Venture Sharks’ 2021 Semifinalists Announced!

Venture Connectors is excited to announce the six semifinalists chosen to compete in the preliminary round of our 12th annual Venture Sharks™ business pitch competition! During the prelims on Tuesday, Sept. 21, the field will be narrowed to a few finalists. Those lucky survivors will then compete in front of a panel of savvy investor sharks fishing for the […]

Venture Connectors is excited to announce the six semifinalists chosen to compete in the preliminary round of our 12th annual Venture Sharks™ business pitch competition! During the prelims on Tuesday, Sept. 21, the field will be narrowed to a few finalists. Those lucky survivors will then compete in front of a panel of savvy investor sharks fishing for the next great deal at our regular monthly lunch on Wednesday, Oct. 6. Both events will be held at TEN20 Craft Brewery, 1020 E. Washington St.
  
The brave semifinalists are:

  • Athelo Health, a B2B SaaS-based mobile application aimed at improving quality of life outcomes for patients with cancer while decreasing costs of service. Founder is Jessica Thurmond.
  • GTM Technologies LLC, developer of Bare Trace, a B2B service designed to help companies of any size regain customer and employee confidence after a security breach or significant impact event. Founder is Jay Smith.
  • Grouper, a social messaging platform that connects users and creators based on their interests, hobbies and passions. Founder is Chris Wiedmar.
  • HBCU Tour, a subscription-based vendor services platform for current and former students of historically black colleges and universities. Founder is Nasir Jones.
  • Statcode, maker of solutions designed to bridge the data gap between major companies and medium to small companies by making data science affordable for everyone. Founder is Caryle Blondell.
  • USS Veteran Services Co., developer of world’s first Smart Ladder, built with LED lights and sensors for better safety. Founder is Cliff Johns. 

In both rounds of competition, presenters will be allowed a few minutes to describe their idea to the judges, who then will fire off questions to the presenters in the style of the television show, “Shark Tank.” The winner will receive a prize package designed to help them take their idea to market. In addition to a $5,000 cash award, they will receive one-on-one mentoring from established entrepreneurs and advisors.

Doors open for the Venture Sharks prelims on Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. The event, presented by Amplify Louisville and Ky Innovation, is free and open to the public. 

The Oct. 6 finals will be held from noon-1 p.m. There is no cost for Venture Connectors members and $40 for guests. Registration is required. 
 
This year’s Venture Sharks sponsors are Amplify Louisville, the Community Foundation of Louisville, PNC Bank, Fleur de Lis Communications and Frost Brown Todd

COME SWIM WITH THE SHARKS! 

September Lunch: The AppHarvest Story

Venture Connectors was pleased to welcome Matt Gosnell, Vice President of Development for AppHarvest., as the keynote for our September lunch. He shared how he’s helping to efforts to scale the Morehead, Ky.-based controlled-environment-agriculture company to 12 indoor farms by the end of 2025. AppHarvest went public in February 2020 via a merger with Novus Capital Corp., special […]

Venture Connectors was pleased to welcome Matt Gosnell, Vice President of Development for AppHarvest., as the keynote for our September lunch. He shared how he’s helping to efforts to scale the Morehead, Ky.-based controlled-environment-agriculture company to 12 indoor farms by the end of 2025.

AppHarvest went public in February 2020 via a merger with Novus Capital Corp., special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), for $475 million. Matt talked about some of the challenges the company has faced in its early days as a publicly traded company. He also shared other milestones in the past year, including the acquisition of robotics company Root AI and the groundbreakings on its fourth and fifth facilities.

Prior to joining AppHarvest, Matt worked in municipal finance in Chicago, management training and conflict resolution in South America, and most recently as Project Developer for a U.S. Department of Defense office responsible for reducing costs through renewable energy programs. Matt oversaw projects with investments exceeding $250 million and covering more than 1,000 acres. Matt received his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Kentucky and holds a master’s degree in international relations from Columbia University.

Applications open for 12th Annual Venture Sharks Pitch Competition

Venture Connectors today announced that applications for our 12th annual Venture Sharks business pitch competition are now open! Early-stage companies and entrepreneurs are invited to compete for a $5,000 cash prize and thousands of dollars of in-kind services. Venture Sharks has awarded more than $100,000 in prizes since it launched in 2010. Applications are available […]

Venture Connectors today announced that applications for our 12th annual Venture Sharks business pitch competition are now open! Early-stage companies and entrepreneurs are invited to compete for a $5,000 cash prize and thousands of dollars of in-kind services. Venture Sharks has awarded more than $100,000 in prizes since it launched in 2010.

Applications are available here and are due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 8. The Venture Sharks committee will choose the top ideas to compete during the preliminary round of the competition, held Sept. 21, where the field then will be narrowed to four finalists. The final round will be held on Oct. 6 during the regular monthly Venture Connectors’ luncheon meeting.

In both rounds of competition, presenters will be allowed a few minutes to describe their idea to the judges, who then will fire off questions to the presenters in the style of the television show, “Shark Tank.” One lucky survivor will receive a prize package designed to help them take their idea to market. In addition to a $5,000 cash award, the prize package will include one-on-one mentoring from established entrepreneurs and advisors.

The competition is open to businesses or entrepreneurs from any industry in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, but presentations for the preliminary and final rounds of competition must be made in person in Louisville. A dedicated LLC or corporation need not have been created, but the idea and business being pitched must not be a direct spinout of a larger parent company. There is no restriction on age of the business, but it must have less than $75,000 of lifetime revenue. The business also cannot have raised, or had invested in it, more than $50,000 from any source at the time of application.

The Venture Sharks winner must agree to use their prize to directly pursue the business opportunity presented in the competition. The winner will be selected based on the viability of their idea, the ability of the final award to positively impact the business and the quality of their presentation. Sponsorship opportunities for the 2021 Venture Sharks competition still are available. For information, contact Venture Connectors Chairman Larry Horn at lwhorn@outlook.com

Location and details for the preliminary and finals events will be announced soon.

August Lunch: The Entrepreneur’s Canvas

We were excited to welcome Paul Ford as the keynote for our August lunch. Founder and CEO of Traffk, and Managing Principal of DS9 Capital, Paul generously shared his journey and insights into the advantages and disadvantages of building businesses in Kentucky. Traffk is an innovative insurance underwriting and distribution platform designed to build and launch modern insurance products and […]

We were excited to welcome Paul Ford as the keynote for our August lunch. Founder and CEO of Traffk, and Managing Principal of DS9 Capital, Paul generously shared his journey and insights into the advantages and disadvantages of building businesses in Kentucky.

Traffk is an innovative insurance underwriting and distribution platform designed to build and launch modern insurance products and brands that scale. DS9 Capital is a privately held business development company (BDC) focused on commercializing/warehousing IP and launching a portfolio of founder-friendly companies closely tied to insurance and financial services. Paul has successfully launched several companies out of his BDC, with more on the way.

Paul is a Northern California native, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He moved to Kentucky four years ago to improve quality of life and build in the region after surveying several destinations in the United States for his headquarters. Paul’s technology, insurance and economics background helps him carve out opportunities and build incredible networks that enable job creation and economic opportunities in the communities where he operates.

June Virtual Lunch: Louisville Startups Capitalizing on CBD Growth

According to the most recent research, the global cannabidiol market was valued at $2.8 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 21.2% from 2021 to 2028. The healing properties of CBD-infused products, and the increasing acceptance of their use in mainstream society, are major factors driving that growth.  At […]

According to the most recent research, the global cannabidiol market was valued at $2.8 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 21.2% from 2021 to 2028. The healing properties of CBD-infused products, and the increasing acceptance of their use in mainstream society, are major factors driving that growth.  At our June lunch, Venture Connectors was pleased to host a panel of Louisville entrepreneurs who are riding the CBD wave with great success.

The panelists were: Matt Arnold, co-founder and president of Bluegrass Best CBDJeff Stum, co-founder and chief products officer for Hectare’s CBD Innovations; and Dee Dee Taylor, owner of 502 Hemp Wellness Center. Taylor also moderated the discussion.

They shared how they got started in the industry, the ongoing challenges of educating the public about their products, navigating industry regulations and the “2nd wave of CBD,” how their businesses have weathered the pandemic, as well as what’s next for them and other CBD retailers in the Louisville region.

May Virtual Lunch: A Tale of Two Exits

Louisville startup Truman’s, a direct-to-consumer cleaning products company, was recently in the news with exciting announcement of its sale. Alex Reed is co-founder of Truman’s and former executive of Lexington, Ky.-based Big Ass Fans. He joined Venture Connectors at our May lunch and shared a look behind the scenes on both of the companies’ exits. He also gave some […]

Louisville startup Truman’s, a direct-to-consumer cleaning products company, was recently in the news with exciting announcement of its sale. Alex Reed is co-founder of Truman’s and former executive of Lexington, Ky.-based Big Ass Fans. He joined Venture Connectors at our May lunch and shared a look behind the scenes on both of the companies’ exits. He also gave some great insights into what he and the other founders learned from those experiences. 

At Big Ass Fans, Reed led an expansive marketing division that helped grow the company’s sales from $30 million annually to more than $250 million. He also helped drive the company’s expansion beyond a business-to-business strategy to business-to-consumer with the 2012 debut of Haiku, the first Big Ass Fan for homes. Within a few years, the product represented nearly a third of total company revenue.

After helping to guide the company’s sale in 2017 for $500 million, Reed co-founded Truman’s, with a mission of moving the cleaning industry in a more sustainable direction. In March 2021, Truman’s technology — which Fast Company magazine recognized as a “World Changing Idea” — was acquired by a global company.

Reed is a sought-after speaker on emerging marketing trends, having offered keynote addresses at national events, including Reuters Events Brand Marketing Summit. Following his exit from Truman’s, he remains active in the startup community, advising and investing in a small number of brands.

April Virtual Lunch: Maximizing the Pivot in the Digital Age

At our April event, Venture Connectors was pleased to welcome leading marketing strategist and entrepreneurial visionary Tawana Bain, who shared how she has pivoted in recent years to cultivate and streamline a diverse portfolio of partnerships and services. Bain traced her career path as a entrepreneur, starting with the launch of her project management and consulting firm, […]

At our April event, Venture Connectors was pleased to welcome leading marketing strategist and entrepreneurial visionary Tawana Bain, who shared how she has pivoted in recent years to cultivate and streamline a diverse portfolio of partnerships and services. Bain traced her career path as a entrepreneur, starting with the launch of her project management and consulting firm, New Age Communications (NAC) in 2006, and how that decision led her to where she is today. She talked about her leadership style, how she builds teams and collaborations, and offered advice to other startups on taking their business to the next level.

Bain is CEO at TBAIN & Co. and founder of the Global Economic Diversity Development Initiative, a Black-founded and predominantly Black-led nonprofit focused on building economic wealth for the Black community. One of GEDDI's most notable programs is the Derby Diversity & Business Summit program that launched in 2017. It is designed to drive innovative strategies to attract diverse consumers while bringing together best-in-class, diverse business leaders within the executive workforce and global supply chain.

In addition to her philanthropic and social justice work, Bain is the new owner of Today’s Woman Magazine, a regional publication that inspires and promotes women in the Louisville community with a circulation over 22,000. She is also owner of The Black Jockey’s Lounge, formerly known as Encore on 4th, a historic eatery in downtown Louisville that educates on the history of the Black jockey, and is known for serving as an intersection for various cultures to network, enjoy good food and shake a tail feather. Not only is she a force to be reckoned with on the entertainment scene, but she’s also the founder of one of Louisville’s hottest curated boutiques, AFM Threads, which offers trendy, chic and unique head-to-toe wear at locations in both Oxmoor and Mall St. Matthews.

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.

January Virtual Lunch: How Kentucky is Supporting Startup Growth

Venture Connectors’ January virtual lunch featured Anthony (Tony) Ellis, Acting Executive Director of KY Innovation with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. He shared the agency’s top six priorities to continue developing the state’s startup ecosystem in the coming year. To read all about it in Business First, click here.  KY Innovation supports and manages the Commonwealth’s startup and […]

Venture Connectors' January virtual lunch featured Anthony (Tony) Ellis, Acting Executive Director of KY Innovation with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. He shared the agency's top six priorities to continue developing the state's startup ecosystem in the coming year. To read all about it in Business First, click here

KY Innovation supports and manages the Commonwealth’s startup and small business sector, SBIR/STTR and other grant programs, and deploys startup support capital. It also provides oversight of regional and statewide partnerships such as Kentucky Commercialization Ventures and the RISE offices, ensuring the state’s entrepreneurs have the tools and resources they need to thrive.

Ellis has served as the Cabinet’s general counsel since December 2019. He graduated from Catholic University of America with a degree in international economics and finance, and earned his law degree from George Washington University. Ellis previously worked as a partner at a Louisville-based firm, and for the past four years managed his own firm, The Ellis Law Group PLLC, one of two businesses he founded. During his career, he has represented a variety of small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs on a broad range of business and litigation matters.

Dec. 2 Virtual Lunch: The Reconstruct Challenge

Venture Connectors was pleased to feature Bryce Butler and Mallory Sanborn with Access Ventures at our December virtual lunch. They gave an update on the organization’s Reconstruct Challenge, a regional prize competition that’s testing local and national innovative solutions to solve social and economic inequities within our community. One of the competition’s winners, mRelief, was the event’s Featured Startup. […]

Venture Connectors was pleased to feature Bryce Butler and Mallory Sanborn with Access Ventures at our December virtual lunch. They gave an update on the organization's Reconstruct Challenge, a regional prize competition that's testing local and national innovative solutions to solve social and economic inequities within our community. One of the competition's winners, mRelief, was the event's Featured Startup. Founder Zareena Meyn shared how the nonprofit is helping to restore dignity by transforming access to social services.

A Louisville-based private operating foundation, Access Ventures launched the Reconstruct Challenge over a year ago. Through this prize competition, it awarded $300,000 each to six innovations that are working to increase access to affordable housing in Louisville and Southern Indiana. This unique approach took the risk of funding ideas that had yet to be tested in our region. With an unexpected pandemic, that risk grew even more. At the December lunch, Butler and Sanborn talked about what they've learned, the impact the innovations have had so far, and what's to come.

Before starting Access Ventures, Butler was the Executive Director of the BlueSky Network, a venture philanthropy family office in Southern Indiana with activities around the world in microfinance, clean energy, sustainable agriculture, mobile payments, and entrepreneurship/innovation. Butler was also the Executive Producer of a documentary about poverty, gang violence, and those trying to chart a new path through dance set in Guatemala City that premiered at the United Nations in April 2014 called BBOY for Life. Previously, Butler worked in Organizational Design & Development at a global manufacturing company and served as an Executive Pastor at one of the 50 fastest growing churches in the United States. Following graduation from Iowa State University, he served on active duty for four years as a Captain with the U.S. Army. He has a master’s degree in theology and a bachelor’s degree in economics.

Sanborn is a Senior Associate at Access Ventures, leading initiatives around affordable housing and equitable employment. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a double major in economics and global studies and a minor in entrepreneurship. Sanborn previously worked with Social Entrepreneur Corps in Guatemala, where she served on a team of eight people focused on developing logistical models, expanding market segments, and creating sales strategies to target consumers within a six-hour radius of Antigua. After that, she worked at Village Capital, an impact fund focused on finding, training, and investing in entrepreneurs working in markets typically overlooked by investment capital, which led her to her current role at Access Ventures.