On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Venture Connectors hosted Ale-8-One president and chief operating officer Ellen McGeeney, who discussed innovations she has implemented at Ale-8-One since she joined the company in September 2013. The first professional manager outside the founding family brought in to run day-to-day operations, McGeeney has helped lead the fourth-generation, family-owned company to break all previous sales records and defy industry trends. Ale-8-One soft drink has been bottled in Winchester, Ky., since 1926 and is the only soft drink invented in Kentucky still in existence.
Our November luncheon featured 2014 Venture Sharks’ winner and rock star entrepreneur Chris Bailey, who discussed his experience with several local startup accelerators, why he had to leave Louisville to secure additional capital and what he learned from his recent involvement in the Techstars program. Bailey founded GearBrake in 2013 after a motorcycle wreck inspired him to make riding safer. Through Techstars, Bailey rebranded GearBrake as Revio and built a connected motorcycle IoT platform.
Venture Connectors celebrated our 20th Anniversary in October. The organization was founded as Venture Club of Louisville in 1995, and we invited back all five of our founders to commemorate 20 years of connecting entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, inventors, academics, practitioners, technologists, students and business experts to increase the number and quality of new ventures launched from the Louisville region. Panelists were Doug Cobb, Robert L. Ogden, Mark Pulliam and Tonya York Dees. Jerry Parham could not attend.
Our September lunch featured Kris Kimel, founder of IdeaFestival, who has built a career around the kind of innovation and creativity that propels communities into the future. He shared his passion for embracing “dangerous” new ideas, some of which he is currently pursuing through his Lexington-based science and technology ventures. Kimel is president and co-founder of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp., an independent, nonprofit company dedicated to creating an innovation-driven entrepreneurial economy that positions Kentucky as a global leader in science and technology. He is also a founder of two subsidiaries — Kentucky Space LLC and Space Tango Inc.
What’s it like to be on the inside of a major acquisition? At our August lunch, featured speakers, Indatus CEO, David Durik, and president, Phil Hawkins, discussed what it takes to create, nurture and structure a major exit like the one Indatus underwent earlier this year. On June 2, Carrollton, Texas-based RealPage Inc. announced it acquired select assets of ICIM Corp., which is marketed under the trade name Indatus, for about $49 million. Founded by Durik as Planet Telecom in 1989, Indatus provides a suite of cloud-based, smart-answer automation and routing solutions that handle maintenance calls for more than 11,000 apartment communities. RealPage plans to combine Indatus’ offerings with its live-agent services.
Our June lunch featured Ashley Drake, co-owner and CEO of The Natural Grip LLC, a recent competitor on ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank.” Drake appeared on the show’s Nov. 7, 2014, episode, and received an investment from celebrity shark Robert Herjavec. She talked about her experiences leading up to her appearance, how she prepared for it, what it was like to face the sharks and how she is growing her business with the help of Herjavec’s investment. Louisville-based The Natural Grip manufactures specialized handgrips for weightlifters, cross trainers and other athletes that are designed to prevent common injuries.
Our May lunch featured the 2015 Venture Sharks finals. Logjustrips was named the winner of the 2015 Venture Sharks business competition. The company collects stop/start data from company cars and presents a decision to the driver, “Was that trip business or personal?” Steve Arkon and his team at Logjustrips will receive $10,000 in cash and professional services to help take its idea to market. The Venture Sharks winner is 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. Click here to read about the Venture Sharks finals in Business First.
At our April lunch, Venture Connectors hosted John Asher, vice president of racing communications for Churchill Downs Race Track. An influential Louisville "connector," Asher discussed the business of horse racing, including insights into specific factors that make the industry profitable and relevant. Asher has worked in the Thoroughbred racing industry as an award-winning journalist and publicist for more than 30 years. He joined Churchill Downs in January 1997 and has served in his current position since March 1999.
As a radio journalist at WHAS-AM and WAVE-AM in Louisville, Asher earned five Eclipse Awards for “Outstanding National Radio Coverage of Thoroughbred Racing.” Other horse industry honors include the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners’ Warner L. Jones Jr. Horseman of the Year award in 2006; the Charles W. Engelhard Award for excellence in media coverage from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders; the Dean Eagle Award from the Knights of Columbus Bishop Spalding Council No. 2761; and a media award from the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association.
At our March lunch, Venture Connectors hosted a panel featuring Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s economic advancement team. Ted Smith, chief of civic innovation, Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, deputy chief of staff and chief of strategic initiatives, and Colleen Abate, economic development manager, discussed the Mayor’s vision for Louisville and how the venture capital and entrepreneurial community can participate in that vision.
At our February lunch, Andrea Wilson, general manager of Michter’s Distillery LLC, and Doris Sims, vice president of bureau services for the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau discussed the state of the bourbon industry, focusing on downtown distilling and bourbon experiences. Wilson and Sims also shared information on the expected economic impact of the bourbon industry on Louisville and what they believe are opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs.
Michter’s is a startup distiller in Louisville that is resurrecting an old brand and reintroducing it to the marketplace. Wilson spent the past 11 years working in the bourbon industry, including roles at Diageo, where she oversaw its North American distilling operations and, most recently, its whiskey strategy. She is in her 10th year with the Kentucky Distiller’s Association and became the first woman to chair the organization in 2009. Sims has worked for the Convention & Visitors Bureau since 1987 and was promoted to her current position in 2003. During her tenure, she has improved and streamlined bureau operations in several areas, including the development of a call center to book hotel reservations and answer visitor information calls.
For more information about the Kentucky bourbon industry, click here.
At our January lunch, Graham Baughman, CEO of WhiteBox Learning, discussed how his innovative, web-based learning platform combines 3D engineering with 3D gaming to help students develop critical thinking skills and inspire more of them to choose STEM-related careers. WhiteBox Learning entered the STEM education market in 2010 and is now the fastest growing STEM/engineering education provider in the United States. More than 100,000 students at 700 schools in grades 6 to 12 currently are using the company’s STEM learning system, and more than half of America’s 100 largest school districts have implemented it.