Ruhe.jpgThom Ruhe, President and CEO

Thom has over two decades of experience in the field of entrepreneurship including: launching new ventures, mentoring, entrepreneurial education, economic development and community building. He has worked with foundations, governments, universities and economic development organizations around the world to expand humanity through entrepreneurial thought leadership, advocacy, public policy work, speaking and publishing.

Prior to joining NC IDEA, Thom served as Chief Executive Officer of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI), and Publisher of ID8 Nation. Prior to ELI, Thom spent seven years at the Kauffman Foundation where he directed the Foundation's programs addressing entrepreneurial education, mentoring, access to capital and fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems. Thom also led Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation, a novel community resource dedicated to advancing experiential based entrepreneurial education in combination with practical technology curricula. Thom was recruited to Kauffman based upon his work as founding chief marketing officer (CMO) for JumpStart Inc., an economic development organization and seed stage investment fund created to invest in and accelerate the growth of high potential, early stage companies in northeast Ohio. Before JumpStart, Thom served as president of Optiem LLC, where he led the growth of a nascent marketing practice to a nationally recognized interactive marketing, communications and public relations agency.

Thom has/is serving in a variety of board and advisory capacities including: The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council for fostering Entrepreneurship, Board of Advisers for The Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC and founding trustee for Innovation Fund America.

Thom has been quoted and/or published in: NY Times, WSJ, Forbes, Inc., and more. Thom has spoken and participated in a variety of functions all over the world including the United Nations, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace of the Vatican, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship, Workforce Development Institute, U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Global Entrepreneurship Congress and Global Entrepreneurship Week.


John Austin.jpg    John Austin, Groundwork Labs Program Director

John is the founder and director of Groundwork Labs. Since starting Groundwork Labs in 2011, he has personally mentored more than 100 entrepreneurs who have participated in the program.  Outside of Groundwork Labs, he is extensively involved in the local startup community as a founding team member of Soar Triangle (a program for female entrepreneurs), Startup Weekends, coaching and judging business plan competitions, and speaking at the local universities.

John held a position as CEO of of Numerical Design, Ltd., a startup delivering video game industry’s leading providers of game engines and tools to video game developers, and was COO of Division, Inc., a virtual reality startup company that was acquired by HP. John has a master’s in Computer Science from UNC-Chapel Hill and a batchelor’s in Electrical Engineering from Valparaiso University.

When not working with startups, John eats North Carolina Barbecue, plays table tennis, golf, roots for the Tar Heels, works on a small but prolific vegetable garden, and does several crossword puzzles a week.


Andrea Headshot - WEB.jpgAndrea Cook, Grant Program Manager

Andrea manages the grant program and marketing efforts at NC IDEA. She has been involved in the Research Triangle’s entrepreneurial community for over fifteen years serving in varying marketing and communications roles within well-known and respected entrepreneurial support organizations, investment firms and professional services firms. Andrea received a B.A. in Journalism and a Minor in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Natasha Goldstein, SoarTriangle Program Director

Natasha Goldstein has spent the last ten years working in corporate finance, social impact investing and social entrepreneurship. Natasha is currently an Entrepreneur in Residence at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business’ Launch accelerator program in Chapel Hill. From 2013 to 2017 Natasha was Managing Director & Chief Financial Officer of MCE Social Capital, a $50 million global social investment fund focused on improving the lives of low-income women in rural areas. At MCE Natasha was responsible for raising approximately $20 million dollars in impact investment capital annually, as well as all financial and operational aspects of the fund. From 2012 to 2013 Natasha served as Finance Director at Hot Bread Kitchen, a commercial bakery providing on-the-job training to immigrant women in New York City. In 2010, Natasha founded LIFT Investments, a social enterprise focused on business development and skills training in Nairobi, Kenya. From 2010 to 2012, while working on her start up, Natasha also worked for boutique management consulting firm ESV Strategies, where she advised nonprofits and social enterprises on their financial growth. Earlier in her career, Natasha worked at UBS Investment Bank as a financial analyst, where she focused on multi-million and billion dollar cross-border mergers, acquisitions, and equity transactions.

Natasha has a Bachelor’s of Commerce degree with a major in finance from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada and a Masters of Public Administration focused on economic development from Columbia University.

Lauren Headshot.jpg


Lauren McCullough, Program Manager

As Program Manager, Lauren is a central point of contact for the implementation and day-to-day activities associated with NC IDEA’s grants and programs. Prior to working with NC IDEA, Lauren was a team member at ArchiveSocial, a Durham-based startup and a former NC IDEA seed grant recipient. Prior to relocating to the Triangle, Lauren worked as the Client Service Coordinator for the Ohio University Innovation Center, a technology business incubator located in Athens, Ohio. Lauren received her B.A. and Master’s in Public Administration from Ohio University where she also served as Graduate Assistant for TechGROWTH Ohio, a program providing early stage funding and technical assistance to technology ventures in Southeast Ohio.


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Sarah Mixter, Community and Office Coordinator

As the Community and Office Coordinator for NC IDEA, Sarah coordinates operations for Groundwork Labs, Soar Triangle and the NC IDEA grant programs. Sarah has over 5 years of experience in managing operations, logistics and events in Chapel Hill. She graduated from The University of North Carolina with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies.

© 2017 NC IDEA