In November 2019, NC IDEA, in conjunction with the Governor’s Entrepreneurial Council (GEC), hosted the first-ever North Carolina Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Summit with the ambition to catalyze entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy for the state of North Carolina. As an official event of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), the Summit was an unprecedented gathering of nearly 500 individuals and organizations who support, encourage and nourish North Carolina’s entrepreneurs. Attendees came together to share what is working; address issues and concerns; meet and network with those doing similar work in other communities; and celebrate and promote entrepreneurs and their successes across the state.


Watch NC IDEA CEO Thom Ruhe’s 2019 Summit Opening Remarks

Watch NC IDEA CEO Thom Ruhe’s 2019 Summit Closing Remarks


Check out the full agenda and sessions from this inaugural two-day event.


Monday, November 18, 2019

1:00pm – 2:00pm
Registration and Networking

2:00pm – 2:05pm
Welcoming Remarks
> Mary-Ann Baldwin, Mayor-Elect of Raleigh, NC; Member, Governor’s Entrepreneurial Council

2:05pm – 2:20pm
Opening Remarks and Introduction
> Thom Ruhe, CEO and President, NC IDEA FOUNDATION

2:20pm – 2:30pm
Official Opening of Global Entrepreneurship Week
> Jonathan Ortmans, Founder & President, Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN)

2:30pm – 2:50pm
Featured Session: How North Carolina Stacks Up
North Carolina is abuzz with entrepreneurial activity but what does the data tell us about our statewide ecosystem? This level-setting keynote will illuminate bright spots, indicate distressed areas and open the conversation for solutions.
> Maryann Feldman, Ph.D., Heninger Distinguished Professor, Department of Public Policy, University of North Carolina; Adjunct Professor of Finance, Kenan-Flagler Business School; and Research Director, UNC Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise

2:50pm – 3:25pm
Featured Session: The Entrepreneurial Mindset Imperative
The world has changed in ways that now require everyone to be more innovative and entrepreneurial regardless of their chosen path. If we are to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world, we must recognize the entrepreneurial mindset as a teachable framework for thinking that can empower anyone to succeed.
> Gary Schoeniger, Founder and CEO, The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative

3:25pm – 3:40pm
Networking Break

3:40pm – 4:10pm
Featured Session: Policy & Progress | The Economics of Entrepreneurship
Public policies are a significant determinant of economic outcomes. As support for entrepreneurial opportunity grows, policy change is in order. But where to start? This fireside chat with Sarah Glova, Director of Growth and Communications with RIoT, explores existing policies that support entrepreneurship and the next priorities for North Carolina.
> Craig Buerstatte, Acting Director, Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, US Economic Development Administration

4:10pm – 4:30pm
Special Presentation: TRU Colors Video and Remarks
> George Taylor, Chairman, TRU Colors

4:30pm – 4:55pm
Featured Session: Life After Tobacco | Rebuilding Rural North Carolina
The collapse of the tobacco industry sent shockwaves across North Carolina, leaving distressed communities in its wake. The Golden LEAF Foundation has been instrumental to rebuilding under-resourced rural communities through entrepreneurship. Meet the Foundation’s new leadership and learn how it’s positioning itself for continued impact in this fireside chat with Thom Ruhe, CEO and President of NC IDEA FOUNDATION.
> Scott T. Hamilton, Incoming President, Golden LEAF Foundation

4:55pm – 5:05pm
David Rizzo Tribute and Closing Remarks

> Sean O’Leary, CEO, FoodLogiQ

5:05pm – 7:30pm
Resource Fair and Reception
> Introduction by Precious Wilson, Chief Operating Officer, Gryppers


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

8:00am – 9:00am
Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:00am – 9:15am
Welcoming Remarks
> Thom Ruhe, President and CEO, NC IDEA FOUNDATION
> Patti Gillenwater, President and CEO, Elinvar; Board Chair, NC IDEA FOUNDATION

9:15am – 9:35am
Opening Remarks
> The Honorable Roy Cooper, Governor of North Carolina

9:35am – 10:20am
Featured Session: What School Could Be
Our increasingly-innovative world poses new challenges and opportunities for our youth, and profoundly changes the skillsets and mindsets they need to thrive. We owe it to our kids to provide them with the kinds of learning experiences that prepare them for their futures and empower them to lead lives of purpose. But too often, our education policies and priorities impair — instead of elevate — the life prospects of our kids.
> Ted Dintersmith, Author + Education Change Agent

10:20am – 11:20am
Featured Session: All Together Now | Creating Inclusive Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in North Carolina’s 100 counties. Opportunity, however, is not evenly distributed. An inclusive ecosystem starts with a deep understanding of the challenges that face underserved entrepreneurs and a new approach to distributing access to resources. Hear from the Executive Director of the flagship Minority Business Accelerator program at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber followed by an engaging panel discussion.
> Featured Speaker: Darrin M. Redus, Sr., Vice President/Executive Director, Minority Business Accelerator, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber

Featured Panelists:
> Moderator: Dee McDougal, Senior Vice President, Diversity + Inclusion, Pacific Western Bank
> José Alvarez, Vice President, Prospera USA
> Darrin M. Redus, Sr., Vice President/Executive Director, Minority Business Accelerator, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber

11:20am – 11:35pm
Break: Transition to Breakout Sessions

11:35pm – 12:35pm
Breakout Sessions: Expanding Entrepreneurship

Beyond the Usual Suspects | Capital Ideas for the Earliest Stages
Few businesses are venture backable in their earliest stages — but they still require capital to grow. Though often overlooked, North Carolina boasts many alternative paths to funding for the state’s most ambitious entrepreneurs and promising startups.
> Moderator: Wilson Lester, Executive Director, Piedmont Business Capital
> Jonathan Brereton, Executive Director, Thread Capital
> Benji Jones, Co-Founder, Innovate Capital Law
> Matt Raker, Assistant Director, Mountain BizWorks

Stepping Up | Entrepreneur-Led Ecosystem Initiatives
Entrepreneurs are by their very nature problem solvers — they see a need and develop a solution. When this entrepreneurial mindset is applied at an ecosystem level, communities are born and new sectors of the economy can emerge. We can all learn a thing or two from entrepreneur driven initiatives.
> Moderator: Jim Roberts, Founder, Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington
> Tom Dempsey, CEO, SylvanSport
> Margaret McNab, Co-Founder and Organizer, The Freelance League of North Carolina
> Sara Chester, Executive Co-Director, The Industrial Commons

Building Tech Beyond the Triangle
The Triangle is a great place to grow a tech company in North Carolina, but it’s not the only place. Hear first-hand what it’s like to grow a successful startup outside of the state’s biggest tech hub — advantages, challenges and all.
> Moderator: Jeffrey Scott, Startup High Country
> Pete Catoe, CEO & President, ECRS
> Kurt Taylor, CEO, Untappd
> Luke Walling, Founder, Temprano Techvestors

New Possibilities | Exposing Veterans to Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship presents an alternative career path for veterans and transitioning service members. Yet too often the option is ruled out. This panel explores ways to ensure veterans have the resources and community they need to explore and fulfill their entrepreneurial potential.
> Moderator: Mary Nelson, CEO, Neli
> Dean Bundschu, Atlantic Regional Executive Director, Bunker Labs
> Tim Horan, Co-Founder, Veteran Capital
> Dave Neal, Managing Director, Accelerant Ventures

12:35pm – 1:35pm
Networking Lunch
Special Presentation: The Impact of the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program
> Naomi Blackwell, 9th Grader, St. Pauls High School; Ice House Participant and Cohort Final Pitch Competition Winner as 8th Grader at CIS Academy Charter School

1:35pm – 2:20pm
Featured Session: Straight Out of School | Activating a New Generation of Entrepreneurs
Once the path less traveled, entrepreneurship has become a viable career strategy for recent graduates. Learn how the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship and Venture for America are preparing college presidents, educators and young professionals for startup success.
> Rebecca A. Corbin, Ed.D., President & CEO, NACCE
> Amy Nelson, CEO, Venture for America

2:20pm – 2:35pm
Break: Transition to Breakout Sessions

2:35pm – 3:35pm
Breakout Sessions: Activating Entrepreneurship

Ready for The Real World | Universities & Entrepreneurship
North Carolina universities are arming their students for startup success. In addition to developing innovative curriculum for future entrepreneurs, our state’s leading academic institutions are increasingly focused on connecting students with real world experiences after graduation.
> Moderator: Vickie Gibbs, Executive Director, Kenan-Flagler Business School Entrepreneurship Center
> Michael Harris, J. Fielding Miller Distinguished Professor and Director, Miller School of Entrepreneurship at ECU
> Lewis Sheats, Assistant Vice Provost and Executive Director, NCSU Entrepreneurship Clinic
> Thaddeus McEwen, Professor, Department of Management and Interim Director, Center of Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Innovation North Carolina A&T State University

Community Colleges Embracing Entrepreneurship
An entrepreneurial mindset is key to opportunity. It’s an essential skill that North Carolina Community Colleges are encouraging with special programs. This session explores strategies for promoting entrepreneurship through the community college system.
> Moderator: Anne Shaw, State Director, Small Business Center Network , North Carolna Community College System
> Katie Gailes, Director of Entrepreneurship Initiatives, Wake Technical Communtiy College
> Michael McDonald, Client Services Manager, Blue Ridge Food Ventures
> Dan St.Louis, Executive Director, Manufacturing Solutions Center
> Stuart Weismiller, Founder, Everyday Entrepreneur Venture Fund

Getting There | Engaging Non-Traditional Entrepreneurs
The world is changing and everyone needs to start thinking like an entrepreneur. Even if they don’t fit the traditional definition of an entrepreneur. Meet the next wave of community leaders who are modeling an entrepreneurial path to wealth generation.
> Moderator: Geraud Staton, Executive Director, Helius Foundation
> Duncan Smith, Chief Public Library Strategist, EBSCO Publishing
> Tom Bennett, Vice President of Public Affairs, Eastern North Carolina, Brian Hamilton Foundation

The Kids Can Too | K-12 Programs for Youth Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurship isn’t just for adults! Programs across the state are engaging entrepreneurs starting as early as elementary school. Learn how these transformational programs are inspiring a new generation of young people to see and seize the opportunities around them.
> Moderator: Leland Davis, Department of Engineering and Entrepreneurship, Discovery Charter School
> Manuel Hernandez, Program and Communications Lead, Audacity Labs
> Anne Jones, Co-Founder, District C
> Garrett Hinshaw, Ed.D., President, Catawba Valley Community College

3:35pm – 3:45pm
Break: Transition to Featured Session

3:45pm – 4:05pm
Featured Session: Policies and Programs That *Actually* Drive Entrepreneurship
After 30+ years of success in the public and private sector, Thomas Stith knows what it takes to drive growth and achieve policy goals. And it’s access to resources that makes all the difference. Hear North Carolina’s newly sworn-in District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration share his vision for expanding access to these critical resources for the benefit of entrepreneurs. 
> Thomas A. Stith III, Director, North Carolina District, U.S. Small Business Administration

4:05pm – 4:50pm
Featured Panel Session: The Case for Rural Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurship is blooming from the Coast to the Piedmont. A common thread in this promising trend is the collaboration across government, business and education. Take note as community leaders share lessons learned and what they have been able to achieve.
> Moderator: Barry Ryan, Vice President, The Rural Center
> Will Aycock, General Manager, Greenlight Community Broadband
> Tom Hall, Executive Director, Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub at UNC Pembroke
> Freddie Killough, Executive Director, Marion Business Association
> Rachel Withrow, Owner, The Crooked Door Coffee House

4:50pm – 5:00pm
Closing Remarks
> Thom Ruhe, President and CEO, NC IDEA FOUNDATION


Thank you to the below partners for supporting the first-ever North Carolina Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Summit and who continually share in our vision of building and sustaining strong ecosystems and empowered communities.


Presented by



With Support From



Gold Sponsors


Silver Sponsor

Hutchison PLLC
N.C. Venture Capital Multiplier Fund

Bronze Sponsors

Carolina Small Business Development Fund
Hyperspace Ventures
Mountain BizWorks
Packard Place
Schell Bray PLLC
Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC)
Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub at UNC Pembroke
Wyrick Robbins