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Vanessa Margolis

With more than a decade of experience helping large and small companies and individuals adopt sustainable manufacturing practices, programs, and products, Vanessa Margolis works as a Portfolio Director at Vertuelab, where she helps coordinate the Commercialization Program and interfaces with VertueLab Companies. Prior to joining the VertueLab team, Vanessa was a senior project manager at Nike, the U.S. Environmental Manger at Tong Hong Leather, and a senior consultant for WSP Environment and Energy. She has worked with national and international companies producing products ranging from footwear and apparel, to electronics and health care.

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Yesenia Gallardo

Yesenia is a Principal at Occam Advisors, a consulting firm working with clients to build impact investment strategies. Yesenia works with clients to identify, build, and support relationships with socially-minded startups in strategic regions around the world. She leads diligence on early stage venture investments for clients from developing a business case, to financial and risk analysis, to investment execution and management. As a serial entrepreneur who has founded multiple companies in the food and beverage sector, she is passionate about supporting underserved and underrepresented entrepreneurs with environmental and social missions. Yesenia received her masters in environmental management from Yale University's School of the Environment and BA from Willamette University.

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Rachel Jagoda Brunette

As a Program Officer for The Lemelson Foundation, Rachel Jagoda Brunette manages the Foundation’s Regional Invention Ecosystems initiative to enable the next generation of inventors and their companies to thrive. Her grant portfolio includes programs working in K12, higher education and innovation and entrepreneurship in Oregon. She also serves on the leadership committee of the Entrepreneurship Funders Network and the steering committee for the Oregon Capital Scan and Oregon Small Business Stabilization Fund, and was on the advisory committee for the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities Commission on Innovation and Community Economic Prosperity.

Prior to joining the Foundation in 2014, Brunette worked on science, technology, and education policy in the government and nonprofit sectors. As professional staff with the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, she handled oversight of federal STEM programs at the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. She supported the drafting of the America COMPETES Act and represented the Science and Technology Committee majority staff on the conference committee for the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.

Prior to her Congressional staff service, she also helped advocate for investments in education, sustainability and basic research at the American Society for Engineering Education and Federation of American Scientists. After relocating to Oregon in 2008, Rachel worked for local elected officials on issues related to STEM education, technology industry development and economic competitiveness. She is a working group member for the Council on Competitiveness’s National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers.

Brunette holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in political management from The George Washington University.

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Skylar Pearson

Skyler Pearson is the co-founder and CEO of the vertical farming startup, Nexgarden. With a deep understanding of interpersonal dynamics and an education in psychology, Skyler believes in a human-centered approach to leadership and business. Her educational and professional background surrounds human decision-making psychology and nutritional behavior change. Her strategy with Nexgarden focuses on high-impact commercial agriculture, because of the potential it holds for change in nutritional behavior patterns of the population. With a special emphasis on environmental sustainability, Skyler leads business and growth strategy at Nexgarden with a sharp and adaptable mind, and she bonds the team together with passion and authenticity.

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Hugh Neri

Hugh Neri is the co-founder and CTO of Nexgarden, a Portland based start-up building commercial vertical farms. Driven by a deep sense of environmental responsibility, he has dedicated his life’s work to creating positive change for the planet through design and innovation. With graduate education in sustainability and social entrepreneurship, and certifications in green building design through the LEED Green Associate program, Hugh knows how to innovate for a better future.


Hugh has designed and developed Nexgarden’s complex farm facilities and growing system. This includes the buildings’ design for environmental efficiency, physical architecture, and aeroponic growing systems, all the way down to the plant support mechanisms inside. He is listed as a co-inventor of the pending international patent application for Nexgarden’s facility design.

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