About Us

WE EMPOWER NORTH CAROLINIANS TO
ACHIEVE THEIR ENTREPRENEURIAL POTENTIAL

OUR MISSION

Strengthen the economy of North Carolina through a strategic combination of grants and programs, deployed directly and through a network of partners, in furtherance of our Vision to help people achieve their entrepreneurial potential.

NC IDEA is an independent private, 501(c)(3) foundation whose vision is to help North Carolinians achieve their entrepreneurial ambition to start and grow high potential companies. NC IDEA fosters sustainable economic development with competitive grants and programs for entrepreneurs and funding to strengthen the North Carolina entrepreneurial ecosystem. NC IDEA offers grant funding and support on the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

core values

ENTREPRENEURIAL

We foster innovation and challenge the status quo.

AMBITIOUS

We believe in taking risks and maintaining resilience in the face of adversity.

CANDID

We engage in communication that is respectful, transparent and direct.

EQUITABLE

We prioritize diversity, inclusivity, and collaboration.

CATALYTIC

We lead and inspire new thinking in economic development.

IMPACTFUL

We measure success by the value we create for our constituents.

HISTORY

Follow our progression to empower North Carolinians to achieve their entrepreneurial potential

HISTORY

Follow our progression to empower North Carolinians to achieve their entrepreneurial potential

NC BEC

Learn about the work being done to address the challenges of Black entrepreneurship in NC

NC BEC

Learn about the work being done to address the challenges of Black entrepreneurship in NC

COMPANIES

Meet the innovative companies who have received grants since our inception in 2006

COMPANIES

Meet the innovative companies who have received grants since our inception in 2006

PARTNERS

Meet the grant recipients who share our goal of advancing entrepreneurship in NC

PARTNERS

Meet the grant recipients who share our goal of advancing entrepreneurship in NC

Our Impact​

$14.7+ MILLION IN GRANTS AWARDED

 

NC IDEA’s work focuses on the simple but powerful goal of expanding North Carolina’s economic development efforts via entrepreneurship, namely, empowering more people to pursue their entrepreneurial ambition to start and grow high potential companies, while realizing such actions’ economic benefits. Our activities reflect an investment in the potential to grow, from within the State, the companies that will create the jobs and wealth that strengthen the economy and build diverse communities.

Our Impact​

$14.7+ MILLION IN GRANTS AWARDED

 

NC IDEA’s work focuses on the simple but powerful goal of expanding North Carolina’s economic development efforts via entrepreneurship, namely, empowering more people to pursue their entrepreneurial ambition to start and grow high potential companies, while realizing such actions’ economic benefits. Our activities reflect an investment in the potential to grow, from within the State, the companies that will create the jobs and wealth that strengthen the economy and build diverse communities.

Our Impact

$18+ MILLION IN GRANTS AWARDED

NC IDEA’s work focuses on the simple but powerful goal of expanding North Carolina’s economic development efforts via entrepreneurship, namely, empowering more people to pursue their entrepreneurial ambition to start and grow high potential companies, while realizing such actions’ economic benefits. Our activities reflect an investment in the potential to grow, from within the State, the companies that will create the jobs and wealth that strengthen the economy and build diverse communities.

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 the broader community.

Thom Ruhe

Thom Ruhe

President & CEO
Amy Bastian Color WEB

Amy Bastian

Senior Director
Andrea Cook Color WEB

Andrea Cook

Senior Director
Sarah Mixter Color WEB

Sarah Mixter

Program manager
Ben Redding Color WEB

Ben Redding

Chief Financial Officer
Cristhian Rodriguez Color WEB

Cristhian Rodriguez

Marketing Coordinator
Barry Ryan Color WEB

Barry Ryan

Senior Director
Kate Wiggins Color WEB

Kate Wiggins

Program Support Manager
Allan Younger Color WEB

Allan Younger

Senior Director
Leigh Blancato

Leigh Blancato

Grant Support Manager

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.

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 set aside time on Friday mornings to answer questions about NC IDEA MICRO and NC IDEA SEED. Schedule a time with Amy here. 

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.

Cristhian Rodriguez

Marketing Coordinator

Cristhian serves as the Marketing Coordinator at NC IDEA. In this role, he helps amplify the great work of partners and entrepreneurs. He ensures marketing compliance and consistency with regard to NC IDEA branding. Additionally, he manages all NC IDEA social media while assisting with event coordination.

Prior to NC IDEA, Cristhian was the Marketing Intern for Boss Consulting HR, LLC. There he managed social media accounts and created marketing campaigns to showcase the organization’s services. He maintained the business website and presented estimates on merchandising branding for clients. During this time, he was also a full-time student and had a student-employment position. Cristhian was also a Fellowship Project Intern for The Gratitude Network, where he created promotional content and reviewed applicant eligibility.

Cristhian received his Bachelor of Science in Communication and Sociology with a minor in Business Information Systems from Eastern Connecticut State University.

Barry Ryan

Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships

Barry serves as Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships at NC IDEA.  In his role, he leads the Foundation’s efforts to secure new resources and leverage the impact of its work helping the people of North Carolina achieve their entrepreneurial potential. 

Prior to NC IDEA, Barry served for 14 years at the Rural Center, most recently as Senior Vice President of Strategy & Small Business Capital.  While at the Rural Center, he played a leading role in the launch of Thread Capital, a nonprofit small business lender and Community Development Financial Institution. He also supported the formation of CornerSquare Community Capital, in partnership with Truist Bank, serving Community Development Financial Institutions in a 17-state footprint.  In response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, he led a coalition of eight lenders and dozens of supporting partners to secure and deploy over $100 million in recovery funds to affected businesses. 

A longtime supporter of North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, he has contributed to initiatives in in small business lending and investment, entrepreneurship education, community engagement, entrepreneur-led advocacy, workforce development, and disaster recovery. Barry received a B.S. in Business and Economics from Winthrop University.

Kate Wiggins

Program Support Manager

Kate serves as Program Support Manager at NC IDEA. She contributes to programmatic support for NC IDEA MICRO grant recipients, deployment of the Ice House curriculum through NC IDEA MINDSET, and various other educational opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Prior to NC IDEA, Kate owned and operated a coffee shop and bakery in Bozeman, Montana, where she also served for 7 years on the downtown business association board. She taught Business & Entrepreneurship at Montana State University and consulted for several Montana businesses before returning to her home state in 2019. Most recently, she coordinated programming at the Durham Tech Small Business Center. She continues to teach at Small Business Centers across the state, as well as facilitate a leadership development program.

Kate serves on the board of Nourish International and as a B Corp Clinic coach at the NCSU Poole College Business Sustainability Collaborative. She is also a Leadership Triangle Goodmon Fellow. She has a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.A. in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi.

Allan Younger

Senior Director

Allan is the Senior Director of Programs at NC IDEA where he leads the Foundation’s programmatic priorities and partnerships. He oversees program development and management for all entrepreneur programming; including the Foundation’s NC IDEA LABS customer discovery curriculum, programmatic support for NC IDEA MICRO grant recipients and deployment of the Ice House curriculum through NC IDEA MINDSET.

Prior to NC IDEA, Allan served as the Director of the Small Business Center at Forsyth Technical Community College located in Winston-Salem, NC where he was responsible for strengthening operations and services, enhancing support to small businesses and providing community advocacy. Previously, Allan was a Business Counselor at the Small Business and Technology Development Center. He also served in several roles at GE Capital. Allan currently serves as an Adjunct Professor at Winston-Salem State University and previously served as Adjunct Professor at Carolina Christian College, Forsyth Technical Community College and Salem College.

Allan received his MBA from Winston-Salem State University and a B.A. in Economics and Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Allan is available for 15-minute appointments for those interested in discussing their existing or prospective businesses.  Schedule a time with Allan here. 

Leigh Blancato

Grant Support Manager

Leigh serves as Grant Support Manager at NC IDEA where she provides support to the MICRO and SEED grant programs.

Prior to joining the NC IDEA team, Leigh worked at a number of nonprofit organizations with a focus on hunger relief. Previously, she spent 5 years at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee managing federal food assistance programs and community partnerships. Most recently, Leigh supported the development and fundraising efforts at Inter-Faith Food Shuttle in Raleigh.

Leigh has a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Global Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.