November 19-20, 2024 (Tuesday and Wednesday)
at The Westin Jackson.

The Westin Jackson

$169 Per Night

Booking Information:
407 South Congress Street
Jackson, Mississippi 39201

Start Date: Tuesday, November 7, 2023
End Date: Saturday, November 11, 2023
Last Day to Book: Friday, November 1, 2023



1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Join us for a showcase of Mississippi startup companies from the CoBuilders in a special "Pitch Day" presentation at the Mississippi Museum of Art in downtown Jackson.

Speaker and Sponsor Reception

5:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Speakers and sponsors are invited to mingle and network as we welcome people to the Westin Jackson and look forward to the conference day on Wednesday.

Raphael Semmes Jazz Quartet

to perform during the Speaker & Sponsor Reception

Raphael Simms Jazz Quartet performing

Pitch Day

Wednesday, November 8
Mississippi Museum of Art
1:00-5:00 pm



8:00 a.m. - 9:15 a.m.


12:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.


Wendy Lea

Wendy Lea is a leader-practitioner with a multi-faceted entrepreneurial and ecosystem background.

Equally well-versed in helping large enterprises systematize innovation as she is in creating vibrant startup innovation ecosystems that grow city, regional, and state economies, Wendy is an advisory board member serving the Center for American Entrepreneurship (CAE) and an member on the National Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE)—a federal committee tasked with developing strategies that strengthen America’s ability to compete as the world’s leading startup nation and as the world’s leading innovator in critical emerging technologies.

Currently also the Co-founder and CEO of Energize Colorado, Wendy leads a team of inspired innovators from Colorado’s private, public, nonprofit, and academic communities to revive and invigorate Colorado’s economy, mobilizing relief for small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals recovering from the economic impact of COVID-19.

Wendy is also an active mentor and advisor for tech accelerators. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.


We’re assembling an exciting group of speakers for Accelerate: the Conference on Technology Innovation this year. From startup veterans to educators to industry leaders, this group offers a deep look at the challenges facing Mississippi—and how we can turn those challenges into opportunities for innovation and growth.

Rina Thomas White
Twain Capital

Rina Thomas White is a Partner at Twain Capital, which invests in lower middle market privately-held companies. Prior to Twain, Rina advised industrial companies as a management consultant at McKinsey and Company. She also acquired, operated and exited a Mississippi-based distributor of commercial laundry equipment, which made the Inc 5000 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies in America. 
Rina began her career in post-Katrina recovery, first at the state department of economic development and then as a policy advisor to Governor Jindal. She has a JD from Harvard Law and a BS from the Wharton School at UPenn. 
Gary Watts

Gary Watts

Gary Watts is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fuse.Cloud, a Jackson, Mississippi-based business passionate about helping other businesses regain their focus.

Over the last three decades, Watts has led a number of organizations through periods of significant growth. He founded Fuse.Cloud under the name Broadband Voice in 2006. The company soon gained recognition as one of the fastest growing Voice over IP (VoIP) technology companies in the Southeast. Today, Fuse.Cloud serves over 2,000 business customers in 40 states throughout the country.

For the first decade of his career, Watts established a dedication to hard work and honed his business skills by owning and operating a popular restaurant franchise. Then, in 1995, he started a concert promotion business. This business grew to national recognition and, within its first few years, Watts promoted over 100 performances nationally while still running the restaurant. In 1997, Watts began in the sales division for startup technology company Unity Communications, based in Jackson. He was rapidly promoted to VP Sales in 2000. After nearly a decade here, Watts recognized that the next generation of telephony would be rooted in hosted VoIP solutions. This vision for advanced business technology solutions was catalyst for him starting Broadband Voice (now Fuse.Cloud) in 2006.

In addition to his business endeavors, Watts serves on the INCOMPAS Board of Directors and the 2020 Entrepreneurship Center Advisory Council at Mississippi State University. Watts also founded Jackson-based concert series, Covered, a non-profit that benefits various causes throughout the world. These concerts have helped raise money for local adoption, prevention of human trafficking in Cambodia, local arts organizations, Young Life and medical bills to support a local family.

Watts is a graduate of McCluer Academy (now Hillcrest Christian School), and he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree from Mississippi College. He currently lives in Madison, Mississippi, with his wife Gay. They have one daughter, Olivia.

JJ Townsend

J.J. Townsend

JJ Townsend is the TechSpark Mississippi Lead at Microsoft Philanthropies. A former educator and nonprofit leader, JJ is passionate about creating economic opportunities for historically excluded communities. Leading Microsoft’s philanthropic efforts in Mississippi, he focuses on creating systematic change by investing in three pillars that help drive inclusive economic opportunity: digital skills, digital transformation, and nonprofit capacity building. JJ is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and holds a master’s in educational leadership.

Richard Summers

Dr. Richard L. Summers
University of Mississippi Medical Center

Dr. Richard L. Summers is Professor Emeritus of Emergency Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.  He has been a Distinguished Guyton Professor and Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and was previously the lead scientist for the NASA Digital Astronaut Project.  He is the recent recipient of the prestigious Sebetia Ter International Award for Biomedical Research.  In his current role as Special Assistant to the Chancellor at Ole Miss he led the creation of the Southeast Biotechnology Collaborative with a successful application for federal grant funding for the further strategy development of a Biotech Hub Designation in the Southeast EDA Region. 

Joe Stradinger

Joe is the founder and CEO of EdgeTheory, an AI-powered narrative intelligence company that helps its customers understand and participate in the narratives that shape their worlds. EdgeTheory customers have included global leaders in national security, information technology, transnational banking, healthcare, and many other areas. EdgeTheory’s products are thus well-positioned as best-of-class solutions for analysts and other stakeholders in business intelligence, risk analytics, open-source services, and media monitoring. EdgeTheory’s tools help its customers see patterns and trends among the people and organizations that create and amplify narratives, revealing how and when they spread, and the nature and scope of their impact. With the insight drawn from this intelligence, EdgeTheory’s customers are better prepared to make strategic assessments of narrative dynamics, to participate in them if they choose, and to measure their success. Joe’s business partner and one of his board members is Jim Barksdale (Fedex, ATT Wireless, Netscape).

Nashlie Sephus
Amazon AI

Dr. Nashlie Sephus is the Principal AI/ML Evangelist for Amazon AI focusing on fairness and identifying biases at AWS AI. She formerly was CTO of AI startup Partpic based in Atlanta which was acquired by the Amazon Visual Search team. After then joining Amazon as an Applied Science Manager, she led many product launches including visual search for replacement parts on the Amazon Shopping app in June 2018. Also in 2018, Dr. Sephus became the founder and CEO of The Bean Path non-profit organization based in Jackson, MS assisting individuals and startups with technical expertise and guidance. In September of 2020, she became the owner and developer of the Jackson Tech District—21-acres of mixed-use commercial real-estate in downtown Jackson—to bring tech training and workforce/economic development to the area.

Dan Schmisseur
Venture Capital Consultant for SSBCI to the U.S. Department of Treasury

Dan Schmisseur is an entrepreneur and economic development consultant with vast experience advising states on the operations of and financing solutions for small business investment programs.

In June 2010, Dan co-founded Cromwell Schmisseur (CS), which currently is engaged by the U.S. Treasury as subject matter experts to advise venture capital programs supported by the $10 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). CS was similarly engaged for the initial $1.5 billion SSBCI program from 2012-17, during which time Dan co-authored Information and Observations on State Venture Capital Programs (February 2013), Best Practices from Participating States: Venture Capital Programs (April 2014) and Program Evaluation of The US Department of Treasury State Small Business Credit Initiative (October 2016).

Prior to CS, Dan was recruited to Tennessee as the vice president of operations and strategy for the Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, where he was responsible for strategy formation and partnership development to plan and implement a comprehensive competitiveness agenda for innovation-driven economic development throughout Tennessee. Previously, Dan was vice president of strategy and policy with the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation, where he developed a strategic plan for implementing the Kansas Economic Growth Act legislation, a 15-year, $581 million initiative to support bioscience-related economic development.

Dan began his professional career with PricewaterhouseCoopers and worked as a CPA for eight years prior to launching his first entrepreneurial venture.

Jeremy Turner
Appalachian Investors Alliance

Jeremy Turner is a Business Development Officer and Entrepreneurship Education Project Leader for the Appalachian Investors Alliance, a Tennessee-based nonprofit that forms and provides technical assistance to angel and micro venture funds. The AIA network currently consists of 14 funds across 10 states and over 420 accredited investors, with additional funds set to break escrow in the coming months. Jeremy’s responsibilities include working in the fund formation process, providing fund management and technical assistance, including various levels of due diligence, to the AIA network, as well as leading AIA’s work with investor and entrepreneur outreach and education initiatives. 

Mr. Turner holds a BA in Psychology from Marshall University and an MBA with a focus on Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise from Louisiana State University at Shreveport. In addition, he is a DISC-Certified Behavioral Consultant and holds additional certifications in various entrepreneurial methods and platforms, including the Entrepreneurship Management Certificate from the International Business Innovation Association and Ash Maurya’s

LEANSTACK Certified Mentor designation. Jeremy has served as an Executive-in-Residence and an entrepreneurship instructor within the Lewis College of Business at Marshall University and as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Marietta College. He is a seasoned entrepreneur and enjoys investing in and mentoring early-stage entrepreneurs. Jeremy lives just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife Brandie and their 4-year-old son, Gabriel. 

Darryl Pieroni
Keller Williams Realty

Darryl serves as CEO for Keller Williams Realty in central/north Mississippi where he focuses his attention on training, consulting, productivity, and profitability for the market center. Darryl joined KW in 2022 with over 25 years of experience in client consulting, digital marketing, startups, operations, and management services for global and regional
companies. Darryl spent his early career, in business development/consulting roles for Fortune 500 companies including, Allstate, DXC Technology, and Broadcom. He has worked with a gamut of clients (IBM, Mayo Clinic, AutoZone,, Qwest, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, and GlaxoSmithKline to name a few). Although his skill set is vast, his greatest
expertise revolves around selling (visionary/strategic), with success in driving strategy, innovation, revenue growth, change management, and customer engagement. For the past 12 years, he has worked with startup companies building
and leading teams. Through the mentor/coaching role, he assisted entrepreneurs in launching and running various startups. Darryl also has been an avid investor in commercial real estate for over 15 years around the Madison area. Darryl earned his Bachelor of Business Administration with a double major in Managerial Finance, Banking, Corporate, and Securities Law from the University of Mississippi.

Craig P. Orgeron, Ph.D
Millsaps College

Dr. Orgeron has extensive information technology experience in the private, federal, and state levels of the public sector. Dr. Orgeron is a Professor of Management Information Systems at the Else School of Management at Millsaps College. After beginning his career as a communications-computer systems officer in the United States Air Force, he served as the Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services (ITS) and Chief Information Officer for the State of Mississippi. Dr. Orgeron has served as an Executive Government Advisor with Amazon Web Services (AWS), President of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), and on the Executive Committee of the Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center (MS-ISAC). Dr. Orgeron holds a bachelor’s degree in MIS, a master’s degree, and a doctorate in public policy and administration from Mississippi State University and is a graduate of the Harvard University Business Analytics Program (HBAP).

Tim Mask

Bio coming soon

Maranda Joiner
Succeed and Elevate

Maranda Joiner is a Jackson, MS native, brand consultant, author, and speaker who quit her job to help as many entrepreneurs as possible feel connected, seen, and heard. She is the CEO and co-founder of Succeed and Elevate, a nonprofit dedicated to helping small entrepreneurs overcome burnout. With a background of 14 years in radio at WJMI, she has consulted hundreds of business owners on branding and conducts workshops, seminars, and project management for clients. She has been a guest on numerous podcasts and written articles supporting entrepreneurs so they can feel safe, seen, and supported on their way to success. She has also consulted and served as the brand manager for talent, placing them in a position to perform at Essence, on Comedy Central and TruTV.
 She is the author of A Lot A Like, What Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Branding and Purpose. She was the host of TEDx Jackson in 2019 and currently serves on the MS Museum of Art’s Community Advisory Council and the American Advertising Federation of Jackson board. She aims to help as many entrepreneurs, business owners, and creatives realize their unique brand voice and change the world through their work.


Gerad Hardy
Millsaps College

As an Instructor of Management at the Millsaps College Else School of Management, Gerad Hardy is an engaging academic who draws upon more than 25 years of experience leading and developing award-winning teams and successful business strategies. Before entering academia, Professor Hardy was a dynamic hospitality industry veteran who held operational leadership roles in Iowa, New York, Missouri, and Mississippi. After a successful business career, he began to think about how his experiences and knowledge could benefit others, explaining, “There has always been a deep part of my identity and motivation grounded in teaching and helping others. So, becoming an instructor at the Else School of Management at Millsaps College was a natural fit and the decision to become a part of the faculty was an aspirational dream come true.” He describes his current role – Visiting Instructor at Millsaps and business and leadership consultant – as allowing him the opportunity to guide today’s and tomorrow’s business leaders in growing themselves, their teams, and their businesses.
Gerad earned a Bachelor of Science in business management from SUNY Empire State College and his M.B.A at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS.

Anna deTiege Harris
New Orleans Startup Fund

Anna deTiege is the Operations Manager and Head of Platform  for the New Orleans Startup Fund, an early-stage impact fund that invests in pre-seed/pre-revenue companies. Since 2017, she has managed the deal flow process from recruitment to post-investment. She is passionate about helping entrepreneurs realize their visions and does so by ensuring strong investor and government relations, providing technical assistance, and matching entrepreneurs with a host of resources.

Anna has deep experience in technology transfer and commercialization, as well as small business and startup operations. In addition to serving on new venture advisory boards, previous roles include Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University, the Angel Capital Association, and the NO/LA Angel Network.

Anna serves on the Leadership Committee of the National Small Business Association and sits on the Tech Transfer subcommittee. She is a recent graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program and of the Urban Land Institute’s Real Estate Diversity Initiative. She is also a member of the National Organization of Women. Prior service includes being a court-appointed special advocate through CASA Jefferson, Senior Warden of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church Vestry, and serving on the fundraising committee for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. 

She earned her Master’s of Strategic Communication from Purdue University, and her Master’s of Business Administration from Boston University. A Northshore native, she currently lives in Metairie with her husband.

Greg Hall

Greg Hall
University of Mississippi Medical Center

Greg Hall is currently the Director of Information Technology with the Center for Telehealth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center where he has worked for the past 23 years. His main responsibilities center around the technology that is utilized by the University in any of its Telehealth programs. He helped to establish TelEmergency, a telehealth program that supports rural Emergency Departments across the state of Mississippi that just celebrated 20 years of seeing patients in Emergency Departments across Mississippi. He also serves as the technical lead for the HRSA Telehealth Center of Excellence designation.

Chris Haley
FINTOP Capital

Chris Haley is a Partner with FINTOP Capital, a venture firm focused on early-stage, B2B fintech companies.  Chris is an experienced FinTech operator with executive experience at companies like Black Diamond Performance Reporting (CFO & General Counsel), Knowledge Infusion (COO), Harbor View Advisors (Partner), LegacyShield Solutions (CEO) and BridgeFT (Executive Chairman).  Early in his career he practiced law in the Corporate & Securities and Tax groups at Bass, Berry & Sims PLC in Nashville, TN.

Chris is an active member of both entrepreneurial and philanthropic boards. Currently he serves on the boards of Legatics, LeanLaw, AllWork, Freight Science, BridgeFT, Antisyn, LLC, Feeding Northeast Florida, the University of Mississippi Foundation, Junior Achievement of North Florida, The Museum of Science and History, and the Alumni Board of the University of Mississippi Patterson School of Accountancy, where he is the Chairman. He has previously served on the boards of LegacyShield Solutions, Forcura, SuperFi, Wealth Access, Michael C. Fina, the University of Tennessee College of Law Alumni Council, and St. John’s Cathedral.

Chris graduated magna cum laude from the University of Mississippi where he received a Bachelor of Accountancy and a Master of Taxation. He received his juris doctorate magna cum laude from the University of Tennessee School of Law, where he served as Managing Editor of the Tennessee Law Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif. Following law school, Chris obtained his LL.M. in Taxation from New York University School of Law where he received the Harry J. Rudick award for distinction in the Graduate Tax Program.

Joe Donovan
Mississippi Development Authority

Mr. Donovan currently is the Director of The Office of Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship @ Mississippi Development Authority. Donovan primary responsible for focusing Mississippi on growing the knowledge based economic development through developing an eco-system focusing on emerging technologies. This includes developing technologies coming out of Mississippi’s four research universities or recruiting them from outside the state.  This includes forming a coalition of the research universities, state and federal government, the private and nonprofit sectors. The Office is building an entrepreneurial eco-system targeting next generation technologies.

Joe Donovan has been best described by the Mississippi Business Journal as a “serial entrepreneur”. Prior to MDA he was the principle at The Donovan Consulting Group, (DCG).  The DCG focused on business development including startups, business development plans, business restructuring, re-branding, growth, and expansion along with M&A.

As the founding Director of Entrepreneurial Development at Millsaps College, Else School of Management coordinating a new focus on entrepreneurship within the Undergraduate and Graduate programs at Millsaps College, including teaching in the MBA program.

Mr. Donovan, has thirty-five years of progressive senior management experience, serving in the last 25 years as a Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer and CFO/Vice President of Finance for three multi-state organizations with gross sales exceeding $165 million annually.

Mr. Donovan was co-founder of three companies that made up Allan Holdings – Pro Derma LLC (2002), Pharma Pac, LLC (2003) and Allan Pharmaceutical (2004).  From March 2002 to September 2010, Mr. Donovan served Allan Holdings LLC and related companies as Vice President and CFO until their sale.

Mr. Donovan earned his B.B.A. from Thomas More College and Xavier University along with his M.B.A. from Millsaps College. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Urban and Regional Planning.

Michael Grasso
Anduril Industries

Michael Grasso is a Sales Director at Anduril Industries’ Rocket Motor Systems team. Michael was Executive VP for Business Operations and Government Relations at Adranos, Inc., a manufacturer of next-generation solid rocket motors for national security and commercial aerospace applications (acquired by Anduril in 2023). Previously, Michael worked at Blue Origin, a commercial spaceflight company, where he led its corporate strategy team. Before joining Blue Origin, Michael served as an Economic Advisor for Space to the Luxembourg Minister of the Economy and the Luxembourg Space Agency. He started his career in aerospace and defense at Avascent (now Oliver Wyman) where he managed growth and M&A engagements concerning orbital launch services, advanced propulsion, satellite remote sensing, global positioning satellites, satellite communications, and human spaceflight.

Bryan Carter
Think Webstore

Bryan Carter is CEO of Think Creative Intelligence / Think Webstore, a creative consulting, design, and production agency located in Ridgeland, Mississippi. As a leader in design, marketing, and technology companies, Carter has participated in and grown award-winning teams, has multiple publications, and has been an invited presenter at national conferences.  He has had the benefit of working with international companies such as IBM, AT&T, and NCR in media, interactive learning, and organization development. He has served as a consultant for multiple companies including Home Depot, IBM, ETS, and Citigroup in the areas of e-commerce, e-learning, and e-business transformation. Bryan has consulted with scores of small businesses and non-profit organizations, helping them realize large-scale business transformations and marketing strategies.

Harold Callais
Callais Capital Management

Harold J. Callais II, “Hal” is a Managing Partner and the Chief Investment Officer of Callais Capital Management. He oversees all investment activity, portfolio management, and directly engages with portfolio companies to deliver value to their management teams. Hal has sourced, analyzed, negotiated, and closed over $138 million in direct transactions.

Hal serves on the Board for numerous portfolio companies, advisory boards, and investment committees. Hal is the Treasurer for the Board of Trustees of Bayou Community Academy, a member of the Committee of 100 for Economic Development in Louisiana and is a member of the Steering Committee for Nicholls State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Previously, Hal was Vice President of the Nicholls State University Alumni Federation, a Director for the Lafourche Parish Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Lafourche Program and was an inaugural member of the Emerging Leader’s Council for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

Hal received his BS in Finance at Nicholls State University and holds the FINRA Series 65. Hal was awarded ACG Louisiana’s 2016 Young Dealmaker of the Year and was included on Silicon Bayou’s 100 most influential and active people in tech and entrepreneurship in Louisiana for 2016, 2017 and 2018, and is a frequent panelist on industry matters and pitch competitions across LA and MS. Hal and his wife Kristen live in Thibodaux, LA with their five children.


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