Meet the Team

The team at NC IDEA shares the vision and values of the ecosystem we serve. We value collaboration, both with each other, and within and amongst the broader community. Our diverse experiences and extensive networks enable us to expand entrepreneurial opportunities for North Carolinians. We consider ourselves fortunate to spend our days helping entrepreneurs and the supporting ecosystem achieve their best potential.


Thom Ruhe, President & CEO

Thom is President and CEO of NC IDEA. He is an entrepreneur, investor, mentor and works with entrepreneurs, governments, universities and NGOs around the world to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset needed to grow vibrant economies.

During his seven-year tenure at the Kauffman Foundation, he directed the Foundation’s programs addressing entrepreneurial education, mentoring, access to capital and fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems. Thom also led Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation, a school dedicated to advancing community deployed experiential-based entrepreneurial education.

Thom has served on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council for Entrepreneurship, addressed the United Nations Assembly on Entrepreneurship, lectured at conferences around the world and serves on multiple boards including Innovation Fund America and the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina.

John Austin, Senior Director

John is Senior Director at NC IDEA and manages NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM. He was the Founder of Groundwork Labs in 2011, which formally became NC IDEA LABS, and has personally mentored more than 200 entrepreneurs. He was also a founding team member of SoarTriangle, now NC IDEA SOAR. John mentors and speaks at universities, Startup Weekends and business plan competitions.

Prior to NC IDEA, John was the Managing Director of Joystick Labs, an accelerator for video game developers. His entrepreneurial experience includes CEO of Numerical Design, Ltd., a startup delivering video game industry’s leading providers of game engines and tools to video game developers. He also served as COO of Division, Inc., a virtual reality startup that was acquired by HP.

John has a master’s in Computer Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering from Valparaiso University.

John spends Friday mornings kicking around ideas with startup founders.  If you’d like to meet with him, schedule a time here. 

Andrea Cook, Director

Andrea serves as Director at NC IDEA. She directly manages the Foundation’s marketing activities and operations. She has been with NC IDEA since 2010 and has been actively involved in North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for over 18 years serving in various roles within well-known and respected entrepreneurial support organizations, investment partnerships and professional services firms.

Prior to NC IDEA, Andrea served as Director of Marketing and Business Development at Hutchison PLLC. Prior to Hutchison PLLC, Andrea held various roles at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), including Director of Outreach and Initiatives and Director of Conferences. Toward the beginning of her career, Andrea spent several years as the Marketing Communications Director at Intersouth Partners, a prominent venture capital firm investing throughout the Southeast.

Andrea received a B.A. in Journalism and a Minor in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has served on the boards of the Visual Art Exchange and EntreDot.

Lauren McCullough, Director

Lauren serves as Director at NC IDEA, where her primary responsibilities are managing NC IDEA LABS, NC IDEA LEAD and NC IDEA SOAR.

Prior to working with NC IDEA, Lauren was a team member at ArchiveSocial, a Durham-based startup and a former NC IDEA SEED grant recipient. Prior to relocating to the Triangle, Lauren worked as the Client Service Coordinator for the Ohio University Innovation Center, a technology business incubator located in Athens, Ohio. Lauren received her B.A. and Master’s in Public Administration from Ohio University where she also served as Graduate Assistant for TechGROWTH Ohio, a program providing early stage funding and technical assistance to technology ventures in Southeast Ohio.

Lauren currently serves on the Board of Directors for multiple Durham-based non-profits, including the Solution Generators Network and the Scrap Exchange. She is also a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and a proud member of the Bull City Roller Derby team.

Lauren spends Thursdays and Fridays meeting with startup founders.  If you’d like to meet with her, schedule a time here. 

Sarah Mixter, Community Manager

Sarah is the Community Manager at NC IDEA where she oversees NC IDEA ENGAGE, as well as operations and logistics for other Foundation programs. Sarah coordinates speakers and experts to help startups succeed in North Carolina, as well as plans Foundation events.

Sarah has 5 years of experience planning and managing logistics for a variety of events, including performing arts events, receptions, dinners and lectures with high profile guests and artists. Before working at NC IDEA, Sarah directed front of house operations and managed event logistics for over 200 yearly events at Memorial Hall, Gerrard Hall and Historic Playmaker’s Theater on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. Sarah also participated in the planning and execution of university events, including commencement ceremonies, VIP receptions and student group performances. During this time, she completed Venue Management School through The International Association of Venue Managers and managed a staff of 50 student ushers.

Meet our Board of Directors

Board of Directors