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Meet the seven women selected for AgriFutures and AgriFutures growᴬᴳ⋅ Catalyst program

AgriFutures and AgriFutures growAG. have unveiled the seven women chosen their inaugural Catalyst program in 2024.

The announcement follows the Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review's recent recommendations report, which detailed obstacles women face in STEM, ranging from educational opportunities to workplace flexibility. Despite a notable 68% surge in participation since 2012, women continue to represent a mere 15% of the STEM workforce. 

Designed to empower female leaders in the agriculture and technology sectors, the Catalyst program aims to bolster participants' networks and capabilities within the agrifood and innovation ecosystem. Moreover, it provides a vital platform for advancing their research or technological innovations to the next phase of development. 

The seven participants will have the opportunity to pitch their projects to potential investors and strategic partners during an invite-only event scheduled for June. Leading up to the event, the participants will benefit from personalised one-on-one coaching sessions to refine their pitches and tailored support through growᴬᴳ, facilitating connections with potential investors and partners. 

To read more about the catalyst program, visit the AgriFutures website here.

The 2024 Catalyst Program participants (In alphabetical order) are: 

Dr Aarti Tobin, Science Lead, Just Meat Co

An accomplished researcher in the food innovation space, Dr Aarti Tobin is Science Lead at Just Meat Co (JMC), a food ingredient company working to deliver bespoke protein solutions for the food and beverage industry.  
Using a novel platform process, developed at CSIRO, JMC is working to develop a range of commercial ingredients that will boost the protein and key nutritional aspects of end products like protein powders used by high performance athletes. Its first product is a high protein meat powder made from lower-value meat cuts. It is nutrient dense, highly soluble and digestible, allergen free, shelf-stable with a mild flavour.  
The novel manufacturing process creates opportunity to convert low value meat products into high protein powders of different grades and to meet different needs. The protein powder can be integrated into sports drinks, foods, beverages and pet foods, giving it potential to become an integral part of the beef sector’s production and value. 

Fiona Turner, CEO and Co-Founder, Bitwise Agronomy

After returning to the farm in 2017, Fiona identified issues with the dataset and available software that were supposed to help her manage her crops.  

Bitwise Agronomy brings farming together with modern technologies like AI and machine learning to turn data into information for making decisions, so farms can improve forecasting, reduce operating costs and increase the gross margin. Bitwise Agronomy’s agtech solution, called GreenView, uses AI to analyse video footage from crops to accurately forecast yield and help guide management decisions. The improved accuracy of yield forecasting feeds into, and improves, the whole supply chain by giving price stability for growers, distributors and consumers. GreenView currently works with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, wine grapes, table grapes, and snacking cucumbers.  

Dr Kerstin Petroll, Chief Technology Officer, HydGene Renewables

As Chief Technology Officer at HydGene Renewables, Dr Kerstin Petroll is a young STEM graduate at the forefront of developing the startup. 

HydGene Renewables’ proprietary hydrogen biocatalyst enables the on-site conversion of diverse feedstocks, including those from agriculture and forestry, into 100% renewable, carbon negative hydrogen, minimising the need for transportation and storage. The technology addresses the issue of agricultural waste residues, which account for a significant portion of emissions and landfill contributions. It value-adds and promotes a circular economy by turning these waste biomass residues into clean chemicals and energy.  

The green hydrogen product can also be used to reduce emissions in synthetic ammonia fertiliser production, contributing to the diverse mix of solutions needed to combat climate change and make farming practices more sustainable. The HydGene Renewables biocatalyst technology is robust, and able to make hydrogen continuously for many months using waste streams that are typically toxic to other bio-based solutions.  

Dr Nasim Amiralian, Group Leader, Bio-Inspired Materials Group, University of Queensland

As group leader of the Bio-Inspired Materials Group (The Group) within the University of Queensland, Dr Nasim Amiralian’s world-leading research targets the significant challenge of the global plastic packaging and agricultural waste issues.  

The Group has developed a fully bio-based and biodegradable lignocellulosic bioplastic from sugarcane trash and demonstrated its effectiveness as packaging materials. The bioplastic uses a single-step, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly method which enhances productivity and significantly improves the mechanical properties crucial for the paper-based packaging industry.  

The material also has high barrier properties against oxygen, oil, and water, helping it extend the shelf-life of fresh foods. By eliminating petrochemical and synthetic barrier coatings, this technology increases biodegradability and environmental safety. It can be compostable or recycled alongside commercially available fibre packaging (e.g. cardboard boxes) and significantly improves their strength. 

Nikki Davey, Co-Founder and CEO, Grown not Flown

Nikki Davey is a Glenmore-based flower farmer, tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Grown not Flown, a digital ecosystem designed to make it easy for growers to connect with diverse markets, manage online sales and communicate with consumers. 

Designed to connect local farmers, local communities, and local economies, Grown not Flown aims to serve as a farmers' market in your pocket. It works as an easy-to-use platform, like an Etsy for produce. It is completely self-managed and removes the need for growers to build and manage their own websites. Grown Not Flown provides users with an aggregated view of local flower farmers and producers, making it easy to search, source and purchase seasonal, locally grown goods.  

This first of its kind platform also provides industry wide insights and data that have been largely unavailable to this point. Grown Not Flown recently expanded to service other small-scale growers and launched its GYM membership which provides an online masterclass subscription to help users improve their business practices and performance and grow their business acumen. 

Sam Sneddon, CEO, WollemAI

Sam Sneddon is an experienced entrepreneur and sustainability leader, and CEO of WollemAI, the first AI and machine learning solution that measures and reports on emissions from land and agriculture including emissions from land use change.  

Agriculture is an essential sector in the push to reach emissions reductions targets, but accurate, consistent measurement of emissions from land and agriculture at scale remains difficult.  WollemAI is a software as a service (SaaS) solution that allows real-time, verifiable analysis of any investment or loan exposure to land or agriculture. Integrating public and private data sets, WollemAI applies its proprietary emissions factors to deliver accurate and actionable audit grade emissions and physical risk metrics at a hyper local level. Where customer data has gaps, machine learning and AI are applied to fill those gaps with predictive modelling, and results are updated automatically in real time as data changes.  

Dr Tanushree B Gupta, Senior Scientist, AgResearch Ltd

As a Senior Scientist with AgResearch, New Zealand, Dr Tanushree B Gupta is leading a team working on reducing incidences of facial eczema in livestock. 

Global warming is expected to exacerbate the prevalence of facial eczema, and current interventions include harmful substances which are toxic to the environment. Facial eczema, caused by a fungus found in decaying plant matter, is a substantial economic burden for New Zealand and Australian agriculture, resulting in losses in the hundreds of millions dollars each year. 

AgResearch is currently focused on eradicating the fungus by reducing the germination of the fungal spores in pasture with the development of an antifungal product with safe and eco-friendly active ingredients. The compound is water soluble, facilitating easy application through spraying and increasing affordability.  

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