Startup Weekend | Agriculture & Food

    Friday, May 20 - 22, 2016

  1. Overview
  2. Schedule
  3. Speakers
  4. Judges
  5. Coaches and Mentors
  6. Sponsors
  7. Organizing Team
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Startup Weekend | Agriculture & Food

Friday, May 20 - 22, 2016

Friday, May 20 - 22, 2016
Event starts at 5:30 pm

Yuma Art Center
254 S Main St
Yuma, AZ 85364

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Bridging the food gap!

As the "Nation's Winter Salad Bowl" growing 90% of the leafy greens consumed by Americans during the winter months, Yuma, Arizona has a massive $3.3BN agricultural industry. Startup Weekend Yuma is excited to announce that our first Startup Weekend event will take place on May 20-22 in partnership with Yuma Center for Excellence in Desert Agriculture (YCEDA) to showcase our area's extensive resources. 

We bring together a diverse group of people passionate about innovating the agriculture industry to meet the demands of our growing global population. In 54 hours, participants share ideas, form teams, build products and launch agriculture or food ventures.

Startup Weekend Agriculture & Food begins with open-mic 60-second pitches Friday night that result in the formation of small teams around the best, most viable concepts. Teams spend Saturday and Sunday focusing on validating their idea by talking to users, designing/building prototypes and building a business plan with the help of experienced coaches from the agricultural industry. On Sunday, teams present and demo their products and receive valuable feedback from a panel of expert judges.

-What is it like at a Startup Weekend?
Simply put, your life will forever be changed. Check out this video that should give you some insight on the amazing energy at our events:

-What theme is this Startup Weekend?
The theme of this event is "agriculture and food". That means that you can bring an idea that relates to the agriculture and/or food industry as it relates to any part of the food cycle from when it is grown to when it hits our plates as a delicious meal.

-Do I have to pitch an idea to attend?
No, but we encourage you to! You can pitch an idea you've been thinking about for years, or something last minute you think of during the event. It's a great experience and invaluable practice for public speaking.

Do you have more questions?
Check our our FAQ:

Here are just a few of the things you get from attending:
-7 meals of food & snacks for the entire weekend
-A unique opportunity to be mentored and coached by ag leaders and educators
-A network of new local developer, designer, educator, student & entrepreneur friends that are also excited about innovating the agricultural industry
-An awesome portfolio piece

See what it's all about

Learn More


Friday May 20th

5:30 pm
Arrive at the venue and get checked in

6:00 pm
Dinner & Networking
Eat food, share ideas, practice pitches, get to know fellow participants

7:00 pm
Welcome & Speakers
Review agenda for the weekend and introduce local small business owners to share their stories

7:30 pm
Pitches Start
Optionally line up to give your pitch

9:00 pm
Attendees vote for the top pitches

9:15 pm
Form Teams
Teams start forming and discussing ideas

10:00 pm
Begin Work
Start to formalize teams and take an inventory of skills. Be honest, and direct about what resources and skills are needed for the weekend. You may stay and work as late as the venue will allow

Saturday May 21st

8:00 am
Arrive, simple breakfast & coffee

8:30 am
Begin Work
Teams formed and setting up workspace for the weekend

9:00 am
Coach Meetings till 7PM
Coaches help teams one-on-one. They are here to help!

12:00 pm

6:30 pm

10:00 pm
Finished for the day. You may stay and work as late as the venue will allow

Sunday May 22nd

8:00 am
Arrive, simple breakfast & coffee

10:00 am
Coach Meetings

12:00 pm

1:00 pm
Presentation Prep & Tech Check
Final hours of worktime should be focused on perfecting your presentation, tech-check for final presentations also takes place

3:00 pm
Demo Day Presentations

5:00 pm

6:00 pm
Judging & Awards

7:00 pm

8:00 pm
After Party!
Party to celebrate your creations at Prison Hill Brewing Company (optional)


Dr. George Frisvold

Dr. George Frisvold, Agriculture Economist and Professor and Extension Specialist at University of Arizona’s Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics
What sprouts and flourishes when you combine agriculture and economics? Dr. George Frisvold! Having attended UC-Berkeley for a B.S. in Political Economy of Natural Resources (1983) and Ph.D in Agricultural and Resource Economics (1989), Dr. Frisvold has been a professor at the University of Arizona’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics since 1997. Prior, Dr. Frisvold was the Brand Chief for USDA’s Resource and Environmental Policy Branch, a Senior Economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Visiting Research Scholar at the Department of Extension and Technology Transfer, National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad, India. Additionally he was a co-editor for the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Wow!
Among his many research interests are domestic and international environmental policy, impact of technological change in agriculture, alternative/renewable energy, natural resources management, public policy and governance, transboundary water, and water conservation.
Awards and Honors include: Fellow, Rural Development Research Consortium, Technical Communication Award for Scholarly/Professional Articles, Society for Technical Communication, and a Letter of appreciation from President William Jefferson Clinton for economic analysis of Everglades restoration policies.

Event Judges

Chris Wheeler
Co-founder, Prison Hill Brewing Company

Sharing his local perspective as Investment Committee Chairman for Yossarian Capital Partners, Chris Wheeler brings his 4th generation, local knowledge and insight to the YCP team. He holds B.S. Degrees in Psychology and Molecular and Cellular Biology, in addition to graduate studies in neuroscience, from the University of Arizona. He co-founded Pacific Biomedical DME, an electrosurgical and durable medical equipment supply company. When not sitting on the board of a community organization, Chris can be found crafting a delicious pint at his brewery, Prison Hill Brewing Company.

James Lerner
Head of Investments, Yossarian Capital Partners

As Head of Investments at Yossarian Capital Partners, James brings his extensive sell and buy side experience to the investment team. Well traveled, James hails from New Zealand but forged his career in Australia after graduating from the University of Melbourne with an honors degree in Finance. He spent four years in investment banking at Lazard before being tapped to run the private family investment vehicle for the Head of Lazard Australia and to serve as his representative on the Lazard Australia Private Equity Investment Committee. James then served as Director at an infrastructure private equity firm before being recruited to lead his own investment team at Yossarian Capital Partners.

Cory Mellon
Grower & Logistics Supervisor

Cory Mellon, a graduate of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, received his BS degree in Crop Science in 1999. Cory oversees the day to day growing operations of the Yuma and Gila Valleys. Another of the many facets of Cory’s job is an ongoing in-field efficiency study to help guide equipment and employee decisions. Cory also oversees the purchase and maintenance of all the equipment and farm implements necessary to run a modern farming operation and supervises all planting operations for vegetable and non-vegetable crops. Cory and his wife Summer were married in 1999 and have two daughters. His is active in 4H and sits on the Yuma County Water Users’ Board. He is also a member of the Junior Livestock Committee for the Yuma County Fair.

Jon Jessen
Founder, Gowan Company

Jon Jessen founded the Grower Scientific Services in 1962.  A graduate of University of California-Davis, Jon studied Entomology. After serving as a U.S. Army medic in Korea, he arrived in Yuma in 1958 and began working as a fieldman for an agchem dealer. In 1960, Jon took a job as a fieldman in Imperial Valley. With the intention of starting his own business, Jon founded Grower Scientific Services (GSS) in 1962. Bringing his brother, Eric, to work with him, Jon moved his family back to Yuma in 1964. “When we started in the early 1960s in Yuma and Imperial Valley, we had no assets but our own resourcefulness,” Jessen said, noting it was difficult being an upstart company.” GSS began providing agrochemical sales, field checking services, and formulation of agricultural pesticides. Gowan Company was founded for “back office” support. Gowan operates in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, providing traditional and organic agrochemicals. In 2012, California Association of Pest Control Advisers awarded Jon the CAPCA’s Outstanding Contribution to Agriculture. Jon pursued his dream to begin a business and over 50 years later Gowan and Jon have become recognized leaders throughout Yuma.

Coaches and Mentors

Randy Nelson
Director, Small Business Development Corporation

Randy Nelson knows startups. As Director of AWC’s Small Business Development Centers, Randy provides small business owners the means to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Certified as a NxLevel Instructor and Profit Mastery Facilitator, he has helped thousands of students and businesses with financial literacy and business planning strategies. 2010 State Star Award as top performer in capital formation and customer satisfaction. Randy serves on the Board of Directors for Yuma County Airport Authority (January ‘15) and was elected to the Yuma Area Non Profit Institute (YANPI) Board in January 2012. Yuma County Chamber Member of the Year (2005), Center of Excellence Award AZSBDC (‘05-’10), and SBA Award as SBDC of the Year for ‘11 and ‘12 for the State of Arizona.

Jesus Tovar
Owner, T&P Farms

T&P Farms Owner, Jesus Tovar, embraces automation to reduce farm labor requirements for hand thinning and production costs, while increasing grower profitability. Roughly 2,500 acres of T&P Farms is dedicated to growing lettuce for Ocean Mist Farms which is located from San Luis, AZ to Bard, CA. T&P Farms is certified organic.

Nicole Griffin
Owner, Archixona PLLC

Nicolle is the owner of Archixona, the only woman-owned (EDWOSB) architectural firm in southwestern Arizona specializing primarily in small commercial/industrial projects including office facilities, corporate franchises, ag-industrial buildings and tenant improvements. An Architect at Sternco Engineers Nicolle was hired as the in-house owner’s rep Senior Facilities Project Manager by Yuma Regional Medical Center to manage a 3 year $165 million healthcare expansion. She is a Boardmember of STEDY, Southwest Technical Education District of Yuma, Chapter Leader at The Well Armed Woman Yuma Arizona, has a blog on “Using LinkedIn Effectively,” is a registered Architect with the State of Arizona Board of Technical Registration since March 2006, Vice President of Yuma County Library Board of Trustees, Board Member of Yuma County Development Industry Advisory Committee. Formerly named Yuma Foothills Rotarian of the Year (June 2000) and a Kentucky Wildcat Alumn. Nicolle continues to blaze a trail in Yuma.

Kristan Sheppeard

Kristan Sheppeard is Co-Owner of Limelight Creative Group, Marketing and Advertising firm based in Yuma, AZ. As the Director of Agritourism, Sales and Marketing for the Yuma Visitors Bureau, Kristan, knows how to promote Yuma Agriculture. Limelight was Yuma County Chamber of Commerce’s Member of the Month for December 2015. Instrumental in POWer PLAY’tes youth healthier eating initiatives along with JVSmith Companies. Co-founder of KIDS Cuddlekit Closet, nonprofit dedicated to providing children with an act of kindness and allowing them the opportunity to pay it forward. Heart of Yuma Awards 2015 recognized Kristan with the Outstanding Leader Award for volunteering over 200 hours every year to kids in the Yuma community. Along with KIDS Cuddlekit Closet, she along with her son, Jackson, headed the Fight for Johnny efforts.

Susan Sternitzke
Co-founder, LimeLight Creative Group, LLC

Susan is co-owner of Limelight Creative Group, based in Yuma, Arizona. Limelight is a public relations and marketing consulting firm. Susan was the Executive Director of the Yuma Visitors Bureau and owner of A to Z Marketing & Events. She has a B.S. Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Hotel and Restaurant Management and has worked in a variety of hotels, restaurants and catering operations across the country. She stays involved with tourism efforts on a state level as a member of the Tourism Advisory Council for the State of Arizona. She is married to John, a mechanical engineer/owner of Sternco Engineers in Yuma and mom to two young children.

Julie Engel
President, Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation

Julie Engel hails from North Platte, NE. For the past 8 years Julie has been the President & CEO of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation (GYEDC). Before arriving at GYEDC as a Project Manager in June of 2003, Julie previously held positions with the U.S. Postal Service, City of Somerton, and Cocopah Indian Tribe. Through her work at GYEDC, Julie has recruited 20 new companies into the Yuma region creating almost 2,893 new jobs. Between 2004-2014, Julie helped increase capital investment $1.3B in the Yuma region. She has assisted with the creation and implementation of GYEDC’s Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program Attaining Certified Economic Developer from the Economic Development Institute. Julie serves on the Board of Directors for Yuma Regional Medical Center, and National Heritage Area. Julie was appointed by Governor Brewer and again by Governor Ducey to serve on the Arizona Commerce Authority Rural Advisory Council, named the 2012 Economic Developer of the Year by the Arizona Association of Economic Development and received the 2015 Yuma Chamber of Commerce Athena Award.

Dr. Kurt Nolte
Director, Yuma Agricultural Center & Yuma County Cooperative Extension

Dr. Kurt Nolte attended UC-Riverside completing a B.S., dual major in Plant Science and Soil Science (‘84), and his M.S., Plant Science (‘89). Rounding out his academic career with a PhD in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology (‘93) from University of Florida. Dr. Nolte’s research interests include Fresh Produce Safety, crop and horticultural management and production, and plant protection and pathology. His teaching responsibilities include Advanced Ag Technology, providing leadership and outreach in the areas of vegetable production, and cutting-edge precision agricultural techniques that provide more uniform cropping patterns and subsequent yields.

Dr. Paula Rivadeneira
Assistant Specialist, Yuma County Cooperative Extension

Dr. Paula Rivandeneira is a food safety expert. A Graduate Student Researcher at Auburn University (Go Tigers!) where she received her PhD in Biology - Conservation Physiology, Professor at Nevada State College (Teaching Microbiology and Desert Plants), and Postdoctoral Researcher at UC Davis. Dr. Rivandeneira’s career has led her to be University of Arizona’s Assistant Professor/Extension Specialist focusing on food safety and wildlife at the Yuma Agricultural Center. Her programs include microbiological testing of of plants, soil, compost, and animal feces to identify the presence of food borne pathogens, assisting growers with excluding wild and domestic animals from their fields to prevent potential contamination of food crops, and developing protocols with the AZ State Department of Health that will allow schools to use on-site student-grown produce in their school lunchrooms. In her spare time she is the founder and president of Old Souls K9 Rescue and Retirement Home combining geriatric and special needs dogs. Faculty advisor for The Wildlife Society, Yuma Director at Large for the Arizona Nevada Academy of Science, and Member of the International Association for Food Protection.

Dr. Mark Siemens
Associate Specialist, Yuma County Cooperative Extension

Dr. Mark Siemens is University of Arizona’s Associate Specialist & Professor at Yuma Agricultural Center since February 2008. For 9 years, Dr. Siemens was the Agricultural Engineer at U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) in Pendelton, OR. Gaining experience by researching machine systems for soil conservation and sustainable production, Dr. Siemens specializes in crop mechanization and automation, agricultural machinery and equipment, and conservation tillage systems. He holds numerous patents, including one for a flexible ground-driven residue management wheel. Originally from Urbana, IL, he and his two daughters, Karina and Yesenia now call Yuma home.

Bob Cuckler
CEO, L5 Technologies

Bob Cuckler is a startup whiz-kid. His own startup venture, L5 Technologies focuses on food safety applications. Bob has amassed entrepreneurial experience between a number of roles in Seattle, Washington’s booming startup scene and now in the Greater Yuma region as a marketing consultant for a consortium of Yuma employers in hiring and employee retention efforts. Receiving his MBA at University of Washington’s Michael G. Foster School of Business, Bob concentrated on marketing and finance. With an extensive background in technology R&D, consulting, client relationship management and project management, Bob is your go-to for all things startups. In his spare time, Bob plays golf, tennis, an avid hiker of Telegraph Pass, and an amateur photographer.

Event Sponsors, and Partners

The Startup Weekend | Agriculture & Food team is grateful for the support of local community partners without whom this event would not be possible.
Learn how to become a sponsor here.



Organizing Team

Techstars Startup Weekend Yuma is 100% led by volunteer community leaders.
Learn how to get involved here

  • Hanh
  • Michael
  • Jason
  • Paul
  • Sonnet


Jen Newell
Marketing and Communications Professional

I am part of the original organizing team of Startup Weekend San Diego and saw SW grow from toddler-hood to adulthood as early as 2007 in Boulder when it began.

I have recently worked at two Techstars companies, Carbon Robotics and CleverPet. I recently changed gears to do social media marketing at a large scientific instrument company.

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