridge, and an MBA earned at the University of Alberta. Mr. Cullum farmed commercially for approximately 10 years, worked in agriculture venture finance, and over the last two decades has enjoyed a number of educational opportunities, including teaching in the K-12 system, and occupying a series of increasingly senior administrative positions in various post-secondary institutions, culminating first with his leadership of Olds College, and now his current role as President of Red Deer Polytechnic, leveraging his training and experience in agriculture, administration, and education.

His career path has focused on a search for opportunities to contribute to the development and use of new knowledge, technology, and practices, and a desire to prepare young people learning to apply innovation so they may be better prepared to contribute to our economic, environmental, and social well-being.

In addition to his significant contribution to CAAIN, Stuart gives back by participating in various local initiatives, serving on several community committees, and involving himself in mentoring programs.

Bethany Deshpande, PhD

Founder and CEO, SomaDetect

A Haligonian (it’s a real word…honest) by choice who loves Canada’s East Coast, Bethany Deshpande grew up in the agricultural heartland of Guelph, Ontario. She is a successful agtech entrepreneur who attributes her achievements to, “A series of accidents and good luck.” We beg to differ. Undergrad Arts and Education degrees from the Glendon Campus of York University, followed by an MSc and PhD in Environmental Biology earned at Université Laval, are evidence of extraordinary intellect bolstered by an exceptional work ethic. She’s needed both qualities to conceptualise, launch, and grow SomaDetect from a few folks working out of an apartment to 23 employees in Canada and the U.S.

Scientific innovation runs in the family, as she and her two partners founded the company to commercialise a discovery made by Bethany’s biophysicist father, Dr. Satish Deshpande. He noticed in 2014 that his low-resource medical diagnostic tests could measure fat content and somatic cells in milk. Two years later, SomaDetect was born with a mission to provide dairy farmers with tools that allow them for the first time to monitor milk quality and herd health.

Bethany’s passion for her work stems from its place at the intersection of agriculture, data, and sustainability, which, not coincidentally, aligns perfectly with her responsibilities as a member of CAAIN’s board of directors. When she’s not building her business or engaging in extensive community-based volunteer work, focusing particularly on agtech, food, science, and supporting women entrepreneurs like herself, Dr. Deshpande enjoys spending time in nature, creating pottery, painting watercolours, and singing.

Cornelia Kreplin, DVM, PhD

Retired Agri-Food Sector Expert

Originally from Ontario, Cornelia has spent the bulk of her professional life in Alberta, first as a veterinarian, then in a series of increasingly senior roles with government and at Alberta Innovates, from which she “retired” in January 2021 as Executive Director of the Smart Agriculture and Food (SAF) division. While leading SAF she was asked to spearhead the planning, development, and launch of CAAIN, eventually assuming the mantle of interim CEO, a role she relinquished in April 2021 upon the hiring of a permanent chief executive officer. A skilled strategic and operational planner, Dr. Kreplin brings decades-worth of provincial, national, and international agricultural experience and connections to CAAIN’s governance team, providing guidance and helping to grow the network.

When not contributing to various boards and advisory committees, Cornelia occasionally stops to spend time with her veterinarian husband and their Jack Russell Terrier.

Chris Paterson

Venture Partner, Tall Grass Ventures

It’s hardly surprising that Chris Paterson believes farming to be a “universal language.” Consider that he grew up on a farm near Marsden, SK, studied Agricultural Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan, attended the renowned Harvard Agribusiness Seminar, runs North American digital farming activities for one of the world’s largest companies, and lives near Calgary on—you guessed it—a farm. In short, agriculture is both vocation and avocation; it’s what he does and who he is.

Agtech is quite simply transforming the way food is produced. In his current role, Chris helps advance the adoption of a suite of digital technologies, thereby witnessing the transformation first-hand as the most traditional of industries evolves with dizzying speed. That front-row seat creates perspective, and he feels able to provide significant value to CAAIN by leveraging experience gained working for Canadian and overseas agribusinesses, as well as through his extensive volunteer activities with agriculture technology companies, accelerators, and venture investment funds.

More specifically, contributing to the strategic direction of an organisation tasked with driving innovation in today’s increasingly complex agri-food ecosystem requires an understanding of investment capital, talent pools, strategic insight, market access, technology validation, and the IP landscape. Mr. Paterson’s background includes having learned some valuable do’s and don’ts, in addition to having allowed him to forge valuable connections, all of which can benefit CAAIN, its project partners, and its expanding network.

In their spare time, the Patersons can be found travelling the globe, riding motorbikes, scuba diving, and—naturally—checking out local agriculture. It, after all, a universal language.

Robert Saik, PAg, CAC

Founder and CEO, AGvisorPRO | Answers Now

To call Robert Saik a champion of Canadian agtech is akin to saying Wayne Gretzky played hockey. That is, both are obvious and massive understatements. The founder of over 15 agriculture-related businesses has two public exits under his belt. His current enterprise is AGvisorPRO, a connectivity platform that connects those seeking agriculture advice with experts who can provide answers now.

He has enjoyed an extraordinary 40-year career as Professional Agrologist, entrepreneur, and international consultant since graduating from the University of Alberta with a BSc in Agriculture. A respected author and agricultural futurist, Mr. Saik has advised the likes of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the Government of Nigeria, and Bill Gates.

He has been recognised for his leadership and professional excellence by the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, which named him its 2006 Distinguished Agrologist of the Year, and by the Canadian Agri-Marketing Association, which honoured his business acumen by presenting him with its 2014 Canadian Agri-Marketer of the Year award. In 2021, Agribition identified him as being one of Canada’s Top 50 Most Influential Leaders.

When he is neither working nor volunteering for a list of organisations too long to include here, Robert divides his time between homes in Alberta and Arizona, motorcycling, sailing, and enjoying his four children and seven grandchildren.

Deb Stark, DVM, MBA

Retired Agriculture Sector Leader

Growing up in Southwestern Ontario and focusing on becoming a veterinarian, Deb Stark never dreamed of a career in public service. In fact, she was practising in a rural community when she had a hankering for more education. The MBA at Wilfrid Laurier University seemed a good choice, as it was a generalist’s degree that would expose her to non-scientific thinking.

To make some extra money while in school, Deb took a parttime job as an extension vet with the Government of Ontario. A planned three-year stint morphed into a distinguished 30-year career that included six years as the province’s Chief Veterinary Officer, and culminated with her being appointed Deputy Minister of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

In 2016, wanting to try something new, she retired, and has been busier than ever, serving on numerous not-for-profit boards, participating in mentorship programs, becoming part of an angel investment community, and providing strategic advice to the Ontario Sheep Farmers. In her “spare time,” Deb helps out at her local long-term care facility and writes the occasional short story. She admits that along with all the success, there has been the occasional failure. For instance, in 2022 she and her husband tried to foster some cats, but they failed miserably—or at least, that’s the official humane society finding. The rest of us understand that the Starks merely fell in love with their charges and ended up adopting them. And really, if that is her definition of failure, we are very, very grateful Dr. Stark accepted our invitation to join the CAAIN Board of Directors.

But why add to an already full plate? “I’m interested in how technology is transforming our food system and redefining the role of a farmer. I believe it’s critical that Canadian agriculture adapt quickly. We are one of only a few net exporting countries, and have several natural advantages (land, climate, water). The world needs Canadian ag.” We hear that, Deb. We definitely hear that.

Fred Wall

Vice-President, Marketing and Digital Agriculture, Farm Credit Canada

Currently the FCC’s VP of Marketing and Digital Agriculture, Fred Wall is responsible for course-correcting challenges and managing complicated, leading-edge projects requiring innovative thinking. His three-pronged expertise in technology marketing, agriculture, and research contribute to his being a perfect fit with CAAIN’s board. An additional reason we’re so glad to have him is his stated preference for advising from a background position in his volunteer roles, which include supporting inner-city projects and helping children with special needs.

The passion for helping youth is a spillover from Mr. Wall’s personal life, as he and his wife completed what they called, “The Six Continents Project.” Over a 10-year period, before their children started leaving the nest, the family went on a series of trips that saw the Walls enjoy meaningful experiences on all six populated continents.

Rickey Yada, PhD

Dean, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia

Describing Vancouver native Rickey Yada’s academic career and credentials as anything less than “distinguished,” would be laughable, and even that seems understated. A graduate of the faculty over which he now presides, Professor Yada is an internationally renowned food science expert. Prior to being appointed dean of his alma mater’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems, he held numerous senior positions at the University of Guelph, notably: Chair, Department of Food Science; Assistant Vice President, Research; Canada Research Chair in Food Protein Structure; and Scientific Director of the Advanced Foods and Materials Network. His list of current and former Canadian and international accolades and activities is lengthy and impressive, and includes being co editor-in-chief of Trends in Food Science and Technology, past president of the Deans Council of the Faculties of Agriculture, Food and Veterinary Medicine in Canada, and a past president and fellow of both the Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology and the International Academy of the International Union of Food Science and Technology. If that weren’t enough, he serves on various community and professional boards in addition to a day job that requires him to oversee a research program related to food science, as well as various applications of nanoscale science and technology.

Dr. Yada’s acceptance of an appointment to CAAIN’s board brings with it his deep understanding of academic institutions, funding agencies, government relations, and how best to take innovation from lab to industry. And while we feel badly about taking him away from what little personal time he has, we take solace in one of his favourite mantras: “The excitement is in the chase.”