January Lunch: A Taste of Success

At our January lunch, Dan Oliver, founder and CEO of the Dan-O’s Seasoning, shared what it was like to grow his startup more than 3,000% in just one year. Ranked No. 1 on Business First’s Fast 50 this year, Dan-O’s has grown to 65 employees and $6.2 million in revenue in 2021, up from just under $2 million […]

At our January lunch, Dan Oliver, founder and CEO of the Dan-O’s Seasoning, shared what it was like to grow his startup more than 3,000% in just one year. Ranked No. 1 on Business First’s Fast 50 this year, Dan-O’s has grown to 65 employees and $6.2 million in revenue in 2021, up from just under $2 million in 2020.

Dan’s entrepreneurial journey began with some chicken thighs he got from his mother when he was in college. Unsure what to do with them, he experimented with an original blend of herbs and spices  — what is now Dan-O’s Original Seasoning. It’s a “dantastic” diet-friendly blend of low sodium, sugar free, all-natural non-GMO herbs and spices that enhances the flavor of any dish.

After developing the first iteration of his spice blend as a college student, Dan tinkered with the recipe for the next 15 years while working various jobs. As a cook and then bartender for a local bar, he’d occasionally run a special of his signature chicken, and it would sell out every time.

After a few years, Dan longed for a more traditional lifestyle, and began looking for his “million-dollar idea.” While figuring out his next steps, he brought some leftover chicken for a bar regular. After one bite, the regular told him, “This is the best chicken I’ve ever had; why on earth aren’t you selling this around the world?” That was the moment the lightbulb went on. Dan set a goal of putting Dan-O’s Seasoning on every table across the country.

After years of product and brand development, the first bottle of Dan-O’s seasoning was sold in 2015. Dan originally was relied on trade shows, flea markets — wherever he could get a table to move his product.

When the pandemic hit, he had to pivot his strategy to social media, which proved to be one of the best decisions Dan ever made. Since then, Dan-O’s has grown a large social media following that supports both Dan and the brand, with over 2.5 million followers on TikTok and 107,000 followers on Instagram. He continues to develop new and exciting seasonings, including a Spicy and Hot Chipotle option, with plans for more on the horizon.

Thank you to Dan for an engaging, informative and authentic presentation! 

 

December Lunch: A Boy, A Boat and A Dream

  Attendees at our December lunch got a masterclass in storytelling from the dynamic and engaging John Waggoner, Founder & Chairman of American Queen Voyages, and President & CEO of HMS Global Maritime. John shared how he turned his childhood dream of owning the lavish, grand American Queen river steamboat into a reality, and what he […]

John Waggoner speaking

 

Attendees at our December lunch got a masterclass in storytelling from the dynamic and engaging John Waggoner, Founder & Chairman of American Queen Voyages, and President & CEO of HMS Global Maritime.
 
John shared how he turned his childhood dream of owning the lavish, grand American Queen river steamboat into a reality, and what he learned along the way. He talked about what it was like to raise money to finance his dream during a recession, and the challenges he met that led up to the “craziest closing in the world.” The sale was just the beginning — John talked about “hauling the boat out of the water” for renovations to restore it to its former glory, and the incredible, unexpected growth journey that followed. Learn more about American Queen Voyages here.

John has been actively involved in the passenger vessel industry for over 30 years. He began his career in the sport fishing industry, and has also worked in commercial fishing, offshore oil support vessels, dinner cruise and excursion vessels, casino boats, and car and passenger ferry operations. After serving as Director of Marine Operations for Hornblower Dining Yacht’s fleet of 29 dinner cruise vessels, John co-founded HMS Global Maritime in 1994.

John is a 2017 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year – Ohio Valley winner. HMS Global Maritime ranked No. 24 on the Business First Fast 50 list in 2017 and was selected to the Inc. 5000 list that same year.

November Lunch: Creating Community

At our November lunch, Venture Connectors was excited to host a terrific discussion with serial entrepreneur Ricky Mason and angel investor Chris Redd, the founders of Rheddorick and Network + Chill, about how they came together to create a thriving community that connects the entrepreneurial ecosystem through inclusive storytelling and education. They talked about where their […]

At our November lunch, Venture Connectors was excited to host a terrific discussion with serial entrepreneur Ricky Mason and angel investor Chris Redd, the founders of Rheddorick and Network + Chill, about how they came together to create a thriving community that connects the entrepreneurial ecosystem through inclusive storytelling and education.

They talked about where their careers have led them so far and the value of building skills in a variety of focus areas. They also shared the ways their needs  — coming from opposite sides of the startup community — intersected. They discussed the inspiration for their collaboration in 2019, and how they have navigated constraints from a social and cultural perspective.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Chris is a Louisville technology ecosystem builder, investor, advisor and consultant with more than 14 years of business, health care and technology experience.

Born and raised in Louisville, Ricky is the founder BrainSTEM, an award-winning startup — which includes taking home the top prize in Venture Connectors’ 2020 Venture Sharks pitch competition. He has over 10 years of experience in system engineering, product development and business strategy. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Ricky launched rockets at NASA, built cyber networks for the CIA, and led AgTech research at the University of Kentucky.

 

October Lunch: Kentucky’s Entrepreneurial Agenda

At our October lunch, Venture Connectors was pleased to feature Monique Kuykendoll Quarterman, Deputy Executive Director of the Office of Entrepreneurship & Small Business Innovation/KY Innovation with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. Monique is helping to drive the entrepreneurial engine that’s pushing our state forward, amplifying the value in Kentucky’s startup communities and aligning […]

At our October lunch, Venture Connectors was pleased to feature Monique Kuykendoll Quarterman, Deputy Executive Director of the Office of Entrepreneurship & Small Business Innovation/KY Innovation with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. Monique is helping to drive the entrepreneurial engine that’s pushing our state forward, amplifying the value in Kentucky’s startup communities and aligning them with available resources. Her talk focused on transformation, and how the Cabinet is working to solidify Kentucky as a top destination for entrepreneurs and investors who seek to build or grow a startup.

She introduced her dynamic team and “super collaborations” with other organizations across the state, including the Kentucky Science & Technology Corp. (KSTC). She also shared ways KY Innovation is “throwing everything we have” at increasing access to growth and innovation opportunities, including federal funding. Read more in Business First here.

A native of Hardin County, Monique has been supporting Kentucky’s founders since 2012 in the Office for Research & Innovation at the University of Louisville. She has been a Business Development Manager at MEMStim, a founder of a Louisville-based innovation consulting practice, and collaborated with the Cabinet for Economic Development and KY Innovation in 2020 as the Executive Director of Kentucky Commercialization Ventures within Kentucky Science and Technology Corp.

Monique’s extensive background of supporting Kentucky’s entrepreneurs uniquely qualifies her to understand the founders’ mentality and identify how KY Innovation can help. She is proud of how the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development contributed to a record-breaking year in our state, and is equally excited for the diversity of innovators and entrepreneurs who want to get in on the action including educators, veterans, women, students, rural-based, marginalized groups and more.

September Lunch: Shaping Culture Through Innovation

At our September lunch, Venture Connectors was pleased to welcome dynamic speaker and coach Lisa Zangari! Lisa is President and CEO of the Zangari Consulting Group and Executive Coach-in-Residence at the Leadership Louisville Center. Through stories from her own work with some of the world’s most innovative companies, she shared four steps toward shaping organizational culture through innovation. […]

At our September lunch, Venture Connectors was pleased to welcome dynamic speaker and coach Lisa Zangari! Lisa is President and CEO of the Zangari Consulting Group and Executive Coach-in-Residence at the Leadership Louisville Center. Through stories from her own work with some of the world’s most innovative companies, she shared four steps toward shaping organizational culture through innovation. First, by articulating your company’s innovation ambition; then by establishing shared behaviors, tools and processes; next by creating and protecting your team’s psychological safety; and finally, by making your customers real for your people. She talked about the importance of building trust, and nurturing curiosity across your organization, and why culture can be a company’s greatest competitive advantage.

For 20-plus years, Lisa has been a strategist, coach and consultant for companies around the globe. She is a frequent speaker at events and conferences, with talks focusing on topics such as high-performance teams, psychological safety, leading through communication and women in the workplace.

Before moving to Louisville, Lisa worked in New York City as a management consultant and innovation strategist, where she partnered closely with Fortune 500 executives to develop new products, launch new ventures and nurture more innovative corporate cultures. This work gave her the opportunity to partner with leadership teams in the Americas, APAC, and EMEA. She also led executives on TopDog Study Tours to learn how Google, Facebook, Method, Southwest Airlines, Kind LLC, Four Seasons and others build and sustain a culture of innovation.

Some of her clients have included: AARP, Abbott Pharmaceutical, American Express, Citigroup, Citizens Union Bank, Coca-Cola, Disney, Farm Credit Mid-America, Hasbro, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Nutrisystem, PepsiCo, Pfizer, RSA Canada, Texas Roadhouse, The Hershey Co. and others.

Lisa serves on the board of Kentucky Performing Arts Foundation, and has been a consultant and coach for social impact organizations including New Roots (food justice) and the Smoketown Family Wellness Center. In 2017, Lisa was recognized as one of Business First’s 20 People to Know in Career Development. She holds an MBA in marketing from the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.

August Lunch: Innovation Trends in the Flyover States

Our August event featured media mogul Tom Cottingham, co-founder of The Cobb Group, TechRepublic, NarrowCast Group, Insider Louisville and now CEO and Partner of Flyover Media Group, who talked about innovation trends he’s seen throughout his career.  Tom shared how cities like Indianapolis, Charlestown and Birmingham are creating industry clusters or “innovation districts” to drive economic development, why it’s […]

Tom Cottingham presenting to Venture Connectors

Our August event featured media mogul Tom Cottingham, co-founder of The Cobb Group, TechRepublic, NarrowCast Group, Insider Louisville and now CEO and Partner of Flyover Media Group, who talked about innovation trends he’s seen throughout his career. 

Tom shared how cities like Indianapolis, Charlestown and Birmingham are creating industry clusters or “innovation districts” to drive economic development, why it’s vital to develop physical locations to bring people together for innovation, and how those concepts can be applied in cities like Louisville. He discussed venture investment opportunities in the flyover states, and the hottest tech trends like AI and deep learning. He shared his thoughts on Louisville’s strengths and challenges, and how we measure up to other locations in terms of opportunities for innovation. 

Flyover Media Group is an integrated media company focused on connecting communities of innovators throughout “Flyover Country.”  Flyover Future covers innovation ecosystems in cities throughout the heartland and the investors, universities, entrepreneurs and communities most engaged in building the business of the future today. Tom was an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Winner-Ohio Valley Region in July 2000.

This was also our first lunch at Story Louisville, and we’re delighted to call it our new home! It’s not only an innovation hub, but the perfect space for networking and showcasing the startup community. We hope to see you there next month!

 

Celebrating Entrepreneurship

Thank you to everyone came out to our July networking event at TEN20 Craft Brewery! We had a HUGE turnout, which just goes to show what a thriving startup community we have in Louisville!

(Photo credit: Austin Lopesilvero)

Thank you to everyone came out to our July networking event at TEN20 Craft Brewery! We had a HUGE turnout, which just goes to show what a thriving startup community we have in Louisville!

(Photo credit: Austin Lopesilvero)

June Lunch: Why Your Startup Needs a Chief of Staff

Does your startup need a chief of staff (CoS)? At our June lunch, Cheston Newhall, the recently appointed chief of staff for Bamboo Health, shared why the role is important in startups, how it can take on different forms, and how a CoS can be a strategic growth lever, if used correctly. He noted that […]

Photo by Austin Lopesilvero

Does your startup need a chief of staff (CoS)? At our June lunch, Cheston Newhall, the recently appointed chief of staff for Bamboo Health, shared why the role is important in startups, how it can take on different forms, and how a CoS can be a strategic growth lever, if used correctly. He noted that many CoS roles are popping up in tech companies, but cautioned against hiring one simply because it’s the trendy thing to do. Read more in this KY INNO article.

Newhall joined Bamboo Health, a national collaborative care network, in 2022. As CoS, he leads special initiatives and projects for the CEO and partners with company leaders to drive the business’ priorities through strategy, development and operations. He also maintains and builds relationships with Bamboo Health’s board of directors, as well as current and future investors, partners and collaborators.

Newhall has a wealth of experience in fast-growing technology companies, with expertise in organizational growth, business development and go-to-market strategies. He previously served as a sales alliance leader for Bamboo Health’s holding company, Appriss, playing a role in the successful acquisition of its Appriss Insights business unit by Equifax in 2021 for $1.8 billion. Prior to Appriss, Newhall held sales and revenue management positions at TEKSystems and ZirMed (Waystar).

May Lunch: Equity, Equality and Empathy in Business

When trying to foster a workplace that is equitable and inclusive for all, it is imperative for leaders to be well-trained in inclusive strategies. There is one key trait that all great leaders should possess. Some may call this trait the crème de la crème of all leadership traits: empathy. Empathy is our ability to […]

When trying to foster a workplace that is equitable and inclusive for all, it is imperative for leaders to be well-trained in inclusive strategies. There is one key trait that all great leaders should possess. Some may call this trait the crème de la crème of all leadership traits: empathy. Empathy is our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others and to understand what another person is experiencing. Leaders that are more empathetic may be more effective at fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces.

She talked about gaps and barriers to diversity, empathy and inclusion, and how she advises clients to let go of biases, recruit (not simply invite) diverse voices to the table, and ensure those voices are heard once they take a seat. She discussed recommendations for becoming more equitable and inclusive, and how she gets businesses to commit to the necessary changes in order to evolve. She also shared insights about how Louisville fares in these areas compared with other cities.

Dr. Johnson is also CEO and Founder of MEMStim LLC, a company that produces implantable electronics to treat neurological disorders. With a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, she has produced many patents, acquired funding from the National Science Foundation, and received millions in prestigious and highly competitive SBIR awards from the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Johnson’s expertise is sought out at the highest levels, including the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee. She has served as a speaker for the eighth district of the Federal Reserve, the Royal Academy of Science International Trust, the International Chamber of Commerce and the United Nations Assembly on Women and Girls in Science. She lends her leadership to the Standing Council, NSF Engineering Research Visioning Alliance, the Kentucky Statewide EPSCOR Committee, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering SBIR, the NSF NNCI External Advisory Board and Medtech Color.

April Lunch: Creating Generational Wealth

In the United States today, the top 10% of the population holds 76% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 50% holds just 1%. A major reason for that disparity is the transfer of wealth from generation to generation. Creating generational wealth is a focal point in lessening the racial wealth gap and increasing the concentration of […]

In the United States today, the top 10% of the population holds 76% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 50% holds just 1%. A major reason for that disparity is the transfer of wealth from generation to generation. Creating generational wealth is a focal point in lessening the racial wealth gap and increasing the concentration of wealth in the United States.

Our April lunch featured a fantastic presentation on how the Russell Technology Business Incubator (RTBI), is creating legacy for Black and LatinX companies in Louisville’s West End. Huge thanks to Monica Stewart, Director of Operations for AMPED and RTBI, for stepping in for Dave Christopher, who had a family emergency. Our thoughts are with Dave and his family.

The Russell Neighborhood was once known as “Louisville’s Harlem” for its strong African American business presence, but the area took a major decline after World War II. Household poverty rates in the neighborhood are 3.5 times higher than the general Louisville population, and 60% of the households live below the poverty threshold. The mission RTBI is to create a space for economic growth, mobility, entrepreneurship and independence.

RTBI is designed as a state-of-the-art, Black business incubator and technology service center offering business development training, business services, assessments, referrals and wraparound services to incubating businesses. RTBI provides the support small businesses need to launch in West Louisville communities. By providing these services, small businesses and entrepreneurs can maximize their potential for success, lift themselves and their families out of poverty, change the trajectory of their lives for the better and create generational wealth — the ability to pass assets from one generation to another including family businesses.

Monica introduced the incredible team at RTBI, and shared how the incubator prepares founders to successfully launch or relaunch profitable, legacy businesses. She went over how the application process works and some of the essential training founders receive, including a capital readiness assessment, coaching sessions and wealth strategy workshops.