Carolina Connect logo provided courtesy of AdvantageWest.

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From AdvantageWest and Mountain BizWorks, shared April 29:

Carolina Connect logo provided courtesy of AdvantageWest.

ASHEVILLE – One of the Southeast’s most anticipated opportunities for connecting entrepreneurs with investors, peers and industry leaders takes place Thursday, May 5, at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, 31 Woodfin St., in downtown Asheville.

Carolina Connect is presented annually by AdvantageWest, the economic development partnership for the 23 western counties of North Carolina and is considered by many as the top event of the year for entrepreneurs across the state and beyond. Collaborating on the event this year with AdvantageWest is Mountain BizWorks, a nonprofit agency that supports entrepreneurs with business development and capital.

The event starts with a pre-conference networking breakfast at 7:30 a.m. A panel discussion kicks off the program at 8:30 a.m., featuring 30-and-under entrepreneurs who will share what led them to start their own ventures and how they’ve achieved success at such a young age. (See details below.)

The lunchtime keynote speaker is an internationally recognized leader in social media and customer service — Peter Shankman, founder of the social media website Help A Reporter Out. Described as a “buzzsaw of ideas,” Shankman will discuss a new world fueled by what he says are the two most powerful currencies of all, relevance and trust, and what businesses need to know to prosper in this new environment. He’ll sell and sign copies of his latest book, Customer Service: New Rules for a Social Media World, following his presentation.

The closing session features some of the area’s most recognized “entreprebrewers” – entrepreneurs in the brewing industry – Joe Eckert (Jack of the Wood), Mike Rangel (Asheville Pizza and Brewing), Oscar Wong (Highland Brewing), and Jeanine Buscher and Sarah Schomber (Buchi) – who will come together with moderator John Mark Stroud to share their unique perspectives on how business, competition, collaboration and community created a brand bigger than all of them: Beer City USA.

There will be morning and afternoon breakout sessions as well, covering cloud computing, sales and marketing, finance and capital, innovation, social entrepreneurism and succession planning. Carolina Connect wraps up with the announcement of the winner of a $10,000 business plan competition for women entrepreneurs, presented by AdvantageWest and Verve magazine, with a post-conference reception immediately following, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Regular registration for Carolina Connect is $125 or $25 for full-time students, and includes full access to all conference sessions, plus the continental breakfast, lunch and the afternoon reception. Space is limited and pre-registration is encouraged at For more information on Carolina Connect, call AdvantageWest at (828) 687-7234.


PRE-CONFERENCE NETWORKING BREAKFAST and registration (7:30 a.m.)


OPENING PANEL: “BEIN’ YOUNG AND ROCKIN’ IT” (9 a.m.) – What led these 30-and-under entrepreneurs to start their own ventures? How have they achieved success at such a young age? Panelists include: Jeremy Edgell, whose Polk County-based tech company, kiveo, works with clients from WNC to California to Italy; Asheville native Windsor Hanger, co-founder of, who was named to Inc. magazine’s “30 Under 30 Coolest Young Entrepreneurs”; Chris Yura, whose company, SustainU, is a leading producer of apparel using 100 percent recycled fabrics manufactured in the US. Lesley Groetsch, owner of downtown Asheville restaurants Sazerac and Tingles Café and a local radio personality, is moderator.



– “GET YOUR HEAD IN THE CLOUD: CHAOS AND OPPORTUNITY IN CLOUD COMPUTING” – What is cloud computing and how can entrepreneurs use it to the benefit of their companies? Clearing the air on the subject will be Jonathan Feldman, director of the City of Asheville IT department, who is also a contributing editor for InformationWeek and author of “Teach Yourself Network Troubleshooting,” and Troy Tolle, co-founder of local tech company DigitalChalk, who is frequently called upon by Amazon’s cloud technology team for feedback.

-“LEVEL UP: HOW TO AVOID PITFALLS IN MARKETING & HIRING FOR SALES SUCCESS” – Tips on sales and marketing especially targeting startups and small businesses. Panelists are Gerald Eldridge, who has launched two successful start-ups and whose current Asheville-based company, Advanced Data, is on track to double its sales in less than 24 months; Tony McCune of DigitalChalk, which has experienced 300 percent growth in the past year; and George Pfeiffer Jr, of Asheville-based U-Save Car and Truck Rental, who was named an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Moderator is Buz Buzogany, of McDowell County-based consulting firm Buzogany Associates.

-“SCORING POINTS WITH INVESTORS: FINDING FUNDS FOR YOUR VENTURE” – These panelists will discuss what entrepreneurs need to be aware of when seeking funding for their startups: Shaw Canale, CEO of Mountain BizWorks and a veteran banking executive; Stephen P. Miller, who has worked for 34 years with the Biltmore company, which boasts $140 million in annual revenue; Carlton Murrey, of Carolina Financial Group, whose experience includes investment banking as well as a five-year stint as a co-owner of Curtis Wright Outfitters; and Horace Stimson, who has worked for nearly 40 years with 100-plus companies in more than a dozen industries as an entrepreneur and angel investor. Moderator is John Stanier, of Carolina Financial Group.


KEYNOTE: “THE NEAR-FUTURE WORLD OF ONE SCREEN” (1:15 p.m.) – Peter Shankman is a globally recognized PR and social media entrepreneur, consultant, author and angel investor. He has appeared in countless national media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Daily News, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the Associated Press and Reuters. Following his presentation he will sell and sign copies of his most recent book, “Customer Service: New Rules for a Social Media World.”


-“RELENTLESS INNOVATION AS BUSINESS STRATEGY” – With entire sectors growing up – and blowing up – in a matter of years, not decades, the competitive advantage of regions and their businesses will depend on their ability to relentlessly innovate. Associate VP for Economic Development and Engagement for the 16-campus UNC system, Leslie Boney, will make his case for relentless innovation and some first steps to turn this approach into a winning economic development strategy.

-“KEEP YOUR BUSINESS GOING FOR GENERATIONS: SUCCESSION PLANNING” – The stats are startling: 90 percent of all enterprises are family businesses, creating 80 percent of new jobs. But only 33 percent survive to the second generation and 11 percent to the third. The primary reason privately held businesses fail is lack of succession planning. Cindy Clarke, the executive director of the UNC Asheville Family Business Forum, will lead a panel discussion.

-“B-ING THE CHANGE: DECIDING IF B CORP CERTIFICATION IS RIGHT FOR YOUR BUSINESS” – The B Corporation is an attempt to do for socially responsible businesses what LEED did for green builders: create a reliable process and a set of standards for certifying businesses as “green.” Panelists in this session have taken their companies through B-Corp certification and will share their experiences and motivations. Marie Kingery is a member of the founding team for Burt’s Bees, who later co-founded the solar and energy efficiency company Southern Energy Management, recently winning the City of Raleigh’s highest award for environmental stewardship. Chris McCurry’s Spruce Pine company, Highland Craftsmen Inc., which manufactures poplar bark shingle siding, is also a certified and audited B Corporation, in addition to certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Program for Endorsement of Forestry Certification (PEFC). Moderator is Terry O’Keefe, co-founder and former executive director of the Sustainable Business Alliance, a membership organization for green businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area.

CLOSING SESSION: “PAY IT FORWARD: DOING WELL BY DOING GOOD” (4 p.m.) – Five of Western North Carolina’s best known entrepreneurs in the brewing industry – Joe Eckert, of Jack of the Wood; Mike Rangel, of Asheville Pizza and Brewing; Oscar Wong, of Highland Brewing Co.; and Jeanine Buscher and Sarah Schomber, of the kombucha brewery Buchi – come together with moderator John Mark Stroud to share their unique perspectives on how business, competition, collaboration and community created a brand for Asheville bigger than all of them: Beer City USA. This panel will share how they grew and succeeded by doing things differently – with one eye on their business and the other on the greater good of the community.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE WINNER OF THE VERVE-ACIOUSLY BIG BUSINESS PLAN COMPETITION (5 p.m.) – AdvantageWest and Verve magazine’s business plan competition for women entrepreneurs drew 40 entries from across Western North Carolina. The winner of the VERVE-aciously BIG Idea Business Plan Competition will be announced and presented with a cash and prize package worth $10,000.

POST-CONFERENCE RECEPTION (5:30 p.m.) – The closing reception offers another way for attendees to continue to network and make connections with peers, investors and business professionals from across the Southeast.

More about AdvantageWest

AdvantageWest is the regional economic development commission serving the 23 westernmost counties of North Carolina. Chartered by the state General Assembly in 1994, it is a nonprofit, public-private partnership. AdvantageWest’s program of work focuses on advanced manufacturing; entrepreneurial development activities such as Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council (BREC) and the Certified Entrepreneurial CommunitySM; Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a food business and natural products incubator and commercial kitchen; and the green-collar jobs initiative, AdvantageGreen. AdvantageWest also maintains the WNC Film Commission. Visit for more information.

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Kathleen O'Nan

Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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