March Virtual Lunch: The WeatherCheck Journey

When our regularly scheduled speaker, SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin, had a last-minute scheduling conflict, Demetrius Gray, Co-founder & CEO of WeatherCheck, stepped up to share his incredible entrepreneurial journey. He talked about his own approach to acquiring funding, as well as obstacles his company faced and exciting successes along the way. A third-generation entrepreneur and Kentucky native, Gray […]

When our regularly scheduled speaker, SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin, had a last-minute scheduling conflict, Demetrius Gray, Co-founder & CEO of WeatherCheck, stepped up to share his incredible entrepreneurial journey. He talked about his own approach to acquiring funding, as well as obstacles his company faced and exciting successes along the way.

A third-generation entrepreneur and Kentucky native, Gray started WeatherCheck after experience in the finance, roofing and disaster restoration industries helped him realize that key processes were ripe for disruption and automation. Today, WeatherCheck monitors over 4 million properties for hail damage for some of the biggest names in insurance around the world. 

WeatherCheck was named 2019 Resiliency Innovation Company of the Year by the Insurance Information Institute and was the first Kentucky company admitted into the prestigious Y Combinator, an accelerator that helped build companies like Airbnb and Dropbox.

August Virtual Lunch: Unlocking Productivity with AI & Machine Learning

Venture Connectors’ August virtual lunch featured digital transformation leader Mike Nettles, who gave a fantastic presentation on how some major players in the quick-service restaurant industry have used artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to drive higher levels of guest engagement and team productivity, which helped them increase sales and meet rising labor costs as a result. […]

Venture Connectors' August virtual lunch featured digital transformation leader Mike Nettles, who gave a fantastic presentation on how some major players in the quick-service restaurant industry have used artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to drive higher levels of guest engagement and team productivity, which helped them increase sales and meet rising labor costs as a result.

Mike has delivered technology and business solutions for some of the biggest and most respected names in the restaurant industry. He is passionate about the restaurant business, having spent almost 30 years of his career becoming a self-described “gearhead foodie.” He spearheaded efforts at Papa John’s International and Panera Bread that moved the customer experience outside traditional technology into world-class consumer-facing mobile and digital solutions.

Most recently, Mike was served as Executive Vice President, Chief Operating and Growth Officer for Papa John’s, helping to successfully lead the organization through a difficult series of competitive challenges. Prior to this role, Mike was Papa John’s first Chief Information and Digital Officer, tasked with making the brand digitally relevant and transforming its aging technology solutions into a sales-driving powerhouse.

Mike came to Papa John’s from Panera, where he worked as Vice President of Architecture and IT, leading technology efforts for many of the industry-defining “Panera 2.0” transformative digital solutions. Prior to that, Mike was the Co-Founder for Savista (formerly eMac Digital), the provider of global store solutions to McDonald’s Corp., as well as provider of complete outsourced accounting and payroll services to more than 5,000 restaurants in the United States. Mike has also led technology strategy and design efforts for other Top 50 hospitality brands including Brinker International, Subway, Wendy’s, Domino’s and Pizza Hut.

August Lunch: Winning Big at FinTech

At our August lunch, Carla Dearing, founding CEO of Sum180 and head of product for FlexWage Solutions LLC, shared how she won big by getting the small details right. Her talk focused on how and why she launched financial technology (FinTech) startup with the express goal of attracting a strategic acquirer. Click here to read all about […]

At our August lunch, Carla Dearing, founding CEO of Sum180 and head of product for FlexWage Solutions LLC, shared how she won big by getting the small details right. Her talk focused on how and why she launched financial technology (FinTech) startup with the express goal of attracting a strategic acquirer. Click here to read all about her talk in Business First.

At SUM180 and FlexWage, Dearing leads a team of financial experts, marketers and technologists who are making financial advice and better solutions available for the average person. She started her career at Morgan Stanley & Co. in financial analysis and new product development at the company’s New York, London and Geneva offices. She then co-founded a financial advisory and fund administration firm that was acquired by a Boston bank now owned by State Street Bank.

Dearing was the founding CEO of Community Foundations of America, Inc., involving 115 community foundations nationwide. She also served as a senior administrator in the university health care industry, focusing on strategy development and execution. She previously served as CEO of IMC, SUM180’s major investor.

Carla holds a bachelor of arts degree in economics and political science from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

January Lunch: Research & Innovation Panel

In January, Venture Connectors was pleased to host a panel of tech-focused innovators who took advantage of the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program’s matching funds to relocate their early-stage companies to Kentucky and have stayed to grow their businesses. The panel included: Dr. Jane Hermes, President of Turbo Wheelchair Co. Inc., Dr. Angelique […]

In January, Venture Connectors was pleased to host a panel of tech-focused innovators who took advantage of the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program’s matching funds to relocate their early-stage companies to Kentucky and have stayed to grow their businesses. The panel included: Dr. Jane Hermes, President of Turbo Wheelchair Co. Inc., Dr. Angelique Johnson, CEO/Founder of MEMStim LLC and Dr. Trey Riddle, CEO of Sunstrand. They shared why they chose Louisville over other locations in Kentucky, some of the benefits of doing business here, and what support or resources the local entrepreneurial community was lacking when they first arrived as startups.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is a highly competitive grant program that encourages small businesses to engage in research and development that has the potential for commercial use. To be eligible for matching funds, businesses must contribute to Kentucky’s general economic development and further the mission of the Cabinet for Economic Development’s Office of Entrepreneurship to support technology commercialization, improve innovation and accelerate the number of innovation-driven startups in the state. Companies must commit to locating in Kentucky for three years.

Dr. Hermes received her BS in Psychology from New York University and worked as an IT professional for IBM in the 1970s. She later received her Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life University in Marietta, Ga., where she operated a chiropractic practice for 14 years. Dr. Hermes also holds a Diplomate in Orthopedics from Los Angeles Chiropractic University. In 1992, she founded Turbo Wheelchair Co., where she helped design the first all-synthetic resin lightweight manual wheelchair and developed the Merlexi Craft series of colorful, lightweight, plastic chairs. Merlexi Craft later expanded to include tamper-proof wheelchairs that are used in federal correctional facilities and VA hospitals across the country.

Dr. Johnson received her Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan. She is CEO/Founder of MEMStim LLC, which produces implantable electronics to treat neurological disorders. Her work on microfabricated electrode arrays has resulted in several national and international patents, funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and a feature on the cover of Hearing Research magazine. Dr. Johnson is an expert in lean startup methodology and an authority on innovation and entrepreneurship. She has delivered a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill, served as a speaker for the eighth district of the Federal Reserve, appeared in both local and national media, and given international talks. She is also CEO/Founder of Vissionaireum, an organization that promotes, trains and equips underrepresented minority and women entrepreneurs.

Dr. Riddle received his BS and PhD in mechanical engineering from Montana State University and a Master’s from Cornell University. He started his career in composites, performing accelerated static and fatigue structural testing on wind turbine blades. He went on to develop novel probabilistic methods to evaluate variations in mechanical properties of composite structures that contain defects. He previously started Gradient Engineering, an engineering services firm focused on polymer composite applications. He is now the CEO of Sunstrand, a leading supplier of biomaterials for composite, technical nonwoven and plastic applications.