Skip to Main Content

The SPARK Symposium


Use the PDF of the main PowerPoint to follow along with the speakers.

Download the PowerPoint slides for The SPARK Symposium HERE.











9:00 am Arrival and Networking

10:00 am Opening remarks

10:15 am Panel #1 discussion – Why is Ag Innovation an Important Strategic Investment

  • Karen Grant (Moderator), Angel One | Equation Angels
  • Deborah Whale, Grand River Agricultural Society (GRAS)
  • Joe Dales, RH Accelerator
  • John Lansink, Ag Capital Canada

11:00 am Break

11:15 am Why Investment Matters – Rob Hannam, Farm Health Guardian

11.45 am The Current State of Canada’s Ag Tech Eco-System – Sean O’Connor, Emmertech

12:30 pm Lunch

1:20 pm Denise Dewar, Bioenterprise

2:00 pm Why Investment Matters – Cole Powers, IntelliCulture

2:20 pm Rebbecca Clarke, Farm Credit Canada

2:40 pm Why Investment Matters – Omid McDonald, Dairy Distillery

3:00 pm Break

3:15 pm Panel #2 discussion – The Power of Collaboration

  • Tyler Whale (Moderator), Canadian AgTech Solutions Inc.
  • Reg Ash, The Western Fair Association, The Grove at Western Fair District
  • Brian Cram, 519 Growth Fund and RH Accelerator
  • Jennifer Christie, Catapult Grey Bruce and Restauranteur

4:00 pm Networking

5:00 pm Event Close


Katie Giddy

Grand River Agricultural Society (GRAS)

Katie, in her position as Vice President, Operations, currently co-leads The Grand River Agricultural Society (GRAS), a not-for-profit agriculture society governed by a volunteer board of directors.  The GRAS vision is to “Nourish people, animals & the planet” through their commitment to innovation, education, economic growth, and community.  Katie’s connection to the agriculture industry and local community, coupled with her background in finance leading organizations through growth, makes her a passionate emcee for The SPARK Symposium.

Karen Grant

Angel One | Equation Angels

Karen Grant has been involved with the start-up community since the early 1990s. It began with Toronto Venture Group and evolved to her roles in planning and launching Toronto Angel Group in 2001, Northern Ontario Angels in 2005, Angel One Investor Network in 2011 and Equation Angels in 2019. Karen is recognized as one of Canada’s leaders in the formation and evolution of angel groups. She has mentored hundreds of companies and helped them find multiple millions in start-up capital.

Joe Dales

RH Accelerator

Joe is the Co-Founder of RH Accelerator Inc. (RHA) which leads their value-adding investments in the agriculture and food innovation and start-up sector. RHA has made more than 25 investments and continues to support entrepreneurs with hands-on, experienced business coaching.

John Lansink

Ag Capital Canada

A numbers man, John’s expertise includes finance, business administration and agribusiness consulting. His career experience includes seven years at General Dynamics in London, Ontario in various finance, business development and business strategy roles. John formed BlueStar Distribution with Mike Perovich in 2011 and grew the company in both eastern and western Canada — ultimately selling it to Univar Corporation in 2015. John is currently involved in select startups and provides consulting services for local farmers who want to grow their businesses.

Deborah Whale

Grand River Agricultural Society (GRAS)

As 1st Vice President of the GRAS board, Deborah has spent considerable time working on behalf of Research and Development in the world of agriculture. She has been past Chair of the Agriculture Research Institute of Ontario, the Poultry Industry Council, the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, Saskatchewan, and the Board of the University of Alberta Poultry Research Centre. Her interest in technology also turned to the world of energy and as VP of Clovermead Farms, supporting the installation of one of the first biogas facilities on a farm in Ontario.

Rob Hannam

Farm Health Guardian

Rob Hannam is an agri-entrepreneur with over 30 years of experience in the sector. He is a founder/owner of several business ventures, including Synthesis Agri-Food Network and Farm Health Guardian. His passion for agriculture was cultivated while growing up on his family’s grain farm in Guelph, Ontario. He has deep experience throughout the agricultural industry and has worked with multinationals, large and small agribusinesses. As a consultant, he has advised government institutions, industry organizations and farmer-led associations across Canada.

Sean O’Connor

Conexus Venture Capital and Emmertech

Sean O’Connor is the Managing Director for Conexus Venture Capital Inc. & Emmertech. Conexus Venture Capital’s first fund, CVC Fund #1, is a 2019 vintage $32M fund focused on prairie-based
startups. Emmertech is a new $60M early-stage Canadian agtech fund. Prior to Conexus, Sean was on the leadership team of a Canadian fintech, Grow Technologies Inc. (acquired by ATB).

Denise Dewar


Denise Dewar is a senior executive with over 25 years of experience in advancing agriculture innovations to the marketplace.  Denise has worked around the globe with multinational companies, farm groups, non-profit organizations and technology associations.  After 13 years in Washington DC, she returned home to Canada in October 2020 and joined Bioenterprise Canada as an Innovation Advisor and serves as the General Manager for the Canada Grains Council.

Cole Powers


Cole is Co-founder and the CEO of IntelliCulture and helps ensure the roadmap stays user centric and is always facilitating feedback and farmer’s needs. He has a background in automotive technology and studied Mechanical Engineering, whilst pursuing an option in Entrepreneurship.

Rebbecca Clarke

Farm Credit Canada

Rebbecca Clarke is the VP & Treasurer at FCC and is responsible for FCC’s Treasury function, venture capital program, employee pension plans and portfolio and loan administration functions. She has over 27 years of experience at FCC in various roles within the finance division, most recently leading the strategy to advance Agriculture and Food innovation and growth in Canada through expanded venture capital investments and partnerships.

Omid McDonald

Dairy Distillery

Omid McDonald is an eclectic serial entrepreneur whose past startups range from medical devices to software for DJs. An engineer and prolific coder, Omid has several patents and academic articles to his credit. He became enamoured with distilling while visiting a craft distillery in Charleston. It wasn’t long until Omid started making moonshine in his basement with a copper pot still he hand-built. He saw an opportunity to pursue his dream of starting a distillery when he learned of the problem of excess milk sugar plaguing the dairy industry.

Dr. Tyler Whale

Canadian AgTech Solutions Inc.

Tyler Whale is an entrepreneur and passionate subject-matter expert in Agri-food. He holds a Ph.D. in Immunology at the Veterinary and Infectious Disease Organization. Dr. Whale is passionate about innovation in the agri-food sector. He has extensive experience working with small and large companies in developing an agri-food innovation ecosystems, developing farmer-centric solutions through the commercialization of agri-tech, and developing network and collaborative relationships with stakeholders.

Reg Ash

The Western Fair Association, The Grove at Western Fair District

Reg has played a significant role in several collaborative, innovative, and transformational projects during his 21-year career with the Western Fair Association.  His most recent project is The Grove at Western Fair District.  The Grove will modernize several surplus facilities into modern agri-food production spaces and provides workspaces for accelerating agri-tech companies.

Jen Christie

Catapult and Restauranteur

Jennifer is an influential community builder, restauranteur and feminist. After starting her career at John Deere Canada, Jen founded the Ag Women’s Network to connect and empower women in the agriculture industry. In 2020, Jen and her partner Chris opened Bonfire on Queen, a FeastOn Certified restaurant specializing in Italian-style food and pantry products. Jen is also the Executive Director of Catapult Grey Bruce, a Startup Canada Community and new business accelerator for the rural region.

Brian Foster

519 Growth Fund and RH Accelerator

Brian is a technology investor and serial entrepreneur. Brian is a General Partner of the 519 Growth Fund and Co-Founder of the RH Accelerator in London, Ontario. These two organizations exist for one purpose – helping business owners, founders and their teams in early-stage companies achieve their dreams.

Brian Cram

519 Growth Fund and RH Accelerator

Brian is a Senior Advisor with the Roundhouse Accelerator and a General Partner of the 519 Growth Fund. Brian is a seasoned CEO and private investor with a history of success driving significant business growth and transformations across a variety of industries. He has extensive executive leadership experience in early and late-stage technology companies as well as multi-national consumer food and agri-businesses that include Cuddy International, Cold Springs Farm and Maple Leaf Consumer Foods.