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 Ruhe 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, Groundwork Labs Program Director

John is the founder and director of Groundwork Labs. Since starting Groundwork Labs in 2011, he has personally mentored more than 200 entrepreneurs. He was a founding team member of Soar Triangle, and mentors and speaks at universities, Startup Weekends, and business plan competitions.   

Prior to NC IDEA, he 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, and was COO of Division, Inc., a virtual reality startup company that was acquired by HP. 

John has a master’s in Computer Science from UNC-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, Grant Director

Andrea manages the grant program and marketing efforts at NC IDEA. She has been involved in the Research Triangle’s entrepreneurial community for over fifteen years serving in varying marketing and communications roles within well-known and respected entrepreneurial support organizations, investment firms and professional services firms. Andrea received a B.A. in Journalism and a Minor in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Natasha Goldstein, SoarTriangle Program Director

Natasha Goldstein has spent the last ten years working in corporate finance, managing an international impact investment fund and founding a social venture. In addition to her role at NC IDEA, Natasha is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Launch Chapel Hill, an accelerator program.

From 2013 to 2017 Natasha was Managing Director & Chief Financial Officer of MCE Social Capital, a $50 million global impact investment fund focused on improving the lives of low-income women. At MCE Natasha oversaw a portfolio increase of 67%, was responsible for raising approximately $20 million in impact investment capital annually, and was responsible for all financial and operational aspects of the fund. Prior to joining MCE Natasha founded LIFT Investments, a social business focused on job creation through capital investments and skills training in Nairobi, Kenya. Earlier in her career, from 2007 to 2009, Natasha worked at UBS Investment Bank as an investment banking analyst, where she focused on multi-million and billion dollar cross-border mergers, acquisitions, and equity transactions.

Natasha sits on the board of several social enterprises. She earned a Bachelor’s of Commerce degree with a major in finance and accounting from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada and a Masters of Public Administration focused on economic development from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Lauren McCullough, Program Manager

As Program Manager, Lauren is a central point of contact for the implementation and day-to-day activities associated with NC IDEA’s grants and programs. 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.

Sarah Mixter, Community and Office Coordinator

As the Community and Office Coordinator for NC IDEA, Sarah coordinates operations for Groundwork Labs, Soar Triangle and the NC IDEA grant programs. Sarah has over 5 years of experience in managing operations, logistics and events in Chapel Hill. She graduated from The University of North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies.

Meet our Board of Directors

Board of Directors