Featured Speakers

Meet and learn more about the speakers in the sessions

Ai Oikawa


Ai Oikawa is an ag-bioprocess engineer and the founder & CEO of AFINGEN®. In 2014, she launched Afingen to develop new tools for crops to grow faster and healthier and meet future natural resource demand. Her research has been awarded by Small Business Innovation Research programs from DOE, USDA, and NASA to improve global food security and environmental sustainability. She received a Ph.D. in bioprocess engineering from United Graduate School of Agricultural Science Iwate University, Japan, completed postdoctoral training at UC Berkeley/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for biochemistry and computational systems biology, and joined Harvard Business School Agribusiness Executive Program and UC Davis School of Law IP & Technology Transfer Education Program for technology integration and commercialization.

Cherie Ochsenfeld

Data Scientist, Pairwise

Dr. Cherie Ochsenfeld is a Senior Scientist within the Data Science Group at Pairwise, a purpose-driven food+tech company, and leader of the Multi-institutional Rubus Diversity Project Collaboration. Prior to working at Pairwise, Chere was a Senior Scientist in the Quantitative Genetics Group at Dow AgroSciences and subsequently at Corteva.  Between these two positions she has over 10 years of experience applying statistics for both molecular, introgression, and field solutions. She is a graduate of Purdue University with an PH.D. and M.S. in Statistics with an emphasis in methods for gene discovery.  She also has an M.S. in Applied Statistics from Cal State East Bay and an M.A. in Teacher Education from UCLA.  Her B.S. was in Mathematics/Economics from UCLA (Go Bruins!).

D. A. Wallach

Co-Founder, Inevitable Ventures

D.A. Wallach is a leading venture capital investor and an acclaimed recording artist. Discovered by Kanye West while he was an undergraduate at Harvard College, D.A. began his career as one half of the duo Chester French, releasing two full-length albums through Interscope Records and touring with Lady Gaga, Weezer, Pharrell, and Blink 182. He has performed on TV Shows including Jimmy Kimmel Live and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and has been featured in Rolling Stone, Vogue, and The Wall Street Journal. Beyond Chester French, D.A. has collaborated on songs with Janelle Monae, Rick Ross, and Diddy, among others. His solo debut record for Capitol Records, Time Machine, is available on Spotify and Apple Music. 

In 2011, D.A. stopped touring in order to focus on his other passion, investing. He has since built a parallel career as a venture capitalist, backing a series of industry-defining technology companies including Spotify, SpaceX, Ripple, The Boring Company, and Memphis Meats. Since 2015, D.A. has focused almost exclusively on biotechnology and healthcare, seeking to reinvent medicine through breakthrough start-ups like Beam, Glympse, Doctor on Demand, Devoted Health, and Neuralink. 

Forbes deemed D.A. one of its “30 Under 30,” and Fast Company named him one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business. He is the co-founder of Inevitable Ventures and Time BioVentures, both Los Angeles-based investment firms, and is an advisor to The Dreamers Fund, a partnership with the actor Will Smith. 

Outside of work, D.A. appeared as an actor in the film La La Land, which received 14 Academy Award nominations. He publishes essays on a range of topics on his website www.dawallach.com, and is the co-founder of the non-profit Franca Fund for preventive genomics.

Derek Norman

VP Venture Investments, Leaps by Bayer

Derek leads the Ag investing team of Leaps by Bayer. As the corporate venture capital group of Bayer, Leaps has a broad mandate to create, invest in, and collaborate with breakthrough companies solving fundamental challenges in health and agriculture. Derek has been investing in Ag technologies for over a decade and has served on the boards of companies in multiple areas spanning biologicals, crop protection, and digital farming technologies. He has a PhD in Chemistry from Harvard and did his undergraduate studies at Stanford University.

Eric van der Helm

VP - Head of Synthetic Biology & Bioinformatics, SNIPR BIOME

Heading the Synthetic Biology and Bioinformatics efforts at SNIPRBiome focusing on microbiome modulation using CRISPR.

George Church

Professor, MIT & Harvard

George Church is Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Center on Bioenergy at Harvard and MIT and Director of the National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence in Genomic Science at Harvard. George is widely recognized for his innovative contributions to genomic science and his many pioneering contributions to chemistry and biomedicine. In 1984, he developed the first direct genomic sequencing method, which resulted in the first commercial genome sequence (the human pathogen, H. pylori). He helped initiate the Human Genome Project in 1984 and the Personal Genome Project in 2005. George invented the broadly applied concepts of molecular multiplexing and tags, homologous recombination methods, and array DNA synthesizers.

Jasmina Aganovic

Entrepreneur in Residence, Ginkgo Bioworks

Jasmina is a cosmetics industry professional passionate about translating innovation into meaningful brands that have an opportunity to connect with a broader audience. Her previous company, Mother Dirt, included a line of products focused on the skin microbiome. The hero product restores Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB), which current hygiene practices have stripped from the skin. Now, Jasmina is working with the powerful Ginkgo Foundry to see what we can learn from nature and can harness through microbes for use in the personal care industry.

Jim Flatt

Co-founder & CEO, Brightseed Bio

Dr. Jim Flatt has led teams responsible for conceiving and translating innovative discoveries into successful commercial products in the nutrition, specialty chemical, and energy industries. Jim currently is co-founder and CEO of Brightseed, which is making proactive health more accessible through the discovery and development natural product solutions for food, healthcare and agriculture industries through Forager, a powerful AI-powered and system biology-informed technology platform. Previously, Jim held senior R&D leadership positions at Synthetic Genomics, Martek Biosciences, Mascoma and Hampton Creek. Jim received his undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduate degrees in Chemical Engineering from UC-Berkeley and University of Wisconsin

John Cumbers

Founder & CEO, SynBioBeta

John Cumbers is the founder of SynBioBeta. John is passionate about education and on the use and adoption of biological technologies. He has received multiple awards and grants from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences for his work in the field. John has been involved in multiple startups such as those producing food for space, microbes to extract lunar and martian resources, and hoverboards! John is an active investor through the DCVC SynBioBeta Fund and his synthetic biology syndicate on AngelList. John received a PhD in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry from Brown University, a MSc in Bioinformatics from Edinburgh University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Hull in Computer Science with Information Engineering.

Jonathan Eisen

Professor, Evolution and Ecology, Medical Microbiology and Immunology, Director, Microbiome Special Research Program, University of California, Davis

Jonathan Eisen is a Professor at the University of California, Davis with appointments in the Genome Center, the Dept. of Evolution and Ecology, and the Dept. of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. His current research focuses on the evolution, ecology and function of communities of microbes and how the microbes interact with each other and with hosts. Most of his work involves the use of high-throughput DNA sequencing methods to characterize microbes and the use and development of computational methods to analyze this type of data. Prior to moving to UC Davis Dr. Eisen was on the faculty of The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) and held an Adjunct appointment at the Johns Hopkins University. He earned his PhD in Biological Sciences from Stanford University, and his AB in Biology from Harvard College. Dr. Eisen was elected to the American Academy of Microbiology in 2012. In addition to his research Dr. Eisen is heavily involved in science communication and open science activities and is an active & award winning blogger (e.g. http://phylogenomics.blogspot.com and http://microbe.net) and microblogger (e.g., Twitter @phylogenomics).

Kira Peikoff

Editor in Chief, LeapsMag

Kira Peikoff is a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Nautilus, Popular Mechanics, The New York Academy of Sciences, and other outlets. She is also the author of four suspense novels that explore controversial issues arising from scientific innovation: Living Proof, No Time to Die, Die Again Tomorrow, and Mother Knows Best. Peikoff holds a B.A. in Journalism from New York University and an M.S. in Bioethics from Columbia University. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and son.

Lee Cooper

Director of Venture Investments, Leaps by Bayer

Lee Cooper is Director of Venture Investments with Leaps by Bayer. He aims to contribute to new biotechnologies that enable patients and communities to live healthier lives.

Liz Specht

Senior Scientist, Good Food Institute

As Associate Director of Science & Technology with GFI, Liz analyzes areas of current and future technological need within plant-based and cell-based meat innovation, catalyzes research to address these needs, and supports start-ups and investors who are moving the field forward.

Luke Young

CEO, Agrisea

Agrisea is a startup devoted to doing things differently. We believe it is a basic right for every living human to have enough to eat, each day of their lives. We also believe that this should not come at a cost to the natural world. So we set about building a solution. We call it Ocean Agriculture. Our design genetically fortifies crops to allow them to grow and thrive in our oceans. Similar to hydroponics our crops draw their nutrients directly from the seawater. It's time the technology of today builds peace for tomorrow.

Matthias Berninger

Head of Public Affairs, Science and Sustainability, Bayer

Matthias Berninger, Head of "Public Affairs, Science & Sustainability" at Bayer. In this function he has expanded Bayer's global public affairs work and promoted the further development of sustainability as a focus of the company's business strategy. This repositioning of sustainability within the company was published in December 2019.

Born in Kassel, Germany, he studied chemistry and political science in his home town from 1990 to 1994. From 1994 to 2007 he was a member of the Bundestag for Bündnis 90/Die Grünen. In 2007, he moved to Mars, where he has headed the global public affairs organization since 2011.

Megan Molteni

Writer, WIRED

Megan Molteni is a staff writer at WIRED, where she covers the ways in which bleeding-edge biotechnologies are transforming science, health and society. Before joining WIRED in 2016, she freelanced for publications such as Popular Science, Discover, Undark, Nautilus, and Aeon.

Paimun Amini

Director of Investments, Leaps by Bayer

As the Director of Venture Investments for Bayer’s Leaps team, PJ drives the development and execution of a broad partnership strategy that accelerates Bayer’s innovation in the Food & Ag space. Coming from a scientific background and the frontlines of digital innovation, PJ and his colleagues have filtered through hundreds of companies with the potential to have a major impact on the future of agriculture and our food supply moving the focus of Agriculture from simply producing MORE to producing BETTER. Growth stage agnostic (Seed – Series C), the Leaps organization facilitates investments, partnerships, and collaborations between emerging companies and the broader Bayer enterprise. PJ joined Bayer Crop Science in 2011 and has held various leadership roles across the R&D and IT organizations; prior to which he was conducting research for the USDA. PJ has both a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis.

Ronie Schmelz

Counsel, Tucker Ellis LLP

RONIE SCHMELZ is Counsel at Tucker Ellis LLP where she regularly counsels clients to ensure compliance with regulations enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and other state and federal regulatory agencies; and advertising, labeling, and claim substantiation. She represents clients in regulatory and legal proceedings, including in defense of consumer class actions asserting false advertising, unfair competition, and consumer protection claims. Ronie helps clients formulate best practices for pre- and post-market activities, including regulatory compliance, product labeling, advertising, claim substantiation, Prop 65 compliance, vendor relationships, and consumer-facing communications. She has deep industry knowledge of and particular expertise in representing domestic and international cosmetic, personal care, and dietary supplement companies. Ronie is a Board Member and Legal Advisor to Beauty Industry West, Board Member and Regulatory Advisor to the California Society of Cosmetic Chemists, and a Founding Board Member of the Bay Area Beauty Association. Ronie is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, including CosmoProf North America, InCosmetics North American, California and New York chapters of Society of Cosmetic Chemists, and Suppliers’ Day.

Stephanie Culler

Co-Founder & CEO, Persephone Biosciences, Inc.

Stephanie Culler, Ph.D., is the co-founder and CEO of Persephone Biosciences, a business taking a novel approach to improving the efficacy of current cancer therapies, leveraging the systemic impact of the gut microbiome on the human immune system. Persephone’s technology platform is based on collecting and analyzing gut microbiota samples from thousands of cancer patients, then using machine learning in conjunction with systems biology tools to understand the impact of gut microbes on patient prognosis. The results are used to design novel immunotherapies and companion diagnostics for cancers of unmet needs. Dr. Culler is a graduate of the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator and has spoken at TEDx San Diego. Prior to establishing Persephone Biosciences, she was a senior scientist at Genomatica, where she developed and applied synthetic biology tools toward the engineering of microorganisms as biocatalysts for the commercial production of sustainable chemicals. She received her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology under the mentorship of Prof. Christina Smolke and has over a sixteen publications and patents on synthetic biology and microbial based technologies.

Tristan Harris

President & Co-Founder, Center for Humane Technology

Called the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” by The Atlantic magazine, Tristan Harris spent three years as a Google Design Ethicist developing a framework for how technology should “ethically” steer the thoughts and actions of billions of people from screens. He is now co-founder & president of the Center for Humane Technology, whose mission is to reverse ‘human downgrading’ and re-align technology with humanity. Additionally, he is co-host of the Center for Humane Technology's Your Undivided Attention podcast with co-founder Aza Raskin. ​ 

Rolling Stone magazine named Tristan one of “25 People Shaping the World”, and was named in Fortune’s 40 under 40 of 2018 for his work on reforming technology. In 2016, Tristan left Google to work on reforming the attention economy with the non-profit initiative, Time Well Spent which called out the industry’s “race to the bottom of the brain stem” to capture attention and proposed design solutions. In January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg embraced “time well spent” as a design goal for Facebook, and in May 2018, Apple and Google each launched “Digital Well-being” initiatives and Screen Time features now shipping on iOS and Android phones. ​ 

Tristan has spent more than a decade studying the influences that hijack human thinking and action. From his childhood as a magician to his work in the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab where he studied persuasive technology, Tristan became concerned about the need for ethical and humane technology. ​ 

His work on the attention economy started in 2013, when he created a slide deck within Google that went viral, warning about the technology industry's arms race to capture human attention and the moral responsibility companies have for the ways they restructure society. ​ 

Tristan’s work has been featured on TED, The Atlantic, 60 Minutes, The New York Times, The Associated Press, Wall Street Journal and many more. Tristan has briefed Heads of State, technology company CEOs, and members of U.S. Congress about the attention economy. ​ 

“Tristan Harris is probably the strongest voice in technology pointing where the industry needs to go. This is a call to arms and everyone needs to hear him now." –– Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce ​ Before Google, Tristan was co-founder and CEO of Apture, which Google acquired in 2011. Apture enabled millions of users to get instant, on-the-fly explanations across a vast publisher network. Tristan holds several patents from his work at Apple, Wikia, Apture and Google. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Computer Science, focused on Human Computer Interaction, while dabbling in behavioral economics, social psychology, behavior change and habit formation in Professor BJ Fogg’s Stanford Persuasive Technology lab.

Zack Abbott

CEO, Zbiotics

Zack is the inventor of our proprietary technology and sets the vision for ZBiotics. Zack has a PhD in microbiology & immunology from the University of Michigan, where he enjoyed his research untangling complex and elegant webs of bacterial gene regulation. He holds a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, where he double-majored in immunology and classical art & archaeology, paid his rent in tips from bartending at the Bear’s Lair, and was on a national championship-winning Cal rugby team. Prior to starting ZBiotics, Zack worked in clinical trial design as well as researching HIV vaccines and pursuing novel antibiotics in both academia and industry. Zack was born and raised in Sacramento, CA, and he is hella proud of his Norcal roots.