Tech Tank: tapping into our innovation pipeline

Published: Dec 29, 2022

At Nutrien, supporting tech innovation and career development is all in a day’s work, but earlier this year, we took that to a whole new level, in an employee-led innovation pitch competition called Tech Tank.

It all started in Nutrien Academy – our flagship leadership development program for women in North America. We recruit up-and-coming women employees from across our organization and assemble them in cross-functional teams where they learn about our multi-faceted operations and take on a series of group projects designed to grow their business acumen and hone their leadership skills.

In one of those projects, we asked, “What can Nutrien do to launch itself into the 21st century and lead innovation?” And in response, one team came up with Tech Tank – a Shark Tank/Dragons Den-style pitch competition that would invite employees to propose innovation ideas. The submissions would be shortlisted and the top three would present their ideas to a panel of judges – nicknamed Tech Tank Titans – in a competition for a $10,000 grand prize and the opportunity to implement their idea in the business.

This was just supposed to be a learning exercise, but leaders felt it had real-world potential and decided to pilot it in the West Region of our North American Nutrien Ag Solutions business.

From ideation to implementation

They invited employees to submit proposals, and after eight weeks, there were 15 strong submissions. A cross-functional committee of leaders had the tough job of picking the top three submissions. The employees who came up with those ideas then got to climb into the virtual Tech Tank and present their ideas to the Titans – who had the even tougher job of picking a winner based on three key variables: innovation, implementation and, most importantly, impact.

California Sales Representative Ryan Ballesteros proposed a system to eliminate paperwork and streamline, automate and optimize workflow in our selling process. Colorado-based Sales Representative Dustin Polasek pitched innovative new ways to use unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones) in timberland vegetation management. And Jesse Wolff and Mo Bruns – also from our Timberland team – pitched Nutrien Field Analytics, a sophisticated sales data management system.

They were all great ideas, but in the end, the Titans awarded the top prize to Nutrien Field Analytics, and runner-up prizes of $3,000 each to Dustin and Ryan – and teams are working to implement all three proposals in our business.

“The Nutrien Field Analytics pitch won me over because it was an idea from the field, for the field,” says Spencer Harris, Vice President, North American Strategic Operations & Supplier Management for Nutrien Ag Solutions, and one of the Tech Tank Titans. “They also impressed me with a working example of their idea. It made it very easy to see the benefits to our people.”

Fertile soil in Nutrien Academy

Brent Poohkay, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, is confident there are many more great ideas where these came from.

“This company is all about innovation and creativity, and I never cease to be impressed by the ingenuity and adaptability of our people,” Brent says.

But what he finds most encouraging in this story is where the idea came from.

“Marie works in Retail, Sara in Potash, Kristen in Finance and Stephanie in Legal. They each see innovation happening routinely among their coworkers, and they put their heads together to come up with a way to tap into that pipeline. It was precisely the multi-discipline aspect of the Nutrien Academy program that created the fertile soil for this idea to take root.”

And they didn’t just come up with the Tech Tank idea, they implemented it, he notes.

“They ran with it and delivered on it in ways that exceeded everyone’s expectations. I’m proud of what they accomplished together, and I look forward to watching them continue to grow, thrive and contribute to Nutrien’s success in the years to come.”


The Tech Tank Team

  • Sara Clavelle, Senior Manager, Plant Finance, Lanigan Potash
  • Kristen Haigh, Manager, Transportation, Distribution & Logistics Finance
  • Marie Ocafrain, Marketing Manager, Coastal Division
  • Stephanie Osterman, Assistant General Counsel, Retail North America
  • Janet Sutton, Project Service Manager, IT
  • Ashlee Daye, Senior Manager, IT Strategy and Change
  • Jaime Anne Vaughan, IDS Engagement Lead
  • Lindsey Verhaeghe, Sustainability Initiative & Reporting Manager


The Tech Tank Titans

  • Brent Poohkay, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
  • David Elser, Senior Vice President, Retail North America
  • Carolyn Engel, Senior Vice President, Retail Finance
  • Cameron Holbrook, VP Digital
  • Spencer Harris, Vice President, North American Strategic Operations & Supplier Management