Thom 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, 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 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.