CIE Mentor Network

Beginning in the 2022-23 academic year, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) has launched a new mentor program, pairing students with experienced business founders, CEO’s, presidents, and more. Come by Conner 10 on campus to speak with a member of the CIE staff about this opportunity, or contact us by email.

Campus Mentors

Owens F. Alexander Jr.

Owens Alexander served as an Instructor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration and as the first entrepreneur-in-residence at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Alexander had a long career as an entrepreneur and corporate executive. Prior to joining Ole Miss, he was the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Real Phone Corporation in San Diego, Calif., a start-up company that developed the worlds thinnest and lightest mobile handset.

Prior to founding Real Phone, Alexander was the CEO of Titan Wireless Inc., and held executive positions with BellSouth, Southern California Edison and SAIC.

He graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in business statistics and earned an MBA from Louisiana State University. Alexander and his wife Emily moved to Oxford in 2013.

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Bill Andrews

Principal Consultant | Andrews Consulting

Bill Andrews is a CMO who has created bottom line magic by pairing world-class branding with strong ROI-based database marketing programs in the consumer products and financial services industries. After serving as the head of marketing for two New York Stock Exchange-listed companies, he transitioned to a privately held, global consumer products company.

As the head of marketing for Viking Range, his programs helped establish a new category for the home market and enjoyed a brand predisposition of four to one over their next closest competitor. While leading marketing for this iconic global lifestyle brand, Fortune Magazine recognized their marketing efforts by naming Viking the number two brand in the country. As an early believer in the power of social and digital media, L2 rated his company as the top social media brand in the home category. Bill also has extensive experience in database marketing and CRM, and has championed programs that have produced first year ROI results of over 300%.

A finance graduate of the University of Mississippi, Bill continued his education at the School of Bank Marketing at The University of Colorado where he graduated with distinction.

Bill served as Chairman of the Board of the Business School at Ole Miss, the Chairman of the New Orleans-based Southern Financial Exchange, President of the Central South Chapter of the Bank Marketing Association, and as a board member of the National Automated Clearinghouse Association. As an outside resource, he has assisted Capital One and BB&T in annual strategic planning.

To prove that he can do things outside of marketing and finance, Bill has served as the Senior Warden (Chairman of the Board) at Nativity Episcopal Church and a board member of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

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Anne Mathis

Co-Founder | Triton Stone Group

Anne Mathis is a business and marketing leader with quantifiable success creating and deploying sound marketing campaigns and business strategies. She is a co-founder of Triton Stone Group, which has grown to be one of the largest importers of slab stone and tile in the US with 29 locations and over $275 million in sales. She co-managed numerous initial locations with scope of leadership spanning marketing, human resources, administration, and operations. She was intimately involved in positioning these locations, as well as the corporation itself for sale.

Prior to that she was senior vice president of marketing for First South Financial in Memphis, Tenn. Anne was responsible for corporate branding and marketing as well as new branch development, business development, contact center management, and the development and oversight of the management training program. While she is currently only partially involved with Triton Stone Group, she is also active in several other business endeavors. She is proud to now be a resident of Oxford, Miss. where she attended undergraduate school and obtained her MBA at Ole Miss.

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Virtual Mentors

Lawrence Adams Jr.

Owner and COO | Jimmy John's | Industry: Real estate, restaurants, and IT | Specialty: Marketing

Lawrence chose the University of Mississippi and attended on a full athletic scholarship for football. He was named the starting quarterback during his sophomore season in 1993, and was honored with the AT&T Long Distance Passing Award and SEC player of the week twice. As a Rebel, he was a four-year letterman and was voted Most Dedicated Player. He played quarterback, defensive back, and wide receiver.

In 1997, he graduated from the University of Mississippi with a Bachelors of Business Administration. Lawrence is currently a member of the Ole Miss M Club for former athletes, an active alumni member, and contributes to the Ole Miss School of Business as a classroom speaker and judge for the CIE Business Plan Competition.

He is currently the president of 17 Enterprises Inc. and the Chief Operation Officer for Jimmy John’s in Jackson and Flowood, Miss. Prior to committing to Jimmy John’s, Lawrence spent 15 years in corporate America with Philip Morris USA and Altria. There, he was promoted six times and held various leadership roles in sales, marketing, recruiting and strategic planning. He currently lives in Tampa, Fla. with his wife Natasha, two boys Miles, Gavin and dog Nala.

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William Alias Jr.

Significant Stockholder | Equipro | Extensive experience in service business related to consumers

William graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in marketing and sales management in 1963, before beginning his career with Guardian Finance where he joined the management training program. He then went on to work with RC Cola, participating in marketing Diet Rite Cola across the United States. He helped the company capture over 10 percent of the soft drink market from both Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Following his time with RC Cola, William went on to work for the National ICEE Corporation, where he was the regional vice president of the West Coast before being promoted to Executive Vice President of the company. There, he was responsible for setting up the distribution systems for ICEE throughout the U.S.

William then bought into a prototype restaurant with Across the Street Restaurants where he helped pull together a team of investors to finance expansion of an additional 40 locations from Oklahoma to California. He sold his equity interest in the company to move to Atlanta and join Rollins Inc. as an executive assistant to the CEO, eventually becoming president of Rollins Protective Services, which was later sold to Ameritech Corporation for $200 million. From 1982 to 1990, William was a co-owner of Alias Brother INC, which owned a mail-order company, U.S. Optics, and built and managed various hotel properties including the Sandestin Beach Hilton.

Other ventures during his career include the expansion and management of companies such as: TMP Medical Listings, the Environmental Corporation of America, Premier Anesthesia, Welcome Home Services, and the Paralympics. Since moving to Oxford William has participated or invested in six different companies, most of which specialize in financial services. He has also served on the board of directors at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia.

Since 2006, he has been a member of the Ole Miss Business School Advisory Board, and was appointed to serve on the Mississippi Business Finance Corporation in 2009 by Governor Haley Barbour.

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Liza Cirlot Looser

Founder, Chairman, and CEO | The Cirlot Agency | Industry: Public relations, brand strategy, and marketing | Specialty: Marketing

Liza Cirlot Looser is the founder, chairman, and CEO of The Cirlot Agency, a global brand strategy firm specializing in public relations, creative development, and media strategy with offices in Jackson, Miss., and Washington D.C. Over the past 38 years, the firm has grown to represent publicly traded companies and privately held corporations domestically and internationally. The Cirlot Agency has also become known as one of the nation’s top three aerospace defense communications agencies, having worked in the industry for over 36 years.

A Mississippi University for Women and Harvard Business School graduate, Liza has expanded her studies to include several international business studies and special assignments. Liza began her career working for The Clarion-Ledger and then moved to the Mississippi Republican Party. In 1984, Liza established The Cirlot Agency with a mere $78 tax return check. Liza is listed in the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame and named among Mississippi’s top CEO’s by the Mississippi Business Journal. She is a recipient of the Silver Medal Award from the American Advertising Federation of Jackson, which recognizes men and women who have made outstanding contributions in the industry. Breaking tradition, Liza became the first female chairman of the board of Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce in its 116-year history, and the first female chairman of the board of the Mississippi World Trade Center.

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Troy D. Drewry

Founder and Principal Engineer | Ragin' Cajun Consulting LLC | Industry: Medical devices | Specialty: General start-up expertise

With over 25 years of design and development experience, Troy has a breadth of knowledge in the medical device industry, a unique way of looking at technical issues, and an extensive network in the medical device field. He has hands-on experience in medical device companies, from startups to large corporations and knows their environments, constraints, issues, and concerns.

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Gus Ezcurra

Senior Global Vice President of Corporate Sales | Equinix Inc. | Industry: Internet connection and data centers | Specialty: General start-up expertise

Gus brings more than 30 years of expertise in terms of growing and leading both Fortune 500 and start-up companies in the high technology and energy fields. He is currently the Senior Global Vice President of Sales at Equinix, Inc., the world’s leading supplier of high-performance data centers. Equinix connects more than 10,000 enterprises, cloud, digital content, and financial companies to help them grow their businesses, improve their application performance and protect their vital digital assets.

He is the co-founder of several venture-backed high technology companies including Advanced Telemetry, a pioneer in the field of energy management systems that was acquired by Siemens. In addition, he has held senior executive positions at VeriSign, Harris Corporation, and LTV. He has extensive knowledge of the global market and has lived overseas a number of years while at FMC Corporation and Echelon. He currently sits on the Board of The Adral Company, a real estate management Company in Southern California. In addition, Gus has been a member of the Business Advisory Board at the University of Mississippi for several years and currently is the Chairman of their Rebel Venture Capital Fund.

Gus is the proud father of three daughters and one son, as well as two grand-children. He is married to the former Dee Ann Respass and has been a resident of Marin County California for over 25 years. He is an active member of the St Vincent DePaul Association, The Hispanic Cultural Leadership Association, and several social and boating clubs in Northern California. He is an avid boater, golfer and an active member of several classic car clubs. 

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Edward G. Francis Sr.

Chairman, President, and CEO | InBank | Industry: Banking and finance | Specialty: General start-up expertise

Edward has over 33 years of Banking Experience. He was the founder of InBankshares Corp. in 2018, forming a new bank holding company headquartered in Denver, Colo. InBank is a $1.3 billion commercial bank service in the Front Range of Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Edward was a former executive at Hancock Whitney Bank from 1997 to 2016.

He graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in managerial finance in 1988, and went to the Graduate School of Banking at LSU where he graduated in 2000. He is a member of the Ole Miss Business Advisory Board, and Banking and Finance Symposium Board. Edward has been an instructor at the Mississippi School of Banking since 2008. He has a daughter, Claire, that graduated from Ole Miss in 2019, and a son, Edward Jr., who is a senior in the accounting program at Ole Miss.

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Steve W. Grantham Jr.

President, J&R Restaurant Group | Industry: Hospitality and restaurants | Specialty: General start-up expertise

As the president of J&R Restaurant Group since 2006, Steve owns and operates eight Outback Steakhouse restaurants in Mississippi and Tennessee. Steve previously worked with MCI-Worldcom and Verizon Business from 1989 to 2009. Steve has been recognized with the Mississippi Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, after his work in many community related events in the state through the military, schools, animal shelters, the Foundation for Mississippi Wildlife, Ole Miss and more.

He graduated from The University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1982, and currently resides in Madison, Mississippi.

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Chris Haley

Partner | FINTOP Capital | Industry: Venture capital | Specialty: General start-up expertise

Chris is an experienced FinTech operator with executive experience at companies like Black Diamond (CFO & General Counsel), Knowledge Infusion (COO), Harbor View Advisors (Partner), LegacyShield (CEO), and BridgeFT (Executive Chairman). Early in his career he also spent a few years practicing law in the Corporate & Securities and Tax groups at Bass, Berry & Sims PLC in Nashville.

Chris is an active member of both entrepreneurial and philanthropic boards such as Onramp Invest, Freight Science, Bridge FT, Antisyn, Feeding Northeast Florida, and the Alumni Board of the University of Mississippi Patterson School of Accountancy where he is also the Chairman. He has also served on the boards of LegacyShield Solutions, Inc., Forcura, LLC, SuperFi, LLC, Wealth Access, Inc., Michael C. Fina, the University of Tennessee College of Law Alumni Council, and St. John’s Cathedral.

Chris earned his undergraduate degree and Master of Taxation from The University of Mississippi, earned his law degree from The University of Tennessee School of Law, and his LL.M. in Taxation from the NYU School of Law.

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Lyt Harris

Managing Partner | The Harris Investment Partnership | Industry: Investments | Specialty: Marketing

Holding a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ole Miss, and a master’s degree in marketing from LSU, Lyt has worked with the Scott Paper Company where he was a New Product Development Manager and introduced the first disposable diapers in the U.S. He also spent time with Hunt-Wesson Foods as the Director of Marketing, introducing Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn nationally.

At the Southwest Management & Marketing Co., Lyt was the CEO and majority owner, where he dealt in residential property management and marketing in Texas. He is the managing partner at The Harris Investment Partnership, a venture capital and real estate investment company.

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Henry Jones

Principal | The HLJones Group | Industry: Technology | Specialty: General start-up expertise

Henry is a serial tech entrepreneur with experience in multiple industries including defense, financial services, natural products, electric utilities, and insurance. He has developed products using combinations of embedded systems, apps, web servers, machine learning, and data science. Henry has implemented agile and lean development concepts, and been responsible for business functions such as fundraising, cash management, HR, and recruiting.

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Edith Kelly-Green

Owner and Partner | The KGR Group | Industry: Hospitality and restaurants | Specialty: Accounting

Edith, a CPA and a Fedex retiree, has experience in finance, supply chain management and operations. Her family, The KGR Group, now owns and operates restaurants and invests in real estate. Additionally, she is a director on both corporate and non profit boards.

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Donald Kilgore

CEO | Tissue Innovations | Industry: Healthcare | Specialty: General start-up expertise

Donald graduated from the University of Mississippi with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration. He then joined Bristol-Myers (BMS), a leading pharmaceutical manufacturer, in a variety of sales and sales-training roles based out of Jackson, Miss. Eighteen months later, he joined the company’s market research team in Evansville, Ind., where his main activities included using secondary market data to analyze prescribing and product usage trends for BMS brand managers. Later, Donald accepted a corporate position in New Jersey as Manager of Strategic Studies and Emerging Markets. In this role, he primarily used his research and analytical skills to provide answers to questions posed by senior management and recommend courses of action.

In 1994 Donald left BMS and joined Smith & Nephew (S&N), a leading manufacturer and distributor of orthopedic and wound care products in Memphis, Tenn. As Director of National Accounts, he built a national accounts department for the purpose of leveraging and promoting their diverse product portfolio to large healthcare systems and purchasing organizations. Two years later he was asked to serve as Director of Business Process Optimization and oversee the company’s conversion to, and implementation of, SAP R/3’s ERP software for its sales and distribution functions.

In 1999 Donald left S&N to join a start-up company called Unified Health Services (UHS) where he still serves as Partner and Chief Marketing Officer. Today, UHS has grown to become a leading processor of worker’s compensation claims for healthcare systems in the U.S.

Donald then provided capital funding to the startup DentalProdx (DPX) in 2015, which is now one of the nation’s largest wholesalers of dental regenerative and grafting products, where he remains a current DPX Co-owner and Partner. Most recently, he co-founded and provide capital funding to Tissue Innovations which opened in May 2022. Tissue Innovations manufactures human allograft products for dental surgeons and other healthcare applications.

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Nathan Lyons

President | Vintage South Development | Industry: Real estate development | Specialty: Accounting

Nathan is the founder of Vintage South. With a passion for creating new and reimagining old spaces, he is driven to create unique and timeless residential and commercial properties. He has spent years working to do things differently, and is never afraid to take a chance and try something new. Nathan takes on projects that inspire him and that he is passionate about and always surrounds himself with outstanding business partners. He attended the University of Mississippi where he received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting and played baseball for the Ole Miss Rebels. Nathan is a member of YPO.

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Josh Mabus

Owner | Mabus Agency | Industry: Marketing and advertising | Specialty: Marketing

Josh Mabus owns the Mabus Agency, a 34-person bank marketing firm. He is a 20-plus year veteran marketer, and his expertise in bank marketing has transformed how financial institutions approach retail and commercial clients. No matter the asset size, institutions small and large have improved their success from Josh’s work, whether it is active work as a client or through keynotes and breakout sessions. Strategy, traditional and digital advertising, design, leadership, innovation, video, web, podcasting, and more are tools of his trade.

Josh formed the Mabus Agency in 2008 with a simple mission statement, to help people and raise the creative bar. Josh has used his varied experiences to bring a holistic approach to raising the creative bar in the financial industry. Journalist, writer, designer, actor, director, videographer, builder, maker, and doer; he uses strategy to focus all facets of marketing into winning results for clients. From building a complete brand overhaul for a bank to creating a new deposit campaign, Josh knows whatever you’re making, be sure you make a difference.

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Jeff McManus

Chief Cultivating Officer | The Jeff McManus Group, LLC | Industry: Public speaking, training, and landscape maintenance | Specialty: Marketing

Jeff has been praised by Forbes, the New York Times and the Huffington Post for his work and for his book. PGMS, Newsweek, Princeton Review, and USA Today all recognized the work of Jeff’s team and awarded their efforts during his time as the Director of Landscaping Services on campus, by naming Ole Miss the nation’s most beautiful campus.

Jeff’s ability to identify core problems in a work environment is matched by his ability to find solutions. With two books and six national championships under this belt, Jeff has been recognized as a leader who doesn’t just lead, he cultivates leaders on his team. Dan Cathy, chairman of the board for Chick-fil-A, had this to say about Jeff’s book, Growing Weeders into Leaders: “…[it] serves as a guide for all current and future leaders. As a member of the leadership team at Chick-fil-A, part of my job is to help define the future of our business. One thing we have learned throughout my tenure at Chick-fil-A is that there’s a big difference between locating leaders and cultivating them. Jeff reminds us that all leaders can be cultivated with the right pruning and nurturing.”

Jeff holds a bachelor’s degree in Landscape and Ornamental Horticulture from Auburn University and is a Certified Arborist and Grounds Manager.

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Matt Mossberg

Partner | West Group | Industry: Consumer branding, manufacturing, and SCM | Specialty: General start-up expertise

Matt is a partner at West Group, a venture-operating group of entrepreneurs based in North Mississippi. Prior to joining West Group he served most recently as the Chief Development Officer for the Ole Miss Athletic Foundation.

West Group owns and provides operative resources for a mixed portfolio of small business interests, including but not limited to, luxury apparel manufacturing, software technology, hardware technology, consumer product development, general distribution, and disaster relief services.

Specifically, West Group’s leadership include the founding partners and/or operators of Blue Delta Jean Co., Sandman Bedding Co., Nest & Wild Mattress Co., Premier Countertops, Reis Rock Natural Stone Distributors, as well as other entities residing in software technology, hardware technology, consumer products and state and federal contracting.

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Chuck Nicholson

President and CEO | Community Bank | Industry: Banking | Specialty: Finance

Charles W. “Chuck” Nicholson, Jr. serves as president and chief executive officer of Community Bank. He is responsible for bank operations for offices located in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida, which employ more than 850 staff-owners. Nicholson is a member of the Board of Directors for both Community Bancshares of Mississippi, Inc. and its subsidiary Community Bank of Mississippi.

A Pascagoula native, Nicholson earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from The University of Mississippi in 1981. He went on to graduate from The Graduate School of Banking at LSU in 1988, and also holds designations from the American Institution of Banking.

Nicholson serves the Mississippi Bankers Association as Chairman of the MissBankPAC Committee. Nicholson also serves on the Methodist Children’s Homes of Mississippi Board of Directors, CIE Advisory Board and the University of Mississippi Foundation Board. He is the former chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Mississippi School of Banking at The University of Mississippi, a former member of the Board of Governors for the Mississippi Economic Council, as well as the American Bankers Association‘s Government Relations Committee. Nicholson and his family are members of Saint Mark’s United Methodist Church, where he previously served on the finance committee, the administrative council, and as the chairman of the staff parish committee.

Nicholson was awarded the Top CEO award by the Mississippi Business Journal in 2015, Small Business Leadership Award by the East Mississippi Business Journal in 2003, the Silver Beaver Award from the Choctaw Council of the Boy Scouts of America in 2004, and the Community Bank Award of Excellence in 2004, the bank’s highest honor.

Nicholson has been married to Lisa Ikerd Nicholson for almost 40 years. They have two daughters, Sara Michelle Ruffin and Kristin Hawley, and they are proud grandparents to Bailey, Nicholas, and Reese Bogosian as well as Grayson, Hampton, and Peyton Hawley.

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Gail J. Pittman

Founder and CEO | Gail Pittman Designs Inc. | Industry: Tableware and design manufacturing | Specialty: Manufacturing

Gail Pittman Designs Inc. began at her kitchen table. Over the span of 26 years, that kitchen table grew into a dinnerware manufacturing plant employing over 150 full time employees. The company operated six outlet stores and maintained permanent showrooms in the Atlanta and Dallas gift markets. Gail’s dinnerware was sold to gift and gourmet stores across the nation.

She also ventured into wallpaper and fabric design, as well as other areas including dinnerware and decorative accessories for the hospitality industry. Gail served as Creative Director For Southern Living At Home from 2005 to 2010, helping design and source everyday products sold through their catalogs. She served on the Board of Directors for Sanderson Farms from 2002 to 2022.

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Emmet Seibels

President | Verustat | Industry: Healthcare | Specialty: General start-up expertise

Most recently, Emmet co-founded and was President of SnapWorx, a software company that grew to over $10 million in ARR from its inception two and a half years prior, and sold to ResMed (Ticker: RMD). Prior to SnapWorx, Emmet co-founded and was President and CFO of Verus Healthcare where he grew the company to over $70 million in revenue in its six year existence before its sale to Adapt Health (Ticker: AHCO). Emmet also founded and was CEO of FrontStream Payments and was part of the founding team at Verus Financial Management, a company that sold for $325 million to Sage Group in 2006. Before his time with Verus, Emmet worked in investment banking at Robinson-Humphrey Company and worked for two software companies. Emmet is currently the President of Verustat and a Board Member for React Health.

Emmet graduated from the Honors College at the University of Mississippi and received his M.B.A. at Harvard University.

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Brandon Sherman

Risk Advisory and Consulting Partner | Frazier & Deeter | Industry: Professional services and consulting | Specialty: Accounting

Brandon is a leader in the firm’s Risk Advisory & Consulting practice. He provides risk advisory, business transformation, and strategic consulting solutions to a variety of organizations, from entrepreneurial startups to large global public companies. He assists clients in managing their current and anticipated strategic business, technology, operational and regulatory compliance risks.

In addition, he is a frequent speaker at industry association seminars and conferences and has authored white papers and related thought leadership on a variety of strategic consulting, risk management and regulatory compliance topics.

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Jason Simmons

Founder and CEO | DeadSoxy | Industry: Apparel, retail, CPG, DTC, and ecommerce | Specialty: General start-up expertise

Jason Simmons is the founder of the Dallas-based lifestyle sock brand, DeadSoxy. Originally from Clarksdale, Miss., Jason graduated from The University of Mississippi in May 2006. After graduation, he moved to Dallas and spent the next 10 years with a small consulting firm. It was through the rugged travel of consultant life and often being required to wear a suit daily that he found himself needing a product that didn’t yet exist – a high-quality mid-calf dress sock that actually stayed in place on the leg. 

Over time, what started as a small annoyance grew louder and louder and was compounded by Jason’s continuous extensive travel. After years of trying every sock on the market and hearing the big brands making bold claims, he got tired of being let down and decided to try and make socks that performed the way he wanted and thought they should. Like most great products, DeadSoxy was born from personal frustration.

DeadSoxy has now sold more than one million pairs of socks and has been featured in GQ, Forbes, Men’s Health, Reader’s Digest, and Inc. Magazine.

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Howard Stovall

President | Resource Entertainment | Industry: Live entertainment and event production | General start-up expertise

Howard is an event production specialist and has been a producer of the pre-game concert for the College Football Playoffs National Championship Game, Memphis Food & Wine Festival, Mighty Roots Music Festival, RiverArts Festival, and more. He is the President and co-founder of Resource Entertainment, which provides talent booking services ranging from regional party bands to international headliners, and provides entertainment support services including festival and event planning, technical production services, logistics management, and all functions pertaining to the presentation of live entertainment.

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