Team CAAIN

Staff

Kerry Wright

CEO

Raised in a small rural Southwestern Ontario agricultural community, Kerry is a long way from where she thought her career would lead when she enrolled at the University of Guelph with a view to becoming a dietitian. The UofG food science-oriented program differed from most in that it offered business components. The combination of her grassroots upbringing and a food science specialisation led her to the Beef Information Centre (BIC), where she spent 10 years, discovering innate abilities in marketing and business before leaving as the National Product Development Manager. This early managerial experience allowed her to hone natural skills and develop additional competencies that have since proven invaluable. More importantly, working at BIC was fun, instilling in Kerry a love for, and interest in, Canada’s agriculture and food sectors. This set the stage for her next opportunity with the Mallot Creek Group, a growing, Elora, Ontario-based agri-food consultancy she would call home for almost 17 years, rising to the level of vice-president. Her time at Mallot rounded out her skill set, adding project and people management, as well as strategic business planning for their agri-food clients across Canada. (Did we mention she’s certified in Financial Accounting for Business by the Canadian Management Centre?) In 2020, she became Champion Petfoods’ Vice-President of Technical Product Development and Innovation, a job that led naturally to her current role as CEO of CAAIN, where she oversees and supports ag-tech innovation projects. Kerry and her athletic therapist husband, Dave, are the proud parents of two grown children and an excellent running companion, Molly, their sassy Australian Shepherd.

Kerry can be reached at info@caain.ca

Tracey Benson

Operations Coordinator

Born in Golden, B.C., Tracey Benson moved to Edmonton with her mother and brother as an eight-year-old to be closer to her maternal grandparents. Thus was instilled at an early age a belief in the value of family that is one of the qualities making her such a valued member of Team CAAIN. Her other contributions are obvious when one considers the skills and experience she brings to the table.
Over the past 25 years, Tracey has excelled in senior customer service and administration roles for companies such as the ATCO Group and Aurora Cannabis. Her diverse abilities and breadth of competencies have allowed her to work for organisations ranging from six-person operations to 10,000-employee corporate giants. Along the way, she has provided direct support for everyone from entry-level staff to C-Suite executives and boards of directors. The hundreds of projects to which she has contributed also span an astonishing breadth, from initiatives worth a few thousand dollars to massive jobs valued in the billions, and covering sectors as diverse as information technology, utilities, construction, and outsourcing.

Diversity defines Tracey’s personal time as much as it does her career. In addition to providing a home for several cats and volunteering for various community causes, she owns a farm. Yep. You heard that right! She insists the agricultural venture is a family thing and that the purchase had nothing to do with working for CAAIN, but we think she is being modest and that her professional dedication simply knows no bounds.

Tracey can be reached at tracey.benson@caain.ca

Joan Unger

Interim Operations Administrator

If you need something at the CAAIN offices, you go see Joan, the team’s administrative wizard. If she can’t fix your problem, it’s simply beyond repair. She honed her skills in various roles over 25 years with the Government of Alberta before becoming Director of Operations and Corporate Secretary of Alberta Innovates’ (AI) Bio Solutions division. In 2016, with the consolidation of AI’s four group’s into a single entity, she took over as Director of Operational Finance, retiring in February 2020—a retirement that was short lived. Her long working relationship with Cornelia Kreplin prompted CAAIN’s interim CEO to press Joan into service as Operations Administrator, a fancy way of saying “Ms. Fix-It.” She and her husband of many years are proud of their two grown sons, both of whom share their parents’ passion for rodeo and horses.

Joan can be reached at joan.unger@caain.ca

Nicole Gaudette, PhD

Program Manager

Passionate about research and innovation, Nicole is dedicated to supporting the growth and improvement of Canada’s evolving ag-tech sector. Prior to joining CAAIN, she served as both senior scientist with Alberta Agriculture & Forestry and Adjunct Professor at the University of Alberta. The experience gained in these roles allowed her to develop skills in applied research, program development, stakeholder engagement, and strategic networking. As a result, she was eager to jump into the fast-paced, exciting world of agricultural innovation, feeling it fit her “out of the box” approach to problem-solving, as well as her inclination to seek opportunity when faced with challenge. Nicole’s energetic nature feeds her passions for creative cooking, gardening, outdoor activities such as hiking and cross-country skiing, and yoga. On the other hand, she’s not averse to sitting back with friends and family and enjoying a glass or two of wine while sharing the expertise she gained through her sensory science and wine studies at Brock University.

Nicole can be reached at nicole.gaudette@caain.ca.

Garson Law, MSc

Program Manager

Garson Law has spent his entire adult life in a range of positions across the research continuum. His impressive portfolio includes diverse roles, ranging from graduate student to funding program administrator, with stops in between as academic researcher, industry funding partner, and project lead. Being active throughout the research spectrum has instilled in Garson a strong appreciation for, and deep understanding of, the needs and qualities of stakeholders along the innovation value chain, which makes him a valuable member of Team CAAIN. When not working, he enjoys exploring the great outdoors at home and abroad, as well as chasing balls, pucks, and curling stones.

Garson can be reached at garson.law@caain.ca.

Julie Thibeault, BBA

Finance Manager

Julie’s 25 years of public- and private-sector experience in all things finance and accounting make her the perfect person to develop, implement, and maintain CAAIN’s financial management tools, functions, and procedures. Her duties require that she work closely with the members of our funded projects to ensure their compliance with Government of Canada fiscal reporting requirements. Julie holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Corporate Finance. Fluently bilingual, she moved to Alberta from Quebec 15 years ago.
Julie can be reached at julie.thibeault@caain.ca.

Eric Morin, CMP

Communications & Marketing Manager

Fluently bilingual and a Certified Communications Management Professional, Eric has spent the bulk of his 30-year career working in and for not-for-profit and public-sector organisations. A generalist skilled in project planning and management, writing and editing, public and media relations, crisis communications, and stakeholder engagement, he believes passionately in the intrinsic value of his profession. When not communicating at work, he enjoys doing so at home with his wife, Kathy, their two teenagers, and the family’s beloved Rottweiler-Coonhound cross, Dexter.

Eric can be reached at eric.morin@caain.ca.

Board of Directors

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

Director of Partnerships, My Intelligent Machines

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

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, Olds College

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 with his current leadership of Olds College, 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.

Tania Humphrey, PhD

Vice President, Research & Development, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

Tania Humphrey is a long way from her native Australia and the University of Queensland from which she earned a doctorate in Plant Biology. She launched her career in this country in 2002 with post-doctoral research positions at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the University of Toronto before landing at Vineland in 2008. The fit with an organisation focused on horticulture was natural for someone who realised early on that plants play a fundamental role in our health and well-being. That understanding has grown into a passion for the agriculture sector as evidenced by her being one of the original backers of CAAIN’s ISED submission, and by her serving not only on this board but also on that of the Agri-Food Innovation Council. The board positions and day job as the head of a large R&D team allow her to build relations among diverse stakeholders while championing the development and eventual self-sustainability of Canadian agtech, all of which aligns perfectly with the CAAIN mandate.

While Dr. Humphrey may be far from the land of her birth, she, her husband, and their two children love the Niagara region they are happy to call home.

Cornelia Kreplin, DVM, PhD

Executive Director (Retired), Smart Agriculture & Food, Alberta Innovates

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

Xarvio™ Digital Farming Lead, North America for BASF

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.

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.”

250 Karl Clark Road, Edmonton, Alberta

(780) 975-8635