WilmingtonBiz Magazine

The WilmingtonBiz 100: Innovators

By Staff Reports, posted Dec 16, 2019

The Innovators – the disruptors shaking things up and getting the region to see things in a different way.


Ash Aziz

Owner, Circa Restaurant Group
Longtime Wilmington restaurateur Ash Aziz has run some of the most successful eateries in the city while also not being afraid to test out new concepts.
Why he’s an innovator:
Aziz’s was called “a truly iconic figure in the Wilmington restaurant scene” by Lindsey Hess of Wilmington-based commercial real estate firm Cape Fear Commercial, one of the brokers who helped him last year to sell three of his prominent restaurants, Boca Bay, Brasserie du Soleil and Osteria Cicchetti, to Raleigh-based Urban Food Group. Circa Restaurant Group retains ownership of Circa 1922 and Il Forno Pizzeria.
Aziz is cooking up a new concept for River Place, a major mixed-use project under construction in downtown Wilmington.
“This new venture will continue the Circa Group’s trademark pairing of great food and detailed service,” he said in a Greater Wilmington Business Journal story in 2017. “We intend to create and maintain a restaurant that is comprehensive and exceptional in its attention to every detail. The guest experience will be honest, real and fresh.”
Newest spot: The anticipated restaurant size of Aziz’s River Place concept is 5,000 square feet.

Dan Brawley

Chief Instigating Officer, Cucalorus Film Foundation
A Wilmington native, Dan Brawley graduated from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in art and art history. After graduation, Brawley was a preparator at Cameron Art Museum. Brawley got his start at Cucalorus as a volunteer and eventually became its executive director in 1999. For the third year, Brawley has been elected president of the Film Festival Alliance. In 2003, he founded and has managed Jengo’s Playhouse, a movie and performance theater with art studios and rooms for resident artists.
Why he’s an innovator:
Brawley has helped grow the Cucalorus Film Foundation to four film festivals, a residency program and community education initiatives.
Through Cucalorus, Brawley has brought together artists and thinkers to the region and has promoted the Wilmington area as a film production location and highlighted the city’s legacy in the film industry. Brawley has also helped expand Cucalorus Connect, a two-day conference on technology and innovation.
During his time at Cucalorus, the foundation has contributed more than $40,000 in grants to emerging filmmakers.
Average numbers of movies he watches in a year: 500

Tom Clifford

Owner and Founder, Without Limits
On and off the track, Tom Clifford has made strides. He started as a personal trainer in a small, local gym. He started Without Limits in 2007 when several local athletes approached him about helping them improve their running. Clifford, a former competitive runner, welcomed the idea of getting back into the competitive nature of the sport he missed.
Why he’s an innovator:
Clifford has helped Port City runners push themselves to new goals. He worked with Olympic Trials qualifier Christa Iammarino when she won her first-ever marathon (the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon) in 2010 and is now helping Brittany Perkins for the 2020 Marathon Olympic Team Trials in Atlanta.
But it’s not just the coaching of 75 athletes where Clifford is making his mark. He also has raised the bar for road races in the area, drawing local and competitive runners from other cities who infuse visitor money into the local economy.
He started the Wrightsville Beach Marathon, which is now called the NHRMC Wilmington Marathon, in 2010, that has become the largest participatory running event in Southeastern North Carolina. Without Limits, partnering with Go Time Race Management, also recently took over the popular Battleship Half Marathon that started in 1998. This year, the event sold out at 2,000 runners.
In all, Clifford is now management and race director of six events and two major events.
Without Limits also partnered with Dr. Scott Tunis and dietitian Diana Davis to create the Without Limits Runners Daily Vitamin.
One of his personal records: A marathon time of 2 hours, 29 minutes (and 21 seconds)

Chris Cox

President, Apiture
Chris Cox, who received an MBA from Duke University, has more than 20 years of experience in banking, mobile commerce, product innovation and technology strategy. He worked at Atlanta-based First Data as head of digital banking and joined Apiture when it opened its Wilmington headquarters in 2017.
Why he’s an innovator:
As the president of Apiture, Cox leads a team of banking experts and technologists who are seeking to modernize how financial institutions interact with their customers through digital channels.
Cox’s background in financial services and technology has guided his leadership in establishing and growing the Live Oak and First Data (now Fiserv) venture as a standalone business.
Through his position, Cox is part of the growing fintech scene in Wilmington. Since opening in 2017, Apiture has created about 160 technology jobs in the region and has worked with UNCW and CFCC to recruit talent.

Diane Durance

Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Through launching and growing three companies, Diane Durance gained entrepreneurship experience which currently guides her role at the CIE. After building those companies, Durance became president of MiQuest, a Michigan organization that connects ventures with funding. She joined the CIE as its director in 2016 where she works to connect businesses to resources and lead them through an accelerator program.
Why she’s an innovator:
As the director of the CIE, Durance connects more than 100 early-stage student, faculty and community innovative ventures with resources to launch and grow their business.
Durance has fostered connections in the startup ecosystem throughout Southeast North Carolina. Durance is an advocate of renewable energy and sustainable fisheries, and through the CIE, she hosted Fish 2.0, an organization that connects seafood ventures with investors. As a result, two Wilmington-based companies were invited to present at the Fish 2.0 global summit in November.
Under her leadership, the CIE has also grown its Youth Entrepreneurship Program, and it now hosts the Chancellor's High School Innovation Competition and monthly meetup. She also leads an effort to fuel support in arts and innovation-based ventures.
Led the aquaculture startup: Harvest Food & Fisheries

Judy Girard

Founder, Girls Leadership Academy Of Wilmington (GLOW)
Before retiring in the area in 2008, Judy Girard had a long career as a television executive that shaped popular culture – several times. She rebranding the Lifetime network and developed the Lifetime Original Movie franchise. She served as president of the Food Network 1998-2004 and helped usher in the celebrity chef show. Girard was also president of HGTV.
Why she’s an innovator:
Setting aside the influence Girard had in television, she appears this year as an innovator for the work she did after moving to the area. She and Georgia Miller took inspiration from the Young Women’s Leadership Network single-gender schools in New York aimed at preparing at-risk girls to attend college.
It took convincing the state legislature to pass a measure, but GLOW, the state’s first allgirls charter school opened in 2016, and this year the school moved into its a campus on land donated by the Cameron family.
With her Food Network connections, Girard has brought several celebrity chefs to Wilmington for fundraisers for the school in recent years.
Award bling: When she retired in 2008, Girard received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy

Duane Hixon

CEO And Co-Founder, N2 Publishing
Duane Hixon has lead Wilmington-based N2 Publishing as CEO for 15 years. He started the company in 2004 from his home, launching the company with president and co-founder Earl Seals.
Why he’s an innovator:
As the head of N2 Publishing, Hixon’s leadership helped propel the company’s growth and success as a publisher of print-only custom magazines in a digital era. The firm has grown from one monthly publication in 2004 to more than 1,000 publications across the U.S.
In 2016, Hixon lead the company’s transition to a franchise model. This year, the firm was ranked the fifth fastest-growing franchise in the U.S. by Entrepreneur magazine.
The firm has also been named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing privately held companies for eight consecutive years. The company has been recognized as a “great place to work” by several publications.
Hixon oversees more than 1,200 full-time and 800 part-time workers with 200 local employees.
Hixon is readying the firm for its next phase to diversify N2’s services but said he wouldn’t be ready to share details until early next year. Outside the company, Hixon and his wife, Rebecca, spearheaded N2GIVES, which has donated $8 million to nonprofits that combat human trafficking.
Number of clients: 30,000+

Jeff James

CEO, Wilmington Health
Jeff James has served as head of Wilmington Health since 2008. He was previously chief financial officer and chief operating officer for Christie Clinic in Illinois.
Why he’s an innovator:
In his role, James is responsible for the overall strategy of Wilmington Health, a multispecialty group practice with 200 providers covering 37 specialties in 22 locations. During his time the group has tripled in size.
Beyond his management position, James also has kept an eye on the changing health care landscape. Before valuebased care became the norm – and an emphasis of federal reimbursements – James was talking about costs of care and population health data.
He has helped developed several accountable care organizations, including Wilmington Health’s, which in 2013 ranked No. 1 nationally.
In 2017, he was a founding member of Innovo Research LLC, which promotes clinical research as a care option and is designed to assist ACOs in the strategic implementation of clinical research.
Nonmedical background: James is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Richard Johnson

Entrepreneur, Turtle Cove Enterprises
As the former founder and CEO of, a job search site, Johnson led a risky marketing campaign for the company that paid off and led to the growth and eventual sale to Yahoo for $400 million. Since then, Johnson, now a Wilmington resident has started organizations in the region, part of Turtle Cove Enterprises, with a focus on rural business revitalization and the environment.
Why he’s an innovator:
As a semi-retired entrepreneur, Johnson is leading efforts to benefit communities and promote businesses in rural areas.
Johnson started, a nonprofit that focuses on the preservation and education of Masonboro Island.
As part of his social entrepreneurship efforts, Johnson founded Burgaw Now, a campaign that seeks to revitalize Burgaw and bring businesses back in the area. To incentivize businesses, Johnson purchased buildings to be renovated and leased to business owners.
So far, Johnson has been working with Panacea Brewing Co., which will open a brewery and restaurant, and Fat Daddy’s Pizza, both slated to open in 2020. Burgaw Now also has a website with a blog and has partnered with the N.C. Blueberry Festival to host events that highlight the town.
Johnson also owns Penderlea Farms in Burgaw, a live oak tree farm focused on preserving native live oaks.
Also oversees: Boat manufacturing facility Swanspoint

Ryan Legg

CEO, MegaCorp Logistics
Ryan Legg and his wife, Denise, founded MegaCorp Logistics in 2009. The logistics company specializes in full and less-than truckload shipments throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada. As CEO, he runs the company made up of about 350 employees.
Why he’s an innovator:
MegaCorp Logistics has seen significant growth over the past decade. The company has expanded its reach across North America and has consistently been named among firms on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies. It made Inc. magazine’s annual list for the fourth time this year, reporting $294.1 million in revenue in 2018.
It was also ranked No. 1 on Business North Carolina magazine’s 2019 North Carolina Mid-Market Fast 40 list, which ranked firms based on gains in workforce and revenue for two consecutive years. According to the report, the firm had more than 500,000 loads and earned more than $1 billion in sales since 2009.
The firm moved into its new headquarters off Ashes Drive earlier this year.
HQ buildings purchase: $7.4 million

Jennifer Mccall

Co-Founder and CEO, Seatox Research Inc.
Jennifer McCall, who received a doctorate degree in biology with a concentration on immunology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, cofounded SeaTox Research Inc. After earning her Ph.D., McCall enrolled in UNCW’s postdoctoral program in business of biotechnology while also getting an MBA at the Cameron School of Business.
Why she’s an innovator:
In 2013, McCall and her husband founded SeaTox, a biotechnology research and development company that McCall said develops a faster and easier process to test shellfish for marine toxins.
The company has earned about $2 million in federal and state grants to develop scientific products for public use, and in 2017, McCall was awarded a $1.47 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to develop user-friendly tests for marine toxins that contaminate commercial seafood.
SeaTox, located in UNCW’s CREST Research Park, has allowed other biotech startups to use its laboratory and resources to support the business community. As an assistant professor in clinical research at UNCW, McCall has also been working on efforts to support workforce development in biopharmaceutical and clinical research industries.
Involvement: Innovate SENC

Michael McWhorter

CEO, Mojotone
Michael McWhorter is responsible for the firm’s short-term and long-term strategic planning and manages all operations and resources at its Burgaw facility, which began operations in 2005. Mojotone was originally founded in 2000 in Winston-Salem.
Why he’s an innovator:
Over the past 14 years, Mojotone’s workforce has grown from 12 employees starting to more than 70 in 2019. McWhorter has strategically grown Mojotone locally, and in 2018 relocated operations to a newly upfitted building in the Pender Progress Industrial Park.
The company has made a name for itself as an amplifier cabinet builder and amplifier parts supplier in the music industry. It has landed major customers including Rush, Lenny Kravitz and ZZ Top. The firm has also become an original equipment manufacturer for Gibson Brands Inc. and LERXST Amplification and an OEM supplier for Fender Musical Instruments Corp.
Mojotone is working on a program with the Pender County school system to provide skilled trade training to help build local careers. McWhorter also serves on the Wilmington Business Development board.

Years in Burgaw: 14

Fred Meyers

Founder and President, / The Queensboro Shirt Co.
Fred Meyers started the company in the early 1980s in New York City. Queensboro was one of the first companies to offer custom logo apparel to the business community. In the 1990s, Meyers moved the business to Wilmington and launched the firm’s first website. Meyers is still actively managing the business, which has 150 employees.
Why he’s an innovator:
For nearly 40 years, Meyers has consistently grown the firm and successfully navigated the business through the dawn of the internet and mobile devices. He has led the company’s innovations in its manufacturing, software development, customer experience and web and social media direct-to-consumer marketing.
Queensboro also renovated for its operations a 100,000-square-foot, 1950s industrial building on 13th Street.
Meyers’ current company projects include Uberizing its customer experience and simplifying the firm’s supply chain to prepare it for scalable national and international growth.
Year company founded: 1982

Dave Nathans

Owner, Urban Building Corp.
A Wilmington resident since 1987, David Nathans played a role over the years in revitalizing downtown Wilmington and continues those efforts today.
Why he’s an influencer:
When a fundraising effort and other attempts didn’t work to save St. Andrews Presbyterian Church from imminent destruction, the more than 130-year-old building at North Fourth and Campbell streets in downtown Wilmington faced an uncertain future. Nathans bought it from the city of Wilmington in 2008, restored the structure and opened the Brooklyn Arts Center at St. Andrews, an events venue.
Nathans, who co-founded Plantation Inc. with David Spetrino before Spetrino bought the company around 2004, still owns the property. During the decade he worked with Spetrino, Nathans and Spetrino redeveloped an old junkyard that took up an entire city block, bordered by Third, Hanover, Fourth and Brunswick streets, into a five-story office building and other structures.
Nathans is working on the Wilmington Rail Trail and converting the old Independent Ice Co. building into condominiums/apartments.
BAC fact: On March 25, 2011, the Brooklyn Arts Center was granted its certificate of occupancy.

Pete Peterson

CEO, Manufacturing Methods
In his role at Manufacturing Methods, Pete Peterson oversees the company, founded in December 2006. Peterson also leads two other companies housed within Manufacturing Methods’ Leland operation, Lucid Innovative Technologies and K9000 Dog Wash USA LLC.
Why he’s an innovator:
At Manufacturing Methods, Peterson has overseen the application of new precision and lean manufacturing techniques, invested in new machinery and grown its workforce at the Leland-based facility. The company provides a range of services, including custom machining, metal fabrication and powder coating.
On top of the firm’s work as a contract manufacturer, Peterson helped launch in 2017, Lucid Innovative Technologies, a medical, dental and surgical device manufacturer. And last year, Peterson formed K9000 Dog Wash USA in partnership with Australia-based Tru Blu K9000 Dog Wash, to manufacture, sell and distribute the dog wash machines brand.
Company employees: 40

Karl Ricanek

Co-Founder and Chief Data Scientist, Lapetus
Karl Ricanek, a professor of computer science at UNCW, co-founded Lapetus Solutions Inc. in 2015.
He graduated from N.C. A&T State University with a doctorate in electrical engineering. Ricanek is also the director of the UNCW Institute for Interdisciplinary Identity Sciences (I3S). As the director of I3S, Ricanek has gardened more than $18 million in research grants and contract submissions. He is also the co-director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Identity Science at N.C. A&T and began his training in artificial intelligence and machine learning while working with the U.S. Department of Defense.
Why he’s an innovator:
Through his startup, Ricanek has been leading efforts in the fields of artificial in telligence, machine learning, facial analytics and health, aging and da ta science, among other areas.
Lapetus and its co-founder, S. Jay Olshansky, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, have created tools and platforms that help predict aging, health and life expectancy. This information can be used by individuals, insurance, cosmetic and marketing companies, among others.
Since 2015, the company has raised more than $4.6 million in funding, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which Ricanek said was due to its innovative use of technology.
The products developed by Lapetus were derived from Ricanek’s research in biometrics and facial recognition.
Through a selfie and a questionnaire, Lapetus is able to predict life events that can reduce life insurance carriers’ underwriting costs and time.
Lapetus currently has 15 employees, according to its website and Ricanek holds several patents on facial analytics products.
He is also is a member of international scientific working groups for biometrics, machine learning and fac e recognition and he shares his insights in those fields to organizations and governments.
Previous work: Naval Undersea Warfare Center

Michael Satrazemis

CEO And President, Filmwerks
Michael Satrazemis founded Filmwerks, a Rocky Point company that provides production services for broadcasts and events, in 1999. He started in the North Carolina industry by furnishing power and lighting for live races. When Filmwerks started, it provided mobile stages and studios for the TV industry, including Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill. Since then, the company has been meeting the demand for sports, events, concerts and political broadcasts.
Why he’s an innovator:
Satrazemis leads a company that has grown from 58 employees in 2015 to 150 employees now.
The company is in charge of providing power and set design for some of the most notable broadcasts, including the Super Bowl, World Series, U.S. Open, PGA events, political conventions, debates, primaries and presidential inaugurations.
Through a series of acquisitions, including that of Hale Electrical in 2019, Satrazemis has added to the company’s geographic reach, inventory and talent.
This year, the company is working on designing the 2020 Super Bowl in Miami and will be involved in broadcast elements of the 2020 presidential election events.
Career start: California-based Hollywood Rental

Gus Simmons

Director of Bioenergy, Cavanaugh & Associates
Gus Simmons, who earned a bachelor’s degree from N.C. State University in biological and agricultural engineering, joined Cavanaugh in 2001 as agricultural services director, serving as project manager to help the state evaluate innovative approaches for managing agricultural wastes.
Why he’s an innovator:
Simmons worked with Duke University evaluating different technologies to optimize wasteto- energy projects, which led to the REPS requirements for some of the state’s energy to come from waste resources.
Simmons was responsible for the Optima KV project, the first project to connect agricultural organic wastes to the natural gas pipeline. Optima KV pulled wastes from multiple farms to send to a gas upgrading site.
The Optima TH project in Tar Heel is expected to do a similar process, but instead of from the farm, the wastes from the world’s largest pork processing facility will undergo anaerobic digestion and gas upgrading with plans for it to become the second project in the state to connect to the natural gas pipeline.
Source expert: Simmons prepares independent engineering reviews for lenders and financiers who are unfamiliar with bioenergy projects.

Burrows Smith

Managing Partner, River Bluffs
Longtime local developer Burrows Smith came out of retirement in 2007 to create with partners the unique community of River Bluffs, a riverside neighborhood of custom homes with amenities and commercial space, in Castle Hayne. He and his family also created Dockside Restaurant in 1983 and ran it until 2006, when they sold it to the Yow family.
Why he’s an innovator:
The $4 million sewer connection to River Bluffs that Smith’s company paid for is expected to have a community-wide impact for Castle Hayne, one of New Hanover County’s final frontiers for development.
Additionally, River Bluffs is one of the largest low-impact developments in the area and the state, Smith said, with no direct discharges of stormwater into the Northeast Cape Fear River barring a hurricane-type rain event.
“Our main focus is showing how to develop without destroying all of nature,” he said. “We save trees, which is one of our biggest draws with buyers.”
He consults for others who want to develop their land, steering them in an environmentally friendly direction.
First development: Kerr Ave Office Park

Leslie Smith

Owner, L S Smith Inc. and Modern Urban Development
Leslie Smith has been in general contracting in the multifamily and general contracting field for 25 years.
Why he’s an innovator:
Smith envisioned creating a unique community in Wilmington when he started buying property near his Queen Street home around 2014.
These days, the area he’s created, which centers around Queen Street between 15th and 16th streets, is known as The Cargo District. The district includes co-working space, numerous businesses and apartments made from shipping containers, which is how its name was derived.
To Smith, The Cargo District is a result of forging partnerships with several businesses to offer affordable space, not only for startups but also for the long-term growth of those businesses. The district offers creative workspaces and experiences, Smith said.
At work: Some of the businesses in district are encore magazine, Half United and Coworx.

Dave Spetrino

Founder, PBC Design+Build
Custom homebuilder Dave Spetrino founded his company in 1997 with Dave Nathans – originally Plantation Fine Homes, then Plantation Building Corp. and now PBC Design+Build with his current partner Kyle Henry.
Why he’s an innovator:
Spetrino has helped revitalize downtown Wilmington with his company’s projects, including condominiums, townhomes and single-family houses.
These days, his company works with a diverse set of clients, projects and locations, from high-end custom homes to creating market rate apartments through redevelopment of downtown properties.
His company also builds in some of the region’s most compelling neighborhoods, including Landfall, Wrightsville Beach and Autumn Hall.
Spetrino and his firm keep the surrounding areas in mind when it comes to their projects. “We have an obligation to build spaces and places that affect more than our clients or ourselves; we need to make sure our neighbors benefit as well,” he said. “The trust and confidence that the community places upon us is not something we take lightly.”
Spetrino is also active in the region’s business community via numerous roles, such as serving as last year’s president of the Wilmington- Cape Fear Home Builders Association.
Company employees: 24

Dave Sweyer

CEO, Vantaca
Dave Sweyer started Vantaca, a community association management software company, in 2014. Sweyer is also owner of Sweyer Property Management, a residential management agency and CAMS, a community association management company.
Why he’s an innovator:
When Sweyer was not able to find software for his company CAMS, he partnered with two developers to create Vantaca.
Through Vantaca, Sweyer found a solution for the HOA industry that provides customized workflows, processes banking transactions and communicates via email, text or alert. It also has a business intelligence tool that offers analysis to help HOA management companies understand customer and employee performance.
The company has steadily grown and recently moved to an 8,500-square-foot space at 7040 Wrightsville Ave. As the CEO and owner of Vantaca, Sweyer is leading a team that provides an innovative solution using technology to meet the industry trends of residential management companies
Membership: Corning Credit Union Board of Directors

George Taylor

Chairman, Tru Colors, Untappd and National Speed
George Taylor is chairman of Wilmington-based companies National Speed and Untappd. He is also the founder, chairman and CEO of TRU Colors, a local for-profit company that employs gang members as a way to combat violence.
Why he’s an innovator:
Taylor has been launching companies for more than 30 years. His background as a businessman and entrepreneur has helped form three local companies and create jobs. As chairman, he plays a vital role in Untappd, which is led by his son Kurt. The growing tech company employs more than 100 people and transformed a multistory downtown property on Front Street for its headquarters.
He has also helped lead National Speed, a Wilmingtonbased car performance company open a location in Wilmington and Richmond, Virginia. The business opened the Virginia shop last year with plans in the future to grow into other markets.
George Taylor’s most recent project has been years in the making, having first announced TRU Colors in 2017. The company plans to renovate the former Century Mills building off Greenfield Street, to build offices, a brewery and restaurant, and support its social mission.
Century Mills property purchase: $950,000

Jennifer Turnage

Co-Founder and CEO, MyBeeHyve
Jennifer Turnage was doing direct sales through network marketing businesses and found the digital tools she needed lacking. So she and business partner Megan Sumrell launched myBeeHyve, a contact management system, which launched in 2017.
Why she’s an innovator:
While growing the startup, Turnage also has taken on a role to help other female entrepreneurs in funding their early-stage projects.
She is a co-founder and screening committee chair of xElle Ventures, an angel fund of women investing in women-led businesses based in North Carolina.
xElle was started by Triangle-based entrepreneur and investor Robbie Hardy.
As part of the core group of 15 founders, Turnage has been busy the past several months helping add members to the fund, including some in Wilmington.
Though the plan is to make investments statewide, because Turnage is based in Wilmington she plans to focus on the local area.
Accredited investors pay an annual membership fee of $500 and each member decides whether to participate in an investment with a minimum of $2,000 per investment.

Neil Underwood

Partner, Canapi
Neil Underwood serves as partner of fintech venture fund Canapi and president of Live Oak Bancshares, the holding company of Live Oak Bank. Before coming to Live Oak, he was general manager of S1 Corp., where he was responsible for the S1 Enterprise Retail division.
Why he’s an innovator:
Underwood’s list of accomplishments is a long one in the fintech arena in Wilmington, providing a major boost to the region’s economic development and fintech prominence.
He co-founded numerous companies, including Live Oak Bank, nCino and Apiture. He’s also co-founder of and partner in Canapi, a fintech venture fund planned to be more than $500 million.
Underwood remains active in the companies he’s helped start, with the exception of nCino, having retired from nCino’s board about six years ago.
Through Live Oak’s venture arm, Underwood has incubated and helped raise capital for companies focused on digital bank transformation such as Finxact, Payrailz, DefenseStorm and Greenlight.
nth Degree: He holds a degree industrial engineering from Georgia Tech.

Amy Wright

President, Bitty & Beau's Coffee
Inspired by her two children, Bitty and Beau, Wright opened Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in 2016 to advocate for the employment of people with intellectual and development disabilities (IDD).
Why she’s an innovator:
Wright found a way to address the large unemployment percentage rate among people with IDD by opening coffee shops that hire them and create an inclusive environment in the community.
The business started out at a 500-square-foot building on Wrightsville Avenue with 19 employees and has grown to 100 employees in four locations. That includes a 5,000-squarefoot location in Wilmington as well as locations in Charleston and Savannah and a future coffee shop in Annapolis, Maryland.
Wright describes Bitty & Beau’s Coffee as a “human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop.”
Wright was recognized at CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2017, received the William C. Friday Award in 2019 and was UNCW’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 2018, among other awards, which include Bitty & Beau’s being named a Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year. The company has also launched the social media campaign #notbroken to spread the message that people with disabilities are not broken.
Upcoming location: PPD headquarters coffee cart
Official Coffee of: Rachael Ray Show

Read more about the WilmingtonBiz 100 honorees by clicking here.

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