North American Food Innovation Executive Council FIEAC members

Jonathan Sebastiani, MBA Founder of Sonoma Brands

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Mr. Jon Sebastiani is the founder of artisanal jerky brand, KRAVE, and leader of the jerky renaissance, leading KRAVE to their successful acquisition by The Hershey Company.  His expertise in the field has been cultivated through various business pursuits, including his background in operations and previous positions as managing partner of Wine.com and President of the premier California winery destination, Viansa Winery. He is a graduate of Santa Clara University with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and holds a dual MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Columbia University.bout your business here.

David Batstone, Founder of Rebbl & Just Business

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 Mr. David Batstone is a catalyst for driving positive change across the world. Working with entrepreneurs and investors to create forward-thinking companies that return dignity to people and planet, he is quietly leading a revolution in the way 21st century business operates. A sought-after speaker and consultant to businesses and non-profits alike, Mr. Batstone shares his unique model for developing successful enterprises that create opportunity for everyone.  

Mr. Batstone is the visionary founder and Managing Director of Just Business a social impact investment firm. His portfolio of successful ventures includes REBBL - top organic beverage in the USA, Z Shoes an organic shoe company, and Not For Sale, a global anti-human trafficking organization. He is currently a professor in entrepreneurship and innovation at the School of Management, University of San Francisco, and was previously a private equity banker in the technology industry. Mr. Batstone has authored five books, is the recipient of two national journalist awards. 

Kelly Duffin, Founder of Duffin Food Innovations

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 Ms. Kelly Duffin is an inspiring international business executive who has successfully set high standards for quality and innovation. She has set an example of providing consumers with the best products possible by integrating consumer insight, product design and quality. She has led multiple companies to the heights of success through her unique approach towards design innovation.

Ms. Kelly Duffin has worked with a number of different food companies over 30 years. She served as an Executive Vice President of Research & Development at Dean Foods Co from 2008 to 2013. Prior to that, she served as the Senior Vice President of Kraft Foods, Breakthrough Innovation domestically and internationally. Some of her major work includes creating original consumer platforms to accelerate the growth of Kraft Foods. She most recently was the Senior Vice President of Research & Development/Quality at Continental Mills, Inc until starting her own Consultancy company Duffin Food Innovations. 

FIEAC members

Dr. Weizhi Chen, PhD, MBA CEO,Food Innovation Design

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Dr. Weizhi Chen is an inspiring innovation executive known in the food industry for his expertise in creating consumer-winning products from idea to market. He possesses extensive innovation experience across retail, private label, and food service businesses, spanning various categories such as dairy, plant-based protein, coffee products, bakery, beverages, refrigerated and frozen, snacks and weight management foods. 

He has been a senior corporate executive leading cross-functional innovation teams for industry-leading companies in the U.S. for the past 15 years, including Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Barilla, Dean Foods, WhiteWave Foods and MorningStar. Most recently, he served as Senior Vice President & Chief Technical Officer at the Whitewave Foods/Danone company leading domestic and international innovation teams, managing R&D, Operations, Supply Chain, Procurement, and Quality Assurance for company’s Asia business, and Consumer Sciences, Applied Technologies, and New Category Innovation for the US business.

Dr. Chen is the Founder & President CEO of Food Innovation Design, LLC dedicated to creating innovative foods and beverages for health and wellness. He is also an Executive in Residence and Adjunct Professor at Daniels College of Business at University of Denver, teaching idea to market innovation and entrepreneurship. He has received advanced education in both technical and business fields, with a Ph.D. in Food Science from Kansas State University and an MBA in Marketing and General Management from Northwestern University. He holds several U.S. patents and has been invited to speak at global innovation conferences.

Yee-Ann Cho, MBA COO of Daniels College of Business

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  As Chief Operating Officer at the Daniels College of Business at University of Denver, Ms.Yee-Ann Cho oversees Career Services, Graduate Student Services, Experiential Operations, Communications and Marketing, External Relations, Executive Education and Graduate Admissions, and works to integrate Daniels’ strategic vision throughout the College’s operations.

Ms. Cho previously worked as a consultant providing strategy, program design and implementation, and project management support to educational, philanthropic and nonprofit ventures. She also served as Senior Vice President of Initiatives at The Colorado Education Initiative where she oversaw the implementation of all strategic programmatic work in support of the organization’s mission to accelerate innovation and improvement in Colorado’s schools. Prior to that, Yee-Ann served as Chief of Staff to then-Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien and spent more than five years as a Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation managing an investment portfolio of more than $200M.

Yee-Ann earned a BA in international relations from Colgate University, and EdM in policy and evaluation from Stanford University’s School of Education, and an MBA from Yale University’s School of Management. 

David Behringer, CEO of Pilot Lite Ventures

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 Mr. Dave Behringer is a award-winning innovator, research and development executive, Innovation Thought Leader, engineer, and certified professional chef with a 25+ year track record of delivering technology fueled 'Game Changing' innovation across packaging, product, processing and cost savings initiatives for large corporates and start-ups. Mr. Behringer is CEO of Pilot Lite Ventures USA, which is a global organization that identifies, validates and commercializes breakthrough innovation across industries for Fortune 500 corporations.  

Mr. Behringer was the Chief Technology Officer for 915 Labs, the manufacturer of Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilization and Pasteurization equipment and packaging. The patented technology allows packaged foods companies to make great tasting, natural, nutritious, additive free packaged food products. Dave also spent 25 years as a R&D leader at Kraft Foods, responsible for R&D strategy, emerging science and technology, disruptive Innovation, packaging Innovation, strategic partnerships and open Innovation. He has had a hand in launching multiple $100M+ award winning market successes including Kraft Fat Free Salad Dressings, ‘Innovation of the Year’ Back to Nature Natural and Organic Brand, packaging formats such as stick pack for Crystal Light and patented Peel & Seal recloseable packaging for Chips Ahoy & Oreo.  

FIEAC members

Ali Besharat, PhD Associate Professor, Daniels School of Business

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 Dr. Ali Besharat is Associate Professor of Marketing and Co-Director of the Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center (CiBiC) at Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. His research includes two main domains: “Marketing Communications” and “Judgment and Decision Making”. His research in consumer behavior provides important insights into innovative efforts related to branding, product development, and marketing communications. Dr. Besharat’s scholarly work has been published in many prestigious Marketing journals as well as popular media outlets, including Time, CNN Money, Yahoo!, Business Insider, The Week, WalletHub, 9NEWS, Denver Post, Fox31, among others.  

Melissa Akaka, Ph.D Associate Professor, Daniels College of Business

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 Dr. Melissa Archpru Akaka is Associate Professor of Marketing and Co-Director of the Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center (CiBiC) at Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. Her research investigates consumer-centric innovation and collaborative entrepreneurship within dynamic business ecosystems. She also studies how consumption experiences and journeys create value and lead to innovative outcomes. Dr. Akaka’s scholarly work has been published in a variety of academic journals, and her paper titled “Innovation through Institutionalization: A Service Ecosystem Perspective” was recognized for being “highly cited” (in the top 1%) by Thompson and Reuters.

Andy Judd, MBA CMO of ONE Brands

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Mr. Andy Judd is an experienced marketing leader focused on building exceptional teams and go-to-market models that build brands and businesses. He has led teams across brand marketing, insights, e-commerce, digital and social media, and creative services from large strategic consumer goods enterprises to emerging high-growth brands. 

He currently serves as CMO to ONE Brands, which is one of the fastest growing protein bar in the US. Prior to ONE, he was VP Marketing for the Boulder Brands business unit of Pinnacle Foods leading all marketing functions of a high growing portfolio of plant-based and gluten free brands. He previously led the management of the So Delicious brand at WhiteWave, where he also spent time transforming the organic and non-dairy yogurt business into one of the fastest growing yogurt companies in the US. Prior to joining WhiteWave, he served as Category Director for ice cream, iced coffee, blended beverages and value added milk portfolio at Saputo Dairy Foods and Dean Foods. Mr. Judd started his post MBA career at Campbell’s Soup Company where during his seven‐year tenure at Campbell’s, he led marketing of the Campbell’s iconic R&W condensed soup brand, Campbell’s kids portfolio, the development of Hispanic marketing, and the acquisition of Wolfgang Puck.

FIEAC members

Dustin Finkel, MBA Founder & CEO, inGRAINed Snack

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Dustin not only worked for blue-chip multinationals: Goldman Sachs, First Data Corporation, Kellogg Food Company, and General Mills Inc, but also in smaller companies ranging from start-ups to fast-growing enterprises: eLodging Solutions, WhiteWave, and Famous Brands Intl.

As a Sr. Director of Famous Brands, Marketing Manager of numerous worldwide & category-leading brands, and a Sr. Investment Banking analyst, Dustin has been able to cultivate a unique management perspective, and the ability to leverage advanced analytical thinking, while blending in consumer insights and trending provides a strong base from which to help implement successful management initiatives. 

Dustin has a wealth of experience from identifying, creating and launching new products to seizing white space in the market to stealing share with newly developed brands. Dustin is a big, strategic thinker who can execute, plus a consumer-centric marketer with a commercial mindset. Willing to roll up his sleeves and pitch in wherever needed, Dustin is not only a strong leader and developer of people but also a can-do team player that can rally cross-functional players to deliver winning results.

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