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.

November Virtual Lunch: Social Entrepreneurship for a World in Need

At our November event, Colleen and Maggie Clines, sisters and co-founders of Louisville-based Anchal Project, shared their story of social entrepreneurship, and how it is helping to change the world. Anchal Project is a nonprofit social enterprise that addresses the exploitation of women by creating opportunities that support empowerment. Anchal’s one-of-a-kind pieces have been featured in The Guggenheim Museum, Madewell, Anthropologie, Vogue and Better Homes […]

At our November event, Colleen and Maggie Clines, sisters and co-founders of Louisville-based Anchal Projectshared their story of social entrepreneurship, and how it is helping to change the world. Anchal Project is a nonprofit social enterprise that addresses the exploitation of women by creating opportunities that support empowerment. Anchal’s one-of-a-kind pieces have been featured in The Guggenheim MuseumMadewellAnthropologieVogue and Better Homes & Gardens. The organization has provided nearly 500 exploited women with alternative careers in textiles and design since it was founded in 2010.

Colleen, CEO, values how design can become the tool for sustainable solutions to gender inequality, social injustice and environmental degradation. She combines this passion as a social entrepreneur and impact designer through her work at Anchal. Colleen leads the overall strategic and operational planning for Anchal’s programs, partnerships, expansion and execution of its mission.

A Louisville native with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Kentucky, Colleen earned her master’s in landscape architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design. In 2013, she was named one of Public Interest Design’s Top Global 100 designers, one of Louisville Business First’s 2016 Forty under 40, and earned the 2017 NAWBO Humanitarian Award.

Maggie, COO and Creative Director, spearheads Anchal's design aesthetic and product development. Responsible for visually communicating Anchal's story through creative content, she has successfully developed, designed and grown the organization into an internationally recognized brand. Maggie passionately manages Anchal's production and product design oversight, facilitating the success of multiple custom collaborations and innovative design solutions.

Maggie holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from UK and shares Colleen’s belief that design can be the catalyst for social innovation. She believes education is the first step to creating positive change; her drive for social impact started at a young age and guided her through design school.

Both have shared Anchal’s story through numerous speaking engagements, with Colleen focusing on Anchal’s mission and design-thinking model, while Maggie focuses on Anchal's unique, socially conscious business model.

BrainSTEM University is the 2020 Venture Sharks Winner!

Venture Connectors is thrilled to share that BrainSTEM University is the winner of our 11th annual Venture Sharks™ business pitch competition! Led by founder Ricky Mason, BrainSTEM is an educational tech startup that provides in-person and virtual learning via a proprietary virtual learning environment and social network that allows students to participate in STEM classes, […]

Venture Sharks 2020 winnerVenture Connectors is thrilled to share that BrainSTEM University is the winner of our 11th annual Venture Sharks™ business pitch competition! Led by founder Ricky Mason, BrainSTEM is an educational tech startup that provides in-person and virtual learning via a proprietary virtual learning environment and social network that allows students to participate in STEM classes, projects and clubs. Congratulations, Ricky! 

The winner was selected during the final round of competition on Oct. 7, where four entrepreneurs seeking funding for their business plans faced off virtually with a panel of savvy investor sharks fishing for the next great deal. BrainSTEM was selected based on the viability of its idea, the ability of the competition’s prize to positively impact the business and quality of its presentation. Venture Sharks’ 2020 presenting sponsor is Open i Advisors.

Venture Connectors received more than 30 applications from entrepreneurs across the region. During the finals, presenters were allowed a few minutes to describe their idea to the judges, who then fired off questions to the presenters in the style of the popular television show, “Shark Tank.”

The winner received a grand prize package designed to help them take their idea to market, including a $5,000 cash award, one-on-one mentoring from established entrepreneurs and advisors, and other in-kind services provided by sponsors Open i Advisors, Forecastr, Mightily and Mira.

We also want to thank our wonderful judges: Monique Quarterman, executive director of the newly formed Kentucky Commercialization Ventures; Paul Ehlinger, principal at Allos Ventures, with locations in Indianapolis and Cincinnati; and Ida Khodami, partner at Two Bear Capital based in Whitefish, Montana.

Please join us in congratulating the other finalists, who were brave enough to jump in the water with the Sharks:

  • Borderless, an online bank payment processor enabling affordable and direct digital payments from anywhere in the world without the need for foreign bank accounts.
  • CASPER Security, a company that helps municipalities protect first responders and neighbors from vacant and abandoned property disasters through rapid deployments of a proprietary, solar-powered home security system.
  • Pav*r, an integrated productivity tool that leverages calendar data to help users get more done in less time.

Venture Sharks has awarded more than $100,000 in prizes since it launched in 2010. For more about the competition, click here.

Here Are Your 2020 Venture Sharks Finalists!

Venture Connectors is proud to announce the four startups that will compete in the final round of our 11th annual Venture Sharks™ business pitch competition on Wednesday, Oct. 7! Venture Connectors received more than 30 applications from entrepreneurs across the region. The Venture Sharks selection committee chose the top eight ideas for the first round […]

Venture Connectors is proud to announce the four startups that will compete in the final round of our 11th annual Venture Sharks™ business pitch competition on Wednesday, Oct. 7!

Venture Connectors received more than 30 applications from entrepreneurs across the region. The Venture Sharks selection committee chose the top eight ideas for the first round of competition, which was held during a closed pitch session on Sept. 24. The four finalists were selected based on the viability of their business, the quality of their presentation and the impact the Venture Sharks prize could have on their company. They are:

  • Borderless, an online bank payment processor enabling affordable and direct digital payments from anywhere in the world without the need for foreign bank accounts.
  • BrainSTEM, an educational tech startup that provides in-person and virtual learning via a proprietary virtual learning environment and social network that allows students to participate in STEM classes, projects and clubs.
  • CASPER Security, a company that helps municipalities protect first responders and neighbors from vacant and abandoned property disasters through rapid deployments of a proprietary, solar-powered home security system.
  • Pav*r, an integrated productivity tool that leverages calendar data to help users get more done in less time.

During the final round, 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, including a $5,000 cash award, one-on-one mentoring from established entrepreneurs and advisors, as well as in-kind services provided by Open i Advisors and other sponsors. Venture Connectors is partnering with Open i Advisors for operational management of the competition.

The package includes startup coaching and one-on-one mentoring in key areas, such as strategic planning, product/market fit, software development, marketing and promotion, financial advising and modeling, capital fundraising and legal structuring.

Thanks to all the semifinalists who presented, and thank you to our prelims judges Zack Pennington, Mary Tapolsky and Raechele Gray!

Our Oct. 7 finals event will be held via Zoom from noon-1 p.m. and is open to the public. It is free to Venture Connectors members and $10 for guests. To jump in the water with the Sharks, register here.

September Virtual Lunch: Inside Lou City FC

A Louisville native, Brad Estes has served multi-billion-dollar corporations and closely held family businesses with a finance and operating background before leading his hometown’s top professional sports franchise. As president of Soccer Holdings LLC, Estes oversees both the USL Championship club Louisville City FC and Racing Louisville FC, a 2021 newcomer to the top-tier National […]

At our September event, Louisville City Football Club President Brad Estes shared an inside look at the journey of a pro sports startup in a college town. He talked about the emergence of professional soccer in the United States, the planning and effort behind bringing a club to Louisville, the logistics of building a stadium, and the latest news about Lou City.

A Louisville native, Brad Estes has served multi-billion-dollar corporations and closely held family businesses with a finance and operating background before leading his hometown’s top professional sports franchise. As president of Soccer Holdings LLC, Estes oversees both the USL Championship club Louisville City FC and Racing Louisville FC, a 2021 newcomer to the top-tier National Women’s Soccer League.

Estes’ career includes stops as Chief Financial Officer of Smoothstone IP Communications, Vice President of Finance for Trilogy Health Services and President of Neace Ventures. After assisting the club as a consultant for a year, Estes signed on with Soccer Holdings full time in 2017. The St. Xavier High School graduate received his accounting degree from Marshall University while playing football for the Thundering Herd. Estes completed his education in 2002 with an MBA from the University of Louisville.

Venture Sharks Goes Virtual! Apply Now

Venture Connectors is pleased to announce that applications for its 11th annual Venture Sharks business pitch competition are now open! The competition was postponed earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been relaunched as an all-virtual event. Early-stage companies and entrepreneurs are invited to compete for a $5,000 cash prize and thousands […]

Venture Connectors is pleased to announce that applications for its 11th annual Venture Sharks business pitch competition are now open! The competition was postponed earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been relaunched as an all-virtual event. 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 Friday, Sept. 4. The Venture Sharks committee will choose eight startups to compete during a preliminary round of the competition, which will be held in mid-September. The field then will be narrowed to four finalists. The final round of competition will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 7, during Venture Connectors’ virtual lunch meeting.

Eight semifinalists will meet virtually with a panel of judges to present their ideas, and four finalists will be selected to compete during the virtual finals event Oct. 7. Competitors will be given a few minutes to present, then the judges will fire off questions to them in the style of the popular television show, “Shark Tank.”  One lucky survivor will receive a prize package designed to help them take their idea to market, including a $5,000 cash award, one-on-one mentoring from established entrepreneurs and advisors, as well as in-kind services provided by Open i Advisors and other sponsors. Venture Connectors is partnering with Open i Advisors for operational management of the competition.

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 2020 Venture Sharks competition still are available. For information, contact Stacey Servo at stacey@openiadvisors.com.

The Oct. 7 finals event will be held via Zoom from noon-1 p.m. and is open to the public. It is free to Venture Connectors members and $10 for guests. Click here to register.

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.