2023 Ray of Hope Prize Judges

Janine Benyus
Biomimicry 3.8 Co-founder

Janine Benyus is the Co-founder of Biomimicry 3.8. She is a biologist, innovation consultant, and author of six books, including Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Since the book’s 1997 release, Janine’s work as a global thought leader has evolved the practice of biomimicry from a meme to a movement, inspiring clients and innovators around the world to learn from the genius of nature. 

She has personally introduced millions to biomimicry through two TED talks, hundreded of conference keynote presentations, and a dozen documentaries such as Biomimicry, produced by Leonard DiCaprio’s Tree Media, 11th Hour, Harmony, and The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, which aired in 71 countries. Most recently, Janine has been a featured speaker at Harvard’s SHINE conference, Sustainable Brands 2016, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek Desing 2016. However, Janine’s favorite role is biologist as the design table, where she introduces innovators to 3.8 billion years worth of brilliant, time-tested solutions through her work at Biomimicry 3.8.

Deepak Rajmohan
Co-Founder & CEO, GreenPod Labs (2022 awardee)

Deepak has a bachelor’s in Agriculture Engineering and a Master’s in Food Science. He has spent 8+ years in research in the field of Agriculture and Food biotechnology. He worked as a Food Scientist for Danone in the US for 2 years and quit that job to start his company GreenPod Labs. GreenPod Labs is an Agritech startup developing biotech solutions to minimize food waste and food losses in developing countries.

Deepak has a deep understanding of biotechnology, crop science, food science, and emerging technologies such as bioinformatics, data science, etc. He has built a strong team of 25+ people and oversees the company executive side and fundraising.

Julia Arnhold
Managing Partner, Overview Capital

Julia Arnhold has been executing corporate sustainability programs, marketing strategies, and brand initiatives for global businesses since 2010. At Ruder Finn, Julia implemented communications strategies for the award-winning PepsiCo Dream Machine Recycling Initiative, the company’s recycling program, in collaboration with Waste Management. Julia also worked as a brand strategist at Gin Lane, the creative agency that launched and built brands such as Harry’s, Hims/Hers, Smile Direct Club, Dia&Co, Stadium Goods, and sweetgreen.

Julia has a longstanding commitment to building a robust community around conservation, impact, education, and the
arts. She is a Board Observer at Mulago, a grantmaking foundation creating impact at scale, by tackling the basic needs of the very poor. She supports Conservation International’s work to fight climate change and protect wildlife from extinction. She is on the Board of Overseers at NYU, a Director of the Arnhold Foundation, which funds causes regarding the environment, healthcare, education, international affairs, and the arts, and a Board Member of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. Julia also serves on the Emerging Leadership Council at 92NY, is on the Art Acquisitions Committee at the Jewish Museum, and is a founding member of the American Ballet Theater Accelerator. While earning her MBA, Julia worked as a Venture Associate at 37 Angels, where she led the seed stage deal sourcing cycle, including screening and due diligence on potential investments.

Julia holds a BA in Hispanic Studies and Communications from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Léonie Weerakoon
Board Director, C-Level Advisor and VC Partner who Builds Innovative, Billion Dollar Brands and Systems

For over two decades, H.E. Léonie Weerakoon has explored the interdependence of biodiversity within global systems, spanning various industries, countries, and languages. Her transnational expertise, rooted in a B.S. in Human Ecology and a B.S. in Apparel Design and Conservation, along with her fluency in four languages, has guided her multifaceted journey. With a background as a human ecologist, serial entrepreneur, board member, investor, and policy co-author, she has achieved four successful exits totaling $14 billion and an economic impact exceeding $11 billion in Europe and the U.S. Ms. Weerakoon currently serves as the Managing Director at Kinetik, an investment vehicle catalyzing nature-related technology. She simultaneously holds positions as a U.N. International Delegate, Senior Executive Advisor for tech innovation to the President of the Nation of Hawaii, and Executive Advisor to Global Island Partnerships. Her collaborations span a spectrum of stakeholders, from Heads of State to innovators, academic faculty, scientists, indigenous communities, and investors. She specializes in creating visuals for economic development and interdisciplinary open science frameworks, highlighting island nations and nature technologies.

Mark Settles
Synthetic Biology Investigator at NASA

Mark Settles received a B.A. in Biological Sciences from the University of Delaware, and a Ph.D. in Genetics from Stony Brook University. He completed dissertation research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and a post-doc at the University of Florida. From 2000-2021, Dr. Settles was the Vasil-Monsanto Professor of Plant Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Florida. His UF program focused on genomics, maize seed development, environmental stress tolerance, and synthetic genes for biotechnology applications. Dr. Settles was a Program Director in the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Program in 2020 and transferred to NASA Ames in 2021.

He is the principal investigator of the LEIA and Space Algae-2 projects as well as a lead for the Space Synthetic Biology and Convergent Aeronautics Solutions Designed Adhesion projects. Dr. Settles has published 53 articles and book chapters and is an inventor on two patents in artificial intelligence and synthetic biology.

John Lanier
Ray C. Anderson Foundation, Executive Director

John A. Lanier is the Executive Director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, a Georgia-based private family foundation honoring the legacy of the late Ray C. Anderson. Lanier joined the organization in May 2013 to lead the Foundation that bears his grandfather’s name. Ray was a globally recognized industrialist and pioneer for environmentalism, and Lanier continues his legacy today through Foundation programs that seek to create a brighter, more sustainable world.

From 2011 to 2013, Lanier worked in Atlanta as an Associate Attorney in the federal Tax Practice Group of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, now Eversheds Sutherland. He represented the interests of various Atlanta-based nonprofits, gaining experience in nonprofit formations, compliance, and applications for recognition of tax-exempt status. During that time, the Ray C. Anderson Foundation was one of his clients. Through his work with the Foundation, Lanier is a founding member of Drawdown Georgia, a movement designed to scale the most effective climate solutions for the state of Georgia. He previously served as a member of the Board of Directors for Project Drawdown and the Southface Institute. He is author of Mid-Course Correction Revisited, an updated edition of his grandfather’s first book, and he was named to Georgia Trend’s “40 Under 40” list in 2021. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Virginia School of Law and he holds Bachelor of Arts Degrees in History and Economics from the University of Virginia. He is an Atlanta native, and he lives in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta with his wife, Chantel, and young children, J.R. and Cecilia.

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