Past Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award Winners
2016: Ricky Van Veen, '03 - Ricky Van Veen is a well-known entrepreneur, starting and growing an entire network of companies. While working on his Information Systems degree as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, Ricky co-founded CollegeHumor in 1999. Since then, CollegeHumor has exploded into the largest comedy property on the internet and the most viewed comedy channel on YouTube. Ricky also co-founded the hit video-sharing site, Vimeo, as well as BustedTees, one of the leading Internet based t-shirt brands. He is a pioneer in digital content development, production, and marketing, as well as brand management. Ricky and his partners successfully expanded their CollegeHumor brand into film, television, books, comedy shows, and apparel. Ricky’s success as an entrepreneur and innovator is an inspiration to students, faculty, and staff at Wake Forest University.
2015: James Beshara, '08 - James Beshara, Co-Founder and CEO of Tilt was named one of Forbes magazine's 30 Under 30 for 2015. Through his undergraduate research and work experience, as well as his postgraduate research fellowship in Africa, James developed a strong belief in the potential of financial collaboration within communities, and the power of collective action and shared resources. In 2012, James co-founded Tilt, a next generation crowdfunding platform that offers people a free, easy and highly social way to collect, fundraise and pool money. Since Tilt's founding, over 300,000 groups have used the site to turn their ideas, both large and small, into reality - whether it is saving a local toy store, sending the Jamaican Bobsled team to the Olympics, or protecting their community from rising crime. Tilt has also built out tools for businesses to run their own branded crowdfunding campaigns, which have been used by brands including Toyota, Jamba Juice, ESPN and Dick's Sporting Goods.
2014: Dickerson Wright, Parent '10, '12 - CEO, NV5, Inc. Dickerson Wright launched NV5, Inc., and has served as the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer since inception in December 2009. NV5 offers value solutions for public and private infrastructure, real estate and the environment. Clients include federal, state, municipal and local governments as well as private property owners and quasi-public agencies for the fields of education, healthcare and energy and utilities. Mr. Wright has over 35 years of uninterrupted experience in managing and developing engineering companies. Mr. Wright is a board certified engineer in California and Wisconsin. He serves as visiting faculty on Northwestern Kellogg's School of Entrepreneurial Management and is a member of Harvard University's Graduate School Advisory Board for Sustainability. His leadership in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship serves as an inspiration to students, faculty and staff at Wake Forest University.
2013: Jean Case, Parent '14 - Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, is an actively engaged philanthropist, an investor and a pioneer in the world of interactive technologies. Her career in the private sector spanned nearly two decades before she and her husband, Steve Case, created the Case Foundation in 1997. A passionate believer in all things digital and the amazing potential of technology to change the world for the better, Jean and her team focus the efforts of the Foundation on many of the same entrepreneurial approaches she and Steve cultivated in founding and building America OnLine. The Case Foundation is recognized for its leadership in leveraging new technologies and applying innovative approaches to increase giving; catalyze civic and business participation; and promote innovation, collaboration and leadership in the nonprofit sector.
2012: Deepa Pakianathan, Ph.D. ‘ 93 – Deepa Pakianathan is a general partner with Dephi Ventures and leads the firm’s biotechnology investment activities. Prior to joining Dephi, Deepa was a Vice President in the healthcare group JP Morgan where she was involved in healthcare Mergers and Acquisitions worth in excess of $6 billion and public offerings for biotechnology companies that raised more than $9 billion in capital. She serves on the boards of several leading pharmaceutical companies as well as the Board of Trustees of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
2011: Dave Orton, ’77 – Dave Orton is CEO of Aptina Imaging, a private equity held new venture and industry leader in innovative design and manufacturing of CMOS camera image sensors for use in digital cameras across several industries. Early in his career, Dave joined Silicon Graphics in the early stages of the silicon-based computer graphics industry and soon became president and CEOof ArtX, a new technology venture. Under his direction, ArtX invented new high performance, cost-effective 3D images, resulting in a partnership with Nintendo to develop graphics technologies for their next console. Dave went on to head up ATI, one of the top semi-conductor companies in the world.
2010: Sydney Kitson, ’81 – Sydney Kitson is Chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners, a Florida-based real estate development company focused on creating responsible, forward-thinking, sustainable residential communities, cities and retail shopping centers that meet the diverse needs of communities and the natural environment. In 2006, Kitson completed the historic purchase of Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida, encompassing more than 92,000 acres. Syd, who has been called a visionary developer by Time Magazine, is designing the community of Babcock Ranch to break new frontiers in green innovations and sustainable development.
2009: Vance Brown, ’85 – Vance Brown has a passion for building teams that care for employees and customers as well as achieve long-term success and profitability. Vance is founder, Chairman, and CEO of Cherwell Software, a provider of integrated software solutions for service desks, help desks, and call centers. From 1996-2000, Vance was President and CEO of GoldMine Software Corporation, a leading worldwide developer of software solutions for customer relationship management and support management solutions. The company was recognized as one of the top 100 software companies in the United States. He is also a founder of the Band of Brothers’ Ministry and a founder of The Classical Academy, the largest charter school in Colorado.
2008: Debra Bryant, Ph.D. ’80 - Debra Bryant is CEO at Humagen Fertility Diagnostics, Inc., and Executive Vice President of MediCult. Dr. Bryant holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology and regularly consults with a scientific board of world-renowned embryologists. She was a research scientist for Humagen from 1984-1990, purchasing the company in 1990. Humagen is a world leader in micropipets used in In Vitro Fertilization procedures. In 2007, MediCult acquired Humagen. The acquisition has enabled MediCult to become the number one dedicated Assisted Reproductive Technology company in the world.
2007: Russ Hobbs, ’88 – Russ Hobbs is the founder of Blue Ocean Software. In 1991, the company launched its first product to help IT departments manage their computers assets and internal help desks. During the next 11 years, the company was one of the fastest growing companies in the world, recognized on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies in the US for three consecutive years. In 2002, Hobbs sold Blue Ocean Software to Inuit. Forbes Magazine listed the sale in the top five VC backed deals in the US for that year. At the age of 37, Hobbs was able to realize a life-long dream to devote his time to philanthropy and mentoring other young entrepreneurs. He created the Hobbs Foundation to assist disadvantaged youth, primarily at children’s homes, in the state of Florida.
2006: Pat Williams, '62 – Pat Williams is senior Vice President of the Orlando Magic. In 1987 he co-founded the Orlando Magic and helped lead the team to the NBA Finals in 1995. He was named one of the 50 most influential people in NBA history. As an author of 32 books and a motivational speaker, Pat travels the United States speaking to groups about leadership, integrity, teamwork and team-building. Pat and his wife Ruth are the parents of 19 children, including 14 adopted from four nations. He lives his advice of doing something you love with all your might and “not letting life-limiting thoughts get into your head”.