David Bennell is the North American lead for the Food and Nature Program at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development where he focuses on climate smart agriculture, natural climate solutions, and global food systems. Previously, he was Director of Food and Capital Markets for the investor network Ceres.
He’s worked for Microsoft, REI and LL Bean in leadership development, product development sourcing positions. His career also includes working as a funder focused on sustainable forestry, the co-creation of the for-profit social enterprise company CottonConnect, co-creation of an impact investing fund focused on food and agriculture investments and leading the apparel industry NGO Textile Exchange focused on standards development for responsible sourcing.
David created the world’s most-watched sustainability series on Linked In Learning called Sustainability Strategies, as well as previously held a five-year adjunct faculty position at MIT where he taught sustainable design and development.
Margot Brandenburg is a senior program officer on the foundation’s Mission Investments team, focused on building and strengthening the infrastructure of the impact investment market—with an eye to shaping the broader capital markets. She has spent two decades working at the intersection of philanthropy, capital markets, and social and environmental justice.
Prior to joining Ford, Margot served as founder and CEO of MyStrongHome, a benefit corporation delivering resilience finance services to homeowners across the Southeast and Gulf Coast of the US. Before that, she helped design and lead the impact investing initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation. She co-authored the book The Power of Impact Investing with former RF president Judith Rodin. While at Rockefeller, she also focused on job creation and issues of economic security for low-wage workers.
Margot began her career in international microfinance and has worked with several community development finance institutions in the US. She serves on the boards of the Workers Lab, Brooklyn Cooperative Credit Union, and the Woodcock Foundation, and as an adviser to the National Domestic Workers Alliance as well as the National Energy Improvement Fund.
She received a master’s in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and holds an undergraduate degree from Stanford University.
Marco de Bruin
Marco is a member of and Principal in Equilibrium’s Controlled Environment Foods team, where he is charged with overseeing greenhouse construction and effective operations.
Marco de Bruin is a third generation grower who grew up on his family’s greenhouse farm in the Netherlands. He studied mechanical engineering, horticultural crop care, and horticultural business economics. In 1993, he began working in the United States for Colorado Greenhouse, and later worked for Village Farms as well.
In 2000, he started working at Bushel Boy Farms, and became partner in 2002. In collaboration with his business partner, he improved the organizational structure, cut the energy usage in half, and increased the total acreage under glass from 10 to 20 acres, while simultaneously implementing supplemental lighting. His work with Bushel Boy Farms culminated in 2011 when they sold the company to an investment group.
He assisted with the transition to the new owners of Bushel Boy then, in December of 2013, he started his own consulting firm in horticultural services. His main focus is on crop consulting, growth planning, energy savings, efficiency analysis, and new project development.
Donald Courtemanche is Grodan’s Commercial Sales Director for North America. Over the last sixteen years, his dedication to a client focused approach and his knack for building strong teams has piloted Grodan to market leader status in the high tech greenhouse vegetable market here in North America. Donald’s natural and supportive leadership style developed early, even while earning his BA in Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he was Head Resident for the university’s largest male dorm; earning him the nickname “Don the Don”. A pugilist, artist and Oenologist – his experiences as a provincial boxing champion, working as a muralist to pay for tuition and earning his winemaking apprenticeship in Germany, all reflect his passion for taking on new challenges.
Kay Doyle served as one of the inaugural Cannabis Control Commissioners for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, drafting the regulatory structure for the adult use industry, including environmental provisions, and overseeing the transfer of the Medical Use of Marijuana to the Commission. Prior to being appointed Commissioner, Kay served as Deputy General Counsel to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), where she acted as primary counsel to the Medical Use of Marijuana Program, the Food Protection Program and the Tobacco Control Program, advising clients regarding federal and state law relating to marijuana, food regulation, environmental health, tobacco protection, and administrative law. Prior to her time at DPH, Kay worked as an attorney for Kopelman and Paige, P.C. representing private and municipal clients with a focus on issues relating to the medical use of marijuana law, administrative law, land use law and civil rights law and environmental law. She has experience practicing before all levels of federal and state court, including the United States Supreme Court.
Jonathan has over 30 years of private equity experience in Asia and the US, with a focus on investments in ag-tech and big data analytics. He received an MBA from Columbia University and an undergraduate degree in Finance from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Jonathan is currently a Partner of Tress Capital and is a Board member of Grownetics, a next-generation aggregator of Controlled Environment Agriculture data, and a Board member of WasteTrakr, a software platform for tracking all forms of cannabis waste. Prior to joining Tress, Jonathan was a Partner of a California-based family office and managed investments in energy efficiency (battery state of health monitoring systems), aquaculture (170,000 sq ft of inland zero water discharge farms), and sustainability (water purification using biowaste).
Jonathan was also previously a Managing Director and Investment Committee Member of Citicorp Capital Asia Pacific Region, a $350M growth equity fund based in Hong Kong. On behalf of Citigroup, Jonathan was a Board member of 3 listed and 2 private companies including WebPattern, a Korean company which in 2000, was one of the first to track consumer Internet usage behavior. Early in Jonathan’s career, as part of the Kyoto Protocol carbon credit program, he worked with a large Brazilian ethanol producer to introduce Sorghum into China as a source of biofuel.
Travis has over 20 years of business development globally. A certified energy procurement/ sustainability/efficiency expert within multiple verticals including Pharmaceutical, Horticulture and Food and Beverage. Currently with Schneider Electric, the global leader for energy and automation systems with over 170,000 employees.
Travis is leading a global team in the development of indoor growing facilities in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia, Africa and Australia. The focus of each of these facilities is to ensure the operations are the most effective and efficient possible by connecting all systems (energy, buildings management systems, IT, security and access, horticulture monitoring) so that the owner can make real-time data driven decisions.
Steve Graves spent his childhood summers milking cows, baling hay and gaining an appreciation for agriculture while helping out on his relatives’ farm in rural Minnesota. After receiving his master’s degree in accounting from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, Steve took an overseas internship with OSRAM, where he unexpectedly dove head-first into the global lighting industry. After his stint as a sales intern in Munich, Germany, Steve catapulted into OSRAM’s pricing, sales management, operations and business development practices throughout the world. Since then, he has dedicated his life, his career and his travels to pursuing innovations in LED lighting, ultimately reconnecting with farming to explore advancements in controlled environment agriculture and modern growing practices for horticulture. His travels have taken him throughout Europe, the Asia-Pacific, Australia, and North America, during which he built cross-cultural relationships with global lighting and farming experts.
After his return to the U.S., Steve served as the strategic program manager for OSRAM’s urban and digital farming unit, where he played a prominent role in Fluence’s acquisition in mid-2018 and ultimately joined Fluence as its director of global segment management.
Now, Steve serves as the vice president of business development for Fluence by OSRAM, where he is responsible for diversifying Fluence’s product and business capabilities on a global scale. When he’s not taking early calls from Fluence’s EMEA team or coordinating with APAC, Steve spends time with his wife and young children, exploring Austin’s naturescapes, local breweries and the city’s food scene.
Martin is an entrepreneur who specializes in enabling and fostering innovative public-private partnerships to emerge and flourish. Before joining Long Haul Capital Group, Martin pioneered the practice of collaborative, community- and regional-scale sustainable development in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and several Latin American countries. In addition, Martin has engaged in a number of for- and non-profit start-ups in the fields of corporate governance, capital raising and impact investment, environmental technology, smart cities and communities, and the circular/sharing economy.
Michael Grossman recently co-founded The Sustainable Finance Company, a solutions-oriented investment advisor and asset manager. Previously, Michael was responsible for lending and fixed income investing at New Island Capital Management and international lending at the Calvert Social Investment Foundation. Prior to joining Calvert Foundation, Michael Grossman was a Senior Advisor to McKinsey & Company’s Social Sector Office based in Casablanca Morocco. Michael was the inaugural co-Head of Africa at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. Government development agency.
Michael was Managing Director and Citigroup Country Officer in Tunisia where he was responsible for day-to-day management of Citibank’s commercial and retail operations. In addition, he was Managing Director and Citigroup Country Officer in Dakar, Senegal and Senior Operations Officer in Casablanca, Morocco. Michael helped create Citibank’s West African regional corporate finance/capital markets business based in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
Michael holds an MS in Finance from MIT Sloan School of Management and a BS from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
Chris Higgins is the President and General Manager of Hort Americas, LLC (HortAmericas.com) a wholesale supply company servicing on all aspects of the commercial horticultural industries. Over the past years Hort Americas has had a special focus on horticultural lighting, hydroponics substrate and nutrient management making them one of the leading resources for greenhouse and vertically farmed vegetable growers. He is also owner of UrbanAgNews.com (online education content provider) and was a founding partner of the Foundation for the Development of Controlled Environment Agriculture and the International Congress on Controlled Environment Agriculture in Panama. With over 20 years of industry experience, Chris is dedicated to the commercial horticulture industry and is inspired by the current opportunities for continued innovation in the field of controlled environment agriculture. Chris is a leader in providing technical assistance to businesses, including commercial greenhouse operations, state-of-the-art hydroponic vegetable facilities, vertical farms, and tissue culture laboratories. In his role at Hort Americas he works with seed companies, manufacturers of horticultural supplies and equipment, growers and universities regarding the development of projects, new products and ultimately the creation of brands. Chris’ role includes everything from sales and marketing to technical support and general management/owner responsibilities.
Margi Hoffmann has spent the last decade working in public policy and politics in Oregon, a great deal of which has been concentrated in the energy and clean technology sectors. Most recently, Hoffmann served as Energy Policy Advisor to Governors Kate Brown and John Kitzhaber. During her time serving the Governors, Hoffmann wrote the first-ever Ten Year Energy Action Plan for Oregon, negotiated the West Coast Climate and Energy Action Plan, spoke at the United Nations Council of Parties (COP) 20 about the need for collective, sub-jurisdictional action on climate, and helped co-found the Governor’s Climate Accord. Prior to joining the Governors Office, Hoffmann served as Senior Vice President and Director of Oregon Operations for Strategies 360, a vertically-integrated political and marketing consulting firm. She has worked on a number of campaigns, including serving as Coordinated Campaign Director and manager of a congressional campaign. Hoffmann loves to mix her deep understanding of policy and politics to drive relevant outcomes for clients, stakeholders and businesses. She also really loves to backcountry ski, run rivers and play music.
As the Director of Innovation Start-Ups at WWF, Julia works to identify and research emerging issues, trends, and tools with potential to disrupt food and agriculture systems for environmental sustainability and financial growth. This includes launching multi-stakeholder platforms, designing and piloting new business strategies and models, and facilitating their adoption. In her career, Julia has founded her own urban, soilless farming system and advised numerous young and growing companies on business strategy and growth plans.
Before that, Julia spent four years in the research world at Hart Research Associates and then as the Director of Research and Policy at the National Women’s Business Council where she created a new research vision to re-energize a defunct organization and partnered with the private sector to create a policy agenda focused on meeting the needs of small businesses. Prior to her time in the research world, Julia spent nearly two years on the first Obama campaign traveling across the county building large constituent and volunteer coalitions in communities as diverse as inner-city Philadelphia to rural South Carolina.
For the past two years, Julia has worked as an adjunct professor at Rutgers Business School where she designed and now teaches in the Social Entrepreneurship program. Julia holds an SB from MIT, an MBA in entrepreneurial management from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and an MPA focused on sustainability from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Ana LaDou has more than twenty years experience leading organizations through exponential growth, complex change, and leadership transitions. She graduated from Columbia University in New York with a degree in poetry, launched her career in marketing at Miramax Films, and worked in technology before dedicating two decades to strengthening the nonprofit industry as it transitioned from dependence on government grants to a more business-minded model. Currently Ana is the COO at MAPS PBC where she oversees operations, FDA inspection readiness, people and culture, information technology, governance, legal, compliance, and corporate communications.
She is committed to making a positive impact on the world, NVC and mindfulness practices, developing her gardening skills, and engaging in deeper conversations and actions to address current cultural challenges. A native Californian, Ana has lived everywhere from a yurt in the woods to an apartment in Manhattan, and currently (happily) calls Oregon home.
Dr. Mark Lefsrud
Dr. Lefsrud, an Associate Professor at McGill University leads the Biomass Production Laboratory. His upbringing on a farm and work in the oil fields of Alberta, Canada combined with his B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Agricultural and Bioresource Engineering and a Ph.D. in Plant Physiology gives him a very strong background in the fields of agriculture, biology, and engineering. His research program focuses on the plant growth environment and how to improve plant and microbial yield. The Biomass Production Laboratory focus is developing methods and technologies to improve environmental control, energy efficiency, harvesting and post harvest handling and bioprocesses of living organisms. This laboratory’s primary goal is the improvement of plants for human consumption (food security), human health (medical cannabis), environmental protection (green building materials) and energy (biofuels).
Emily Paxhia is a co-founder and one of the managing directors of Poseidon Investment Management, LLC (“Poseidon”), which has three dedicated investment funds in the cannabis industry. Emily has reviewed thousands of companies in the cannabis industry and has worked with countless founders in many capacities. She has helped to shape founders’ pitch preparations, go-to market strategies and product launches, and she has advised companies on day-to-day business operations. Emily has held board seats for multiple portfolio companies and participates as an adviser to multiple teams. Further, she has dedicated time and energy to supporting policy groups and has served on the Board of Directors of the Marijuana Policy Project. She also currently serves on the Board of Directors of Athletes for CARE. Emily graduated from New York University with an M.A. in Psychology in 2008. She graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in Psychology in 2002.
Shanita Penny, MBA is a cannabis advocate, strategist and entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience helping world class companies and startups solve complex issues and improve business performance in multiple industries. In 2015, she rebranded her consulting business to Budding Solutions, a boutique cannabis business strategy and public policy consultancy, and continues to positively impact the burgeoning cannabis industry and the greater community.
As an internationally recognized strategy consultant and certified Project Management Professional, Shanita brings an essential skillset coupled with immense passion to the cannabis industry and has achieved exceptional results for small businesses as well as multi state operators throughout the country. Over the past 5 years, she has helped clients establish and scale compliant, successful cannabis businesses, Budding Solutions’ client portfolio includes: 4thMVMT, 4Front, Ardent Cannabis, FiveTen Wellness, JuJu Royal, Keystone Shops and Kind Therapeutics just to name a few. Shanita is a co-founder of DocHouse, a craft cannabis manufacturer in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania that was recently acquired by Ayr Strategies.
Ms. Penny served as vice president and president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) from February 2017 – September 2017 and from October 2017 – October 2019, respectively. Under her leadership, the MCBA hosted its inaugural Congressional Black Caucus Lobby Day, multiple policy summits and produced a model municipal ordinance that has influenced social equity policy throughout the country. Shanita provided testimony on equitable cannabis legalization in multiple cities and states and testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee for a hearing to examine the role of small businesses in the cannabis industry.
Shanita recently served as a member of the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Authority’s Racial Equity Advisory Workgroup charged with developing policy ideas and recommendations to address the disparities in ownership and participation in the marijuana industry by people of color and establishing the State of Michigan as a leader on diversity, equity and inclusion in the regulated cannabis industry, and looks forward to continuing her second term from November 2021 – October 2023. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Alliance for Sensible Markets and Advisory Board of Regennabis.
She lives to “end the stigma associated with cannabis” through her advocacy, businesses and responsible consumption. Shanita is a proud alumna of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, as well as the University of Baltimore and Towson University.
As Equilibrium’s Director of Research, Kimberley is responsible for driving the firm’s thought leadership and new product innovation. Her research informs the development of real asset strategies that deliver superior long-term returns, as well as positive social and environmental outcomes. Kimberley also leads Equilibrium’s sustainability reporting initiatives, integrating impact metrics with global standards and operational productivity. Key areas of expertise include controlled environment agriculture; water, waste and energy infrastructure; and green real estate.
Prior to joining Equilibrium, Kimberley spent nearly 20 years as an economic and real estate advisor, crafting land and portfolio strategies for clients ranging from institutional investors, developers, and corporations, to public sector entities and non-profit organizations. She has held senior consulting positions with the global real estate firm CBRE, providing guidance for large-scale development projects, neighborhood revitalization, and portfolio optimization. Earlier roles include research positions with PwC, Intrawest, and Clarion Partners. Throughout her career, she has leveraged her research skills to create compelling business cases in support of positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes.
A strong proponent of resilient land strategies, Kimberley is active in the Urban Land Institute (ULI). She has authored numerous reports and participated in advisory services panels, with the goal of providing forward-thinking solutions to community issues such as food access, waste reduction, and affordability.
Grant Vandenbussche is Chief Category Officer at Fifth Season, a robotics and indoor farming pioneer based in Pittsburgh. Grant holds a BA in Supply Chain Management from Michigan State University and an MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Grant previously held a variety of international operations and strategy roles at General Mills, where he discovered his passion for high-tech sustainable food systems. Grant’s midwest journey has taken him from Detroit, up to Minneapolis, and now to Pittsburgh.