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 is responsible for NC IDEA LABS, which he founded as Groundwork Labs in 2011.  He previously directed the Foundation’s partnerships through the  NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM grant program.

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. 

Amy Bastian, Senior Director

Amy serves as Senior Director at NC IDEA, where her primary responsibilities are managing the NC IDEA SEED and NC IDEA MICRO grant programs.

Prior to NC IDEA, Amy Bastian served as Director of Analytics and Testing for The Nature Conservancy. There she developed and led the Marketing Department’s digital analytics and website testing programs, with a focus on developing well-defined business goals and providing actionable insights leveraging qualitative and quantitative data. Amy was also an Account Director at Blackbaud and the Membership Director of KCRW public radio.

Amy received an MPH in Biostatistics from University of California, Los Angeles and a B.S. in Journalism with a double major in Economics from University of Maryland, College Park. She is a member of Durham Habitat for Humanity’s Family Selection Committee and part of the leadership team for 100 Women Who Give a Hoot: Chapel Hill/ Durham.  

Amy has time set aside on Friday mornings to answer questions about NC IDEA MICRO and NC IDEA SEED.  If you’d like to talk with her, schedule a time here. 

Chelsea Caughlin, Program Support Manager

Chelsea serves as Program Support Manager at NC IDEA where she supports the NC IDEA MICRO and NC IDEA SEED grant programs, in addition to logistics and operations for broader community engagement.

Before working at NC IDEA, Chelsea served as the Assistant Director of Student Engagement in the Office of Alumni Engagement at Wake Forest University. During her time there, she managed a nationwide alumni engagement event tour on a branded RV before transitioning to a student facing role where she developed the programming and strategy surrounding the student to alumni transition. Additional responsibilities included advising the student fundraising campaign committee that supports the Wake Forest Annual Fund, community engagement through loyalty programming, and event coordination for signature on-campus events including Homecoming and Reunion Weekend. She has also previously worked in marketing and communications for a Charlotte area startup, NOCQUA Adventure Gear.

Chelsea holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in English Literature and Language from Wake Forest University. 

Andrea Cook, Senior Director

Andrea serves as Senior Director at NC IDEA and 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.

Sarah Mixter, Program Manager

Sarah serves as Program Manager at NC IDEA where she oversees the NC IDEA ENGAGE grant program and directs event activities for the organization. Previously, Sarah was the Community Manager at NC IDEA supporting logistics and operations for its various programs.

Before working at NC IDEA, Sarah worked for Carolina Performing Arts where she directed front of house operations and 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.

Sarah has her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Latin American Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Ben Redding, Chief Financial Officer

Ben is the Chief Financial Officer at NC IDEA where he oversees the day-to-day management of the Foundation’s financial activities. He also manages the NC IDEA ECOSYSTEM grant program working with partners throughout the state who share in our vision to maximize the economic potential of the people of North Carolina.

Prior to NC IDEA, Ben founded WellScale with the goal of creating a technology platform to facilitate smooth successful business exits, allowing business owners to transition their ownership to company acquirers in an optimized fashion. While testing his idea, Ben participated in NC IDEA LABS.

During his career Ben has served in senior Finance roles in private equity and for multiple growing firms, including well-known Triangle companies such as Counter Culture Coffee and iContact. His background includes working with teams to assess and adapt company direction, create infrastructure for scale, and buy/grow/sell companies; along the way he has worked to optimize capital structures, obtain growth financing, and execute sell-side transaction initiatives in both fast-growth and declining multi-location firms.

Ben received his Juris Doctor, MBA, and BSBA in Finance all from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Meet Our Board of Directors

Board of Directors



Meet Our Fellows and Interns

Fellows and Interns