9th Annual AgTech Innovation Summit Recap

Categories : Community, Events, Research Park
Posted on: March 6, 2024

The 9th Annual AgTech Summit was a resounding success: with over 700 registered participants, the Research Park hosted a diverse array of attendees from the Midwest and beyond.

The summit’s agenda was packed with insightful panels covering trending topics including policy impact on AgTech, sustainability, and digital agriculture. Moderators and panelists represented a wide spectrum of AgTech, including startups, investors, academics, growers, government officials, and more.

Keep reading for a recap of the AgTech Summit.

The event kicked with opening remarks from our hosts, community leaders, and presenting sponsor.

Laura Appenzeller, the Executive Director of the University of Illinois Research Park, opened the day with a recap of highlighting why Champaign-Urbana is the epicenter of AgTech. That was followed by a proclamation from the City of Champaign and City of Urbana mayors Deborah Frank Feinen and Diane Wolfe Marlin declared the week of March 4-8 as Champaign-Urbana AgTech Week.

Intersect Illinois CEO Dan Seals took the stage to tell the “Why Illinois” story. Seals’ presentation discussed how Illinois is #1 in private food manufacturing R&D, #2 for food-related patents, and boasts the largest number of food processing workers in the Midwest.

The day’s first panel focused on navigating digital agriculture, including obstacles and opportunities that data and analytics present to the end users. UIUC Crop Sciences Clinical Assistant Professor Elhan Ersoz moderated this discussion, featuring panelists Justin McMenamy, the VP of Disruptive Products at Precision PlantingDave Knippenberg, the Director of Data Platforms at Elanco, Jared Fry, the Director of Modeling & Simulation at Mondelez, and Dominic Walkes, the Director of Technical Product Management at CNH.

Navigating Digital Agriculture Panel

After Navigating Digital Ag, the first fireside chat started, spotlighting Corteva Agriscience Chief Technology and Digital Officer Sam Eathington. Eathington sat down with Kim Kidwell, the Associate Chancellor for Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The second panel, Policy Impact on AgTech was moderated by Stephen Wald, the Director of External Communications and Government Relations at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The panel covered the intersection between government and agriculture, featuring University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Associate Professor Jonathan Coppess, United States House of Representatives Legislative Assistant Aleksi Knepp, and ADM Vice President of State Government Relations Greg Webb.

“Conversations like this are important. We can write…all day long, but if it’s not going to actually be useful to the folks who need it, then that’s a problem.”

-Aleksi Knepp

That was followed by a panel highlighting the excitement around the Illinois Fermentation and Agriculture Biomanufacturing (iFAB) Tech Hub, a regional partnership in the corridor between Decatur and Champaign which has been tapped by the Economic Development Administration as a federally designated tech hub.

iFAB seeks to scale precision fermentation to convert underutilized corn feedstocks into high-value, customized alternative proteins, food ingredients, materials, chemicals, and more. The panel was moderated by Nicole Bateman, the President of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur & Macon County, and featured Boston Bioprocess CEO Michael Tai, Corn Refiners Association Senior Vice President of Advanced Bioproducts James Glueck, iFAB Regional Innovation Officer Beth Conerty, and Primient Director of Business Development Eric Lee.

The program than shifted for the presentation of the 8th annual Edwin Moore Family Agriculture Innovation Prize, which recognizes a University of Illinois entrepreneur focused on agricultural innovations.

The winner is Hypercell Technologies, an EnterpriseWorks startup that develops new methods to control infectious diseases. “We are proud to be the incubator location for this AgTech startup company, which is protecting livestock and our food supply,” said Laura Appenzeller, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Innovation at the University of Illinois.

Hypercell Technologies with check from Moore Prize

The award presentation flowed into a fireside chat about Hypercell with its CEO, Bruno Jactel, and moderator Gerald Wilson, the Director of Entrepreneurship at the Research Park. Jactel discussed the “start there” paradox that is essential for successful startup members, necessitating they stay realistic when facing business problems but remember they will prevail in the end.

After a break for lunch, the AgTech Summit continued with the third fireside chat, featuring GDM Global Strategy Lead Gastón Suardiaz. This chat was moderated by Germán Bollero, the Dean of the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer, & Environmental Sciences.

This fireside chat was followed by a series of lightning presentations, including:

2024 Glen Brandt Prize for Ag Entrepreneurism WinnerThe Glen “GB” Brandt Prize for Ag Entrepreneurism was presented to Andrew and Karlie Bowman, the innovative minds behind the popcorn brand Pilot Knob Farms. “There is entrepreneurship, innovation, and excitement in this room,” said recipient Andrew Bowman. “Our journey is…a microcosm of all the wonderful things that we’re discussing today.” The Brandt Prize recognizes a grower, producer, or farmer who exemplifies an entrepreneurial spirit and advances innovation in agricultural practices.

Dr. John Reid from the University of Illinois Center for Digital Agriculture sat down for a panel on sustainability with HabiTerre founder Kaiyu Guan, S2G Ventures Senior Associate Sumeeta SalvadorJohn Deere Head of Labs and Sustainability Solutions Alexey Rostapshov, and Bayer Ecosystems Impact Lead Charlie Foresman.

“Sustainability is local. To work alongside growers, to learn as much as we can, is where we need to be.”

-Charlie Foresman

The final panel featured the perspective of growers and producers and was moderated by VP of TAG Farms at The Atkins Group, Jim Goss. Panelists included Hastings CCI Equipment Co-Owner Sarah Hastings, Roots Run Deep Farm Co-Owner Eric Miller, and Run Farms Owner Eric Rund.

The 2024 AgTech Innovation Summit concluded with a Tech Showcase of local startups and area innovators during a networking reception.

Sponsor Logos Graphic


The AgTech Summit is free thanks to its generous sponsors Intersect Illinois, John Deere, Bayer, Corteva, AGCO, BRANDT, GDM, and the NSF I-Corps Hub.

The AgTech Summit is hosted by the University of Illinois Research Park with support from the University of Illinois, the College of ACES, and the Office of Corporate Relations.

Thank you to our AgTech Summit Planning Committee: Laura Bleill, Desiree Clayton, Pedro Fernandes da Costa, Amy Fruehling, Kim Kidwell, and Cathy McArthur.

Special thanks to our mistress of ceremonies, Katheryne Rehberg.

Save the date for next year’s AgTech Summit on Thursday, March 6, 2025.